UPDATE – February 26, 2019 23andMe got off to a rocky start several years ago when the FDA banned the sale of their genetic health testing kits. In 2017, the company got back on track with the FDA, and tested a variety of creative partnerships in order to raise awareness about genetic testing.
The company not only convinced major retailers like CVS and Target to carry their product on the shelf, they also pioneered an animated short with Universal Pictures in which super-villain Gru discovers his long-lost brother using 23andMe.
Based on their open-mindedness when it comes to marketing, it’s no surprise that 23andMe likes to diversify their approach to partnerships, working with large brands like Lexus and more niche micro-influencers. The theme that runs through all of their campaigns, however, is a very personal story of self-discovery.
Ancestry’s campaign used a mix of YouTube and Instagram influencers with different audience sizes and engagement rates. It is important to acknowledge influencer tiers across different social channels (see below). While Instagram influencers are categorized by follower count, YouTube creators fall into tiers based on average video views. Carefully selecting influencers based on channel-specific criteria is an important component of every specialized campaign.
Many of the sponsored influencers in this case study follow a similar narrative pattern in their content:
This approach appears to be a very effective and personalized approach to marketing 23andMe’s genetic testing kit. It helps fans feel more connected to the influencers and learn more about them, while simultaneously raising awareness of (and interest in) the product.
A few examples:
23andMe also partnered with more established brands across a wide variety of industries, including:
In a sponsored 23andMe post, Kiki, also known as The Blonde Abroad, talked about how the discovery of her French heritage inspired her to visit Paris. With over 540,000 followers seeking inspiration, Kiki’s long-form photo caption generated over 14,000 likes and a lot of enthusiasm. One fan even commented, “My friend works for this company, I need to do it to see where I’m from!”
Nikki and Gabi, twin sisters known on YouTube for their musical duets and beauty tutorials, sat down with their mother and grandmother to discuss their 23andMe results. The video was framed as “Why We Look Like This,” providing a direct response to fan questions about their ethnic background — and this angle paid off. They received 1.8 million views and over 5,000 comments from viewers discussing the results and commenting about how it related to their own heritage.
Although Lexus represents a more traditional brand partner, this commercial made in partnership with 23andMe was a surprisingly playful departure for Lexus. The fake April Fools Day commercial advertised a service called Genetic Select, billed as “the world’s first service that uses human genetics to match you with the car of your genes.” The tongue-and-cheek advertisement pulled over 1.8 million views, making it the 6th most popular Lexus video of all time.
Tech YouTuber Austin Evans has over 2.5 million subscribers and a similar audience profile to 23andMe’s target customer demographic. The brand sponsored his video, “Trying Mystery Tech from Amazon…,” where Evans dedicates the last minutes of the video submitting a saliva sample, a time lapse, then receiving his ancestry report in the mail.
In this section, we’ll use Evan’s video as an example as we delve into the intricacies of measuring the ROI of an influencer marketing activation.
One important assumption to note about 23andMe’s business model: 23andMe is a venture-backed company that operates at a loss on genetic tests. Revenue streams include leveraging their human DNA database through partnerships with pharmaceutical companies and scientific research laboratories. Despite operating at a loss for individual DNA kits, 23andMe is able to designate a value ($68) for each kit sold. This is because each person who purchases a 23andMe kit is in essence increasing and diversifying their extremely lucrative DNA database.
23andMe works with a dedicated influencer marketing agency which charges $30,000 per month for their services. 23andMe works with 15 influencers on average per month, meaning the fee can be split amongst individual campaigns for the purpose of finding ROI of the Austin Evans’ activation.
Agency Fee = $30,000/15 = $2,000
An Influencer Marketing Manager interfaces with an influencer agency as a portion of their role. If the Influencer Marketing Manager’s salary is $65,000/year, his hourly rate comes out to about $33/hour. They spent 16 hours total dedicated to this activation.
Manager Wages = $33/hour x 16 hours = $528
If the attorney’s salary is $180,000/ year, then their hourly rate comes out to about $87/hour. They spent 3 hours completing the influencer contract and coordinating an MNDA.
Attorney Wages = $87/hour x 3 hours = $261
Austin Evans has more than 3.5 million YouTube subscribers and 600,000 average views per video. This puts Evans into an elite class of YouTubers who can command a substantial fee for a sponsored video post. This is a non-dedicated video, which means that Evans’ central theme in the video is Amazon tech products and the sponsorship is treated as a byline. Because of that, 23andMe and Evans came to an agreement that production costs would be lumped into his influencer fee.
Fee = $9,500
23andMe offers two tiers of DNA tests priced at:
Applying the assumption that 23andMe operates at a loss for ancestry reports, the cost ($350) exceeds the retail prices ($99-199) of the kits.
Cost = $350
Measurement & Tracking
23andMe provided a specific link to their product pages appended with a Google UTM tag. Google Analytics uses the UTM code to track website visits, email marketing signups, and DNA kit purchases which originated from Evans’ YouTube channel. Google Analytics and UTM tags are completely free to use.
Cost = $0
Grand Total Cost: $12,639
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DNA Kit Sales & Expansion of Genome Database
Austin Evan’s sponsored YouTube video generated sales of:
23andMe assigns a $68 value to each new DNA profile added to their database, taking into account the cost of processing a DNA sample and generating the report.
667 individual DNA profiles x $68 = $45,356
23andMe uses historical data to determine the value of a single contact in their email database based on projected sales via the email channel. They’ve determined the value of one email subscriber to be $2.25.
1,002 new email signups x $2.25 = $2,254
Grand Total Return: $47,610
Using this formula:
($47,610 – $12,639) / $12,639 x 100 = + 276.7% ROI
Based on these results, 23andMe generated an outstanding return on investment working with Austin Evans, showing that his sizable influencer fee is justified. 23andMe should consider working with Evans in the future to promote new products. The brand can learn from their success by seeking out tech enthusiast YouTubers with a similar audience demographic.
Instagram influencers provide awareness of genetic testing through the power of storytelling, tying their results to a narrative of personal discovery and identity. YouTube influencers resonate well when fans can watch their live reaction to their genetic results, and it ties to fans’ current interest in the influencers. Partnering with more established brands like Lexus legitimizes the company, while still bringing an edgy and playful air to the 23andMe brand. Overall, 23andMe’s approach to influencer partnerships provided personal ways to tell the stories behind genetic testing, reaching audiences across all nationalities and ages, and building the case for people to discover their own genetic history.