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Back in January, Brent Sievers and his team gave up on turning YouTube into The Land of Boggs.
Sievers is a senior animator at BuzzFeed. After fellow BuzzFeed artist Liz Hickey created Boggs–colorful, blob-shaped, and easy-to-animate characters–in 2018, she went on to animate Weird Helga, and Sievers and his team debuted Boggs (namely BFFs Boggo, an introvert, and Boe, an extrovert) on Instagram.
The Land of Boggs has always been intended to be a short-form animated project. BuzzFeed takes what Sievers describes as a “Sanrio” approach, testing new animated characters each year and seeing what sticks. From that method has emerged properties like Good Advice Cupcake, who has 2.4 million followers on Instagram, as well as the aforementioned Weird Helga, who has 761,000 followers on Instagram. Boggs also gained a foothold on Insta, amassing more than a million followers.
Then TikTok came along, and it just made sense to start posting Boggs videos there too. And, like on Instagram, Boggs found success: It currently has nearly 5.5 million followers, and gets 20 million views per month, BuzzFeed says.
When YouTube debuted YouTube Shorts, it seemed like an opportunity for Boggs to go big on another platform.
Except there was a problem.
It didn’t work.
Sievers’ team began crossposting content from Boggs’ TikTok account to a fresh new YouTube channel not long after Shorts debuted.
And, for months, the videos generated essentially no traffic. At least, not compared to what Boggs was achieving on other platforms. For a while, the Boggs team uploaded dozens of videos a month. The longer that went on, however, the more it became clear things just weren’t clicking. Uploads petered off. They returned their focus to Instagram and TikTok. By January 2022, they’d stopped paying attention to Boggs’ YouTube channel entirely.
Then, in March, something funny happened. Sievers was in a meeting when another BuzzFeed staffer made a joke about how he should promote merch on his “big YouTube channel.” He took it as good-natured fun-poking, figuring they were jabbing at Boggs’ slow YouTube death.
They weren’t joking, though. Sievers and his team checked the Boggs channel, and were dumbfounded to see it had spontaneously begun generating hundreds of millions of views. Its subscriber count had skyrocketed from fewer than 10,000 to more than 80,000.
Now, The Land of Boggs brings nearly 80 million views a week–a week, not a month–and it’s nearing 800,000 subscribers. Sievers still doesn’t know what happened; there’s no way to tell whether one particular video caught on and prompted traffic to the others, or if multiple videos caught the eye of the Shorts algorithm.
Even with Boggs doing well on YouTube, there are stumbling blocks. Content that does well on other platforms sometimes inexplicably underperforms only on YouTube. And, in a few months, the Boggs team will reach the end of their backlog of Instagram and TikTok content to crosspost. They’ll start having to think about making more content–maybe even content specific to YouTube.
We’ll let Sievers tell you all about it below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: Let’s start from the beginning! How did The Land of Boggs become a thing?
Brent Sievers: I started a little bit over four years ago at Buzzfeed. They had just started up an animation team, and it was like four people. I was hired on as well as my boss Myers. And we really didn’t know what the animation team at BuzzFeed was gonna be doing, so we just tried to whole bunch of stuff.
It was a small little team and we worked in like this storage closet with no windows. It was really fun, but we really didn’t know what animation was supposed to be doing. So we would do sort of little animated specials for BuzzFeed Unsolved, which is a popular YouTube show—
Tubefilter: Sorry to cut in, but we know Unsolved well! We featured Ryan and Shane for another column.
BS: Oh, right on. So yeah, obviously a very big YouTube channel and a success for BuzzFeed. We did their Christmas special. I did something for BuzzFeed News too during that time. We were just trying stuff out.
But then my boss Zee Myers sort of had a vision for the team that we would take a Sanrio character model, where we would test out characters every year and just see which ones stick on the internet by making little short videos blasting them out there, seeing what people liked. Our first really big success was Good Advice Cupcake—I don’t think she’s on YouTube. She started out on Instagram, had a meteoric rise on Instagram, and then we put her on TikTok.
Cupcake was our first big signal. She got some pretty good ad deals, we did some merch stuff with her. So then we extrapolated out from there and were like, “Okay, what else can we do?” And we had a year or two where we tried out other characters. Boggs was one of the characters that came out of that.
Boggs actually wasn’t started by me—it was started by Liz Hickey in maybe 2018 or 2019, I can’t remember. But Liz Hickey actually already had a project she was doing called Weird Helga, which became another character on our team. So Liz stopped working on Boggs. Also, Boggs was really small back then. It was maybe like 20,000 or 30,000 Instagram followers. So she stopped working on it and I took over, and have been leading on that product from there.
We grew on Instagram pretty rapidly, and then when TikTok started taking off in 2020, I dumped a lot of our content on there and we really took off on TikTok. Now were at five-point-something million on TikTok. So pretty big on Instagram and TikTok. Those are our biggest followings.
Tubefilter: When does YouTube enter the picture?
BS: YouTube is kind of a funny story just because we already had a decent backlog of our latest iteration of Boggs that we wanted to put on YouTube, just to try out that platform. Usually the advice we’ve gotten from BuzzFeed or just other channels is like, “Yeah, YouTube is a pretty heavy lift. You can make revenue off it, but you gotta be careful.”
We made some little attempts at YouTube in the past, but it was just so much work for so little payoff, we thought it wasn’t worth it. But they’d just started up the Shorts Fund at YouTube, so we thought we should try to put some Shorts up and see if we’re getting signal.
That was…I don’t know, October or November 2021. We started putting Shorts up every day or every other day, just from our back catalog.
Tubefilter: And how did that work out?
BS: Growth was really slow. We only did it for three or four months. Then, in January, we just stopped, because we only had 30,000 subscribers and our videos were only getting 10,000 views. And we were like, “Okay, we don’t know what the deal with Shorts is. Maybe we’ll revisit this later.”
But then the crazy thing happened. A couple months after we stopped posting, it went from 10,000 or 20,000 views to a million. Like, overnight, it seemed.
Tubefilter: Very strange.
BS: Yeah. The YouTube gods must’ve smiled on us, but it was crazy because we didn’t even notice this for two or three weeks. We just hadn’t been looking at the channel.
I remember we had a meeting about something, I think it was merch, and somebody was like, “Oh, are you gonna promote it on your big YouTube channel?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s funny,” thinking it was a joke because we’re at a few thousand.
Tubefilter: “Thanks, guys.”
BS: Yeah. And then she was like, “Dude, you have half a million people following you.”
I was like, “What are you talking about?”
And we looked at the channel and were just dumbfounded. We hadn’t touched it in months. Why is this taking off?
Then we were like, okay, we’ll capitalize on this. Ever since, we’ve been posting our new videos, but also older stuff every day. We made four compilation videos, longer videos.
So that’s our YouTube story, I guess.
Tubefilter: Lots of people we talk to for this column have stories where they were tired of their channels staying small or not getting views, and they simply decided to make and post a massive amount of content. Like one video a day or multiple videos a day for a month of months. It’s rare for an abandoned channel to take off like this.
BS: Yeah, I checked the graph before this meeting and it was a drought from January for months. And then in the beginning of March it was this straight line up.
A couple weeks after that, we started posting again, and it became steady growth from there.
Tubefilter: Was there a specific video that triggered this rush in March, or…?
BS: The thing about YouTube is like…There are four or five videos that consistently perform well across [all social platforms]. Those ones make sense. But then there are some that are just very specific to YouTube and have only done well there.
Tubefilter: We hear a lot that YouTube’s audience is very different from, say, TikTok’s.
BS: Yeah. I don’t know if we could trace it back. I looked at the channel months after we’d stopped posting, and it was just everything, everything had gone up. It wasn’t one specific thing. And when we were posting consistently, there were a couple videos that have done like astronomically well. We have one that’s a Zodiac thing about a character that’s being born and doesn’t want to come out a Capricon, so it tries to stay in. That one is far and away the best on TikTok.
Tubefilter: Not surprising, considering it’s TikTok.
BS: Yeah, I know. I was like, “Zodiac content feels like cheating.” But yeah, that one did really well [on TikTok] and it didn’t do well on YouTube. It hadn’t made a dent in our subscriber base, so that’s when we gave up. I was like, “Okay, these ones don’t do well, so I don’t know. I have no idea what’s going to do well.”
Tubefilter: We do hear that it’s hard to cross over from TikTok to YouTube. Lots of people make separate content for each.
BS: Yeah. I mean, at the same time, our kind of strategy for TikTok and Instagram and making animation for social media in general…I think we take a little bit of a different approach than some of [BuzzFeed’s] other accounts or even outside accounts that do really well on TikTok or do really well on Instagram. Which is that like, I think you can kind of tell that [their videos] feel specific to those platforms.
Like one will take soundbites that are popular on TikTok and just animate over them. Then you have Coolman Coffeedan, who will make very obvious, directed to the audience characters who will be like, “Hey, I hope you’re having a great day.” And it’s meant to be shared like wildfire on Instagram, specifically.
Whereas Boggs…Our strategy has always sort of been taking models that have worked in animation, in the animation industry. Techniques we’ve learned from Nickelodeon or working with Disney or those kinds of companies. How they make TV shows and animated scenes and just making really micro versions of a TV show, basically.
I think the result from that has been like, we work on every platform. We’re pretty big, but we don’t have crazy insane numbers on any one platform. We just perform well across the board, if that makes sense.
Tubefilter: So if someone’s reading this and has never seen Boggs or heard of Boggs and has no idea what we’re talking about, give me the elevator pitch.
BS: It’s evolved over the years, but the recent iteration is a show about two best friends. Boggo’s an introvert and Boe’s an extrovert, and it’s about the friendship humor between them. It’s a lot of content about family and friendship. Like Boe’s got a little brother who shows up, and they’ve also got friends. There’s other characters like Tiffany, who’s into astrology. It’s these little characters with pretty strong internet identities. And introvert, extrovert. That’s probably the biggest identity.
Tubefilter: Can you talk a little bit about Boggs’ design?
BS: Boggs have these commonalities, they’re these colorful shape creatures with two limbs. That’s the rule. What that’s done for us is it’s made it very easy to animate and very easy to produce a lot of stuff. We have other characters on our team and they’re very appealing, cool characters, but they’re very designed, right? They have clothing or they have a specific thing—like Cupcake has frosting, and obviously Liz didn’t bring in all that stuff. She designed them from the outset of being like, “Look, you can scribble these guys in a storyboard really quick.”
The storyboarding phase and the production phase with these is very fast. And that broadens the scope of what we can do with the characters. We can make them have fight scenes or put them in complicated situations. They can move, they can do all these crazy things, and that’s mostly because of their design language. They’re just so simple to make, and it’s very easy to produce them.
So…yeah. Simple characters with Shorts about friendship and specific internet identities. That’s the elevator pitch.
Tubefilter: What does your production timeframe look like for a Boggs video compared to other BuzzFeed animated IPs?
BS: We all take different approaches on the BuzzFeed team for production and how we want to grow. I think Boggs exists in this middle space. There’s only three people on our team right now that solely work on Boggs, and we shoot for two videos a week.
Tubefilter: Oh, a lot.
BS: Yeah, we don’t always hit that. But we try for two videos a week. If one person was making a video, if we already had a script and the voice recorded for it, it would take about a week for the whole thing.
Tubefilter: That’s nuts.
BS: Yeah. But for instance, you’ve got shows where the characters are more complicated, or the animations are more involved, so that takes a little longer, to make a video. To give you some context, Chikn Nuggit, another BuzzFeed account, can make three videos in a week. So they’re producing more stuff, and their characters are very designed.
How they get away with it is the jokes only take about 10 seconds to get across. It’s always a quick little gag. There’s no background, it’s just a color card.
So we all have different approaches to making stuff. I guess the trade-off with Chikn Nuggit is her views aren’t as large, but the videos aren’t crazy and the jokes aren’t elaborate. So she’s able to make more every week, whereas we make less every week, but the videos are just a bit more involved and get a little more engagement. That’s our production strategy.
Tubefilter: So it sounds like, to a certain point, BuzzFeed’s animated properties are designed to go viral, designed to get views. How do you as a team balance that aspect with from-the-heart storytelling?
BS: Honestly, I think Boggs used to be more genuine. There were sad things. Like there wasn’t a joke, it’d just be a sad thing. And if you look at our other accounts, like Chikn Nuggit, it’s straight-up nice, feel-good videos. Coolman Coffeedan, he does a lot of that too, where it’s just characters being nice to you, and that does really well, especially on the internet.
So it doesn’t have to be…I don’t think it’s much of a balance for us, like that. The really funny stuff works equally as well. And for Boggs, we don’t even think of it in terms of internet stuff. We think of it in terms of, are people going to comment? Are people going to want to tag their friends in this? That gives us a sort of broad-appeal jumping-off point. Would someone random send this to their siblings? Would they send this to their best friend and be like, “Oh this is us”?
When it comes to generating videos, we’re not thinking about internet humor, anything specific to the internet. We’re just thinking, what’s the funniest version of something? We had a video that was pretty popular, which was like, mom favoring one kid over the other, how to convey that.
We settled on one sibling’s got their brain exposed because they had an accident or something, and they’re begging Mom to drive to the hospital and Mom just brushes them off and is like, “Walk it off.” Then the other sibling sneezes and Mom loses her mind and asks the brain-exposed sibling to call 9-1-1, because she’s so worried about the other one.
Tubefilter: Has anything changed on the production side since March, when you guys noticed that hey, the channel is actually doing things?
BS: We haven’t really changed. It was like, “We’ve got like 600,000 followers now. I guess maybe we should try to make money off this.”
One new thing we did was compilations. People were videos on YouTube that are just compilations of [Boggs] TikToks and they’ve been getting hundreds of thousands of views. We were like, “Okay, we don’t really know the strategy for thumbnails or how to do this, but we’re the legitimate owners of this content, so let’s just do exactly what they’re doing and spice it up a little bit.”
So we could do transitions and title cards. We looked up how to approach thumbnails, and we emulated that a little bit. It’s been pretty successful for us, we get around half a million views on the compilations—and we’re able to post one a week because we still have a lot of content to compile.
Tubefilter: So you’re still pulling from TikTok to post on YouTube?
BS: Yeah, we haven’t made any YouTube-specific videos yet, but that’s where we’ll be in a few months, probably, before we completely run out of stuff.
We’re also kind of talking amongst ourselves, like, this is pretty great revenue. We want to figure out if we can sustain it on YouTube, so we’re trying to experiment with other types of videos that are easier to make. But we haven’t done that yet. It’s hard, sustainability, and to justify the cost every week to churn out something that’s five minutes long.
Tubefilter: We feel like we’ve seen animation really explode on YouTube lately.
BS: Yeah, it’s cool to see how popular it’s becoming. BuzzFeed told us for a long time that we can’t make animation work on YouTube.
BS: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s been proven. This has just been a weird case.
Tubefilter: Well, short-form has to be playing a huge role in that.
Tubefilter: Do you have any thoughts there? The rise of TikTok and YouTube Shorts and what that can do for animation creators?
BS: Oh yeah, that’s been a real boon for animation, because before that there was really no platform for short-form, animated video. Now you see it popping up all over the place.
And credit to my boss—she had a lot of really good insight. We started this team when there really wasn’t much of anything going on with media animation. Stuff existed on Facebook or Instagram, primarily. And she saw those platforms as an opportunity to build animation followings with short-form on social, because there were only a few big names in animation on YouTube, and there you have to release these long videos like once a month.
We really had a jump on [short-form] early and figured it out. And it’s interesting because now other companies like ShadowMachine and Bento Box are doing it. […] It’s really flattering, because we’re like, “Okay, I guess we did have something people notice.” We didn’t think we were really making a difference in the animation community until then.
With other studios, especially production houses, they’re always trying to find new ways to make their own stuff, but rely on other companies to fund their projects. Ultimately I think a lot of projects failed because they were trying to make expensive, big productions out of YouTube animation, but with YouTube money, that just doesn’t work. The production costs will always be too high.
So our ability to capitalize on short-form video versus going straight to making long stuff for YouTube or other platforms…I think that was big for internet animation. Now I feel like a lot of places and people are starting to figure that out and you see a lot more TikTok animators, you see a lot more Instagram animators.
And ultimately, it’s all good stuff. I really like seeing people finding success on those platform because we, as animators, just couldn’t compete on other video platforms that were longer. The production just could not keep up with the posting cadence, or the length of video.
Tubefilter: We recently talked to the creator of GingerPale for this column, too, and he spoke a lot about how he just could not sustain making a whole channel run on long-form animations, and how much Shorts has changed things for him, with the amount of production time.
BS: Yeah, I’ve seen his stuff! It’s cool. And it looks pretty nice.
Tubefilter: It’s sharp. He’s a one-man team, too.
BS: That’s very cool to see him managing to make that stuff.
Tubefilter: We think so. Okay, so close to done grilling you here, but we noticed Boggs has merch on BuzzFeed’s site. Is that something BuzzFeed does for all animated productions?
BS: We’ve done different types of merch for all of them. The plushies have been the big seller, obviously. And like, that’s decent, but ultimately not where we make our money. But it’s cool to get the fans to post what they bought and that they’re using it. We do it mostly for promotional purposes, and people want ot buy the stuff. It’s pretty low-lift most of the time, T-shirts and stickers and pins, things that aren’t tough to make or produce. The plushes were a recent thing, this year.
Tubefilter: Aside from looking into making fresh content for YouTube, does the Boggs team have anything coming up in the next few months? Plans for the rest of the year?
BS: We always have a pretty full scheduled of stuff to do. We have an Amazon thing we’re doing. Then we’re doing a TV pitch, sort of entertaining doing TV pitches and trying to get interest for those.
We’ve had companies reach out to us before, in the past. CBS and Illumination saw our stuff and wanted to talk about ideas. That’s a little more in the future. It’s tough to be proactive with that because it takes time to come up with a pitch bible, and write episodes and stuff. But yeah, we’re exploring that stuff.
And yeah, trying to figure out how to make YouTube work in the future. That other stuff, it’s just stuff you deal with on a day-to-day basis when working with big social media accounts. Trying different ways we can use characters, or build out the IP.
Tubefilter: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming creators on YouTube?
BS: On YouTube? Yeah. Now that YouTube has Shorts, focus on Shorts. You’re gonna be in competition. It’s gonna be hard to compete with long-form videos as an animator, and plus [with Shorts] you get better signal.
That was always how we calibrated our content. We figured out, “Okay, we made this in a week. We put it out there pretty fast, and we got to see this signal right away.”
That’s versus working on a TV show or a long-form thing where you’re like, “Okay, I worked on this for a month or a couple months, and I put it out there, and it didn’t do well. Now I have to reflect on a couple months of production and figure out what to do for the next couple months.”
With Shorts, you can make eight videos in a couple months.
I also think that just figuring out how to make good videos means making a lot of videos. We have an extensive best practices list, and content strategy we’ve developed thanks to trial and error. Beyond getting a big following, YouTube Shorts is a great testing ground for experimenting.
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