“Hey, what if you get up on the toilet and dance?” Drew Scott asks his twin brother, Jonathan.
The stars of HGTV’s Property Brothers are hanging out near the sink in the Kernel’s New York office in early June, riffing on a Vine idea that my colleagues and I just threw at them. Their 6-foot-5-inch frames are towering in the tiny, Febreze-perfumed bathroom as they hash out the best approach for a six-second video that will inevitably be seen by thousands of people.
Jonathan considers it for a moment, then replies, “OK, let me try.”
“Don’t fall in.”
Jonathan rejects a steadying hand offered by his brother, deftly straddles the porcelain throne, and gets a feel for what it’ll be like to boogie while perched mere inches above the bowl. He gets his footing and decides he can swing it. Soon enough, the brothers are yanking a nearby writer into a bathroom dance party while “Uptown Funk” blasts in the background.
It’s all whimsical and improvised. But after meeting them, it seems that with these two, nothing is left to chance. Television brought the Scotts fame with their home-and-design show, Property Brothers, which debuted in 2011. They’ve had television spin-offs since then, most notably Brother vs. Brother. But they’ve become Internet sensations by creating content completely disparate from their TV pursuits. Today, with a combined 245,000 Vine subscribers, 420,000 Instagram followers, 1.3 million Facebook fans, megastar celebrity collaborations, and their very own production company, Drew and Jonathan are building a modern digital empire. The Kernel met with them to find out how two Canadian brothers went from struggling actors to digital darlings.
Let me just say, you guys are really good sports. I wrote something a few months ago about how your vines reveal that you’re actually aliens and then you tweeted about it.
Jonathan: Yea, thanks for letting the secret out!
Drew: We’re not aliens! We’re clones.
So let’s talk about your Internet presence. You’ve parlayed your massive TV success into this completely separate Web presence. How’d you do it?
Jonathan: We recognized early on that social is going to be key in moving forward with any shows. We produce a lot of shows [with our production company, Scott Brothers Entertainment] that we’re not even in. We have this strategy that if you had a strong social presence, it would affect TV ratings as well, and we proved that it works.
We create this massive buzz before any show starts, like we did with Brother vs. Brother, and had all of celebrity friends talking about it, which increased our following. So we’ve invested a lot of time, a lot of resources, [in] building up our digital department, and it has paid off. We want to be at the forefront of anything. Anytime that something’s changing, we want to make sure that we’re the ones that are there from the beginning, instead of just reacting.
Drew and Jonathan are building a modern digital empire.
We just expanded last year our digital team so we have a larger team in-house and produce a lot of original content for the network partners that we have.
Drew: We have so many different Vine celebrities that we’ve partnered with to do collaborations, and that’s a huge thing, too. We’re giving them new exposure to our fans on our different platforms. We have about a couple million reach on our platforms. And then they’re giving their fans something new to see with us.
Walk me through the evolution of your Vine stardom and how you got connected with these big-name Vine stars. A lot of them are so young, and your TV audience skews a bit older. How’d it all come together?
Jonathan: Our fans know on our shows that we take the job of helping people out very seriously, but not ourselves. We always goof off. We come from an improv/sketch comedy background. We always want to find ways to be able to showcase that fun side of us.
Drew: And also broaden our existing audience. Because we know that even though we have the youngest demographic and the most male viewers of any of the shows on the network, our prime demo is women 25 to 54, and so that was one of things we identified early on.
Vine, especially, is a younger audience, so we want to tailor content to them but still keep it sophisticated. I find that some people go on there and they just do something ridiculous to try and get hits, but there’s nothing clever about it. But we want it to be fun and clever, and it can still be wild and crazy. That way, it appeals to everybody, and not just the young audience.
Jonathan: You see a lot of vines where it’s just swearing or something shocking. We have no desire to do that. But when you look at some of the Vine celebrities with millions of followers, like Sunny Mabrey, Josh Darnit, Brittlestar, these are the big guys we work with. And we find bringing these stars together, there’s always something goofy and original to come up with.
Drew: A lot of these Vine stars, too, are trying to transition to YouTube, and some are trying to transition to TV. Many have not been able to successfully do it yet because producing content for six seconds versus producing content that needs to maintain an audience for a much longer period of time is very different. So our company is trying to bridge that gap.
We have a lot of opportunities that open up: This year alone, we’re judges on Hell’s Kitchen, we also designed a house for this season of America’s Next Top Model. All of these things have opened us up to doing viral videos with Gordon Ramsay, Tyra Banks, all these different people. So what we do now is whenever we write content for these celebrities for a digital platform, we’ll incorporate some of these Vine stars, too, and that gives them a platform to get their face and their voice out there.
So you’re shepherding them into different mediums after you work together and see their potential firsthand.
Jonathan: Well, we find any celebrity—whether it’s a home-type person trying to get into food, a Vine star trying to get into YouTube—we like to be the people helping all those creative minds that we work with and like to work with. We want to help as many people as we can.
“Our fans know on our shows that we take the job of helping people out very seriously, but not ourselves. We always goof off.”
Drew: We love doing these celebrity crossover videos. The fans eat it up. They love it. We’ve got one that we’re writing now—it’s a chef competition, so it’s got pretty much anybody and everybody you could possibly think of in the food world. It’s a ridiculous competition thing. And even for Brother vs. Brother, right now we’re airing season 2, and we have a whole bunch of our friends—celebrities and Viners—who’ve all come together [for] … these [competitive] vines. We’re slowly releasing these over the coming weeks.
Jonathan: It gives us a chance to come back to our roots, back to comedy, to show a different side of us. And it’s one more piece in the puzzle to help expand back to what we like doing.
Drew: You’ll realize, as well, that we never stop talking.
Drew: The biggest thing for us is that whenever people say no—“No, that’s not gonna work,” “No, I don’t think that’s a good idea”—that just lights the fire under us to do it even more.
Last season for Brother vs. Brother, we had this crazy idea to do a digital companion series called Toddler vs. Toddler, where all the contestants would be toddlers and we’d pit them against each other in challenges. And the network was like, “I don’t know about that.” And we were like, “Trust us, it’s gonna be great.” And it broke all their records for digital content. They’d never had that many views, and the videos are hilarious.
Is there anything you just won’t do for your vines?
Drew: Well, I didn’t want to post my sex video.
It only lasted six seconds?!
Drew: Yea, it was perfect for Vine.
Jonathan: I find a lot of people have been thrust into celebrity status through Vine or other social media platforms because of their engagement. But some of those people don’t understand business and they don’t understand brand growth. They see themselves as an individual making goofy videos. They haven’t figured out how to monetize that. People who really understand natural brand growth and integration are doing really well, while some people are just doing vulgar posts and swearing and whatnot, and that’s not going to create longevity in the brand. So we’re not going to do anything on Vine that’s going to offend anybody.
So you always have to keep a sensibility about who your fans are and stay true to them.
Jonathan: You have to stay authentic to your fans and your fanbase, and we don’t want to dilute our brand in the property and home space by doing all these different things that people don’t understand. People on social, it exposes them more to who we are as individuals, and all that does is strengthen a bond with the audience.
“You see a lot of vines where it’s just swearing or something shocking. We have no desire to do that.”
I have to ask: What was it like working with Tyra Banks?
Drew: Tyra is awesome. You would think someone who has been in the business that long would come along with a diva attitude. Not at all: She was the sweetest person in the world.
The Internet loves her. She’s viral gold.
Jonathan: She’s hilarious. She’s not there to post “look at this latest trend.”
The funny thing is, I met her on Twitter. We just started chatting. She’s a big fan of the show. I saw an interview with her and didn’t realize the reach of all of her different businesses, and I said [on Twitter] “It’s very inspiring. Hopefully we’ll work together sometime.” And she said, “Work together? Why would we work together? We’re in totally different businesses.” And then, bing! The light went on. And she called me and we set up the whole thing for America’s Next Top Model.
I was looking at how many followers you each have, and Jonathan does have more followers on almost every platform.
Drew: If you look on social media, we get close to 400,000 questions or comments from fans per week. We get a lot of engagement from our fans. I get maybe 350,000, he’s [at] 400,000.
Jonathan: I’m just more popular.
Drew: Brother vs. Brother has a matrix each week which encourages fans to tweet #TeamJonathan or #TeamDrew, and 76 percent is #TeamJonathan.
Jonathan: Yeah, but he gets more [marriage] proposals! It’s a friendly competition, but at the same time, we do analyze everything.
So now that you’re working in both the TV world and the digital world, which do you prefer?
Drew: I don’t actually prefer one over the other. For me, I like mixing it up. I like having the diversity of each of the different things we do. It keeps everything from getting monotonous.
Jonathan: As everything sort of balances out, you’ll see more and more people get their content online and our audience is constantly building. At some point I think that it’ll meet.
Do you see a difference in the types of fans for TV versus digital?
Jonathan: Our social audience is younger; Facebook is our prime demographic. But Vine and Instagram are a young audience.
We’ll get families saying that Property Brothers is literally the only show that the husband, the wife, and the kids will all watch. It’s because we don’t take ourselves seriously. We’re goofing around. Online we do stuff that’s still tasteful, but really pushes the line.
Illustration by J. Longo