How two YouTubers turned their hunting vlog into a thriving business
Big hunting brands pay Dean and David Giarrizzo to feature products in their videos.
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Dean and David Giarrizzo didn’t launch their YouTube channel with the goal of becoming professional vloggers. The two Ohio brothers merely thought of YouTube as a form of content marketing they could leverage to promote their main business: a social media app for hunters called Tag N’ Brag. “This was almost 10 years ago,” David told me. “We got a beta platform launched with just short of 6,000 members on it to test the site and prove out the concept, and then we went into developing a phone app that correlated with it.”
The brothers were recent graduates of Ohio State and didn’t have technical backgrounds, nor did they have access to the kind of VC funding that would allow them to scale up a programming team. “We were outsourcing the development and we probably went through five different developers,” said David. “Through a five or six year span, we put a lot of time and effort and money into it, but we never felt like we got to a point where we had the product that we were envisioning.” Without a centralized tech team, they were consistently dissatisfied with the app’s design.
But by the time the brothers threw in the towel and shut down the app in 2016, they realized that they’d accidentally built up a loyal following on YouTube, one that was highly engaged with their videos and showed a propensity for buying the products they featured on their channel. In the half decade since, they’ve managed to scale their videos to millions of views while also expanding onto other platforms. Today, Tag N’ Brag distributes its content to over 100,000 followers across YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s also convinced dozens of hunting apparel companies to sign year-long, exclusive contracts to have their products featured in its videos.
In a recent interview, David walked me through how he and his brother built this business.
Growing the YouTube channel
Dean and David grew up in a family of avid hunters, and from an early age they became obsessed with watching hunting DVDs. “A lot of the hunting shows are all based on the end result, the trophy kill,” explained David. The camera would follow the star during the hunt itself, and he’d often turn to the camera to discuss whatever technique he was using to track and kill the animal. Usually the scene would end with the hunter holding up a recent kill.
In the early days of Tag N’ Brag, the Giarrizzo brothers followed that same format. A video from 2013, for instance, is nine minutes long and switches back and forth between two camera angles:
1. Dean narrating the hunt from some indoor location while facing the camera
2. The hunt itself
We watch as the deer wanders into the camera’s viewfinder. The camera then cuts to Dean aiming his bow. Finally we see the arrow hit the deer, followed by Dean’s celebration and display of the dead buck. “We would trade off on that back and forth so that we were both spending time in front of and behind the camera,” said David. “Eventually we added GoPros into the mix so we would have a second or a third angle on us.”
Even though those early videos did attract some attention, it wasn’t until the brothers broke away from this cookie cutter format when they started growing a real audience. “A lot of the hunting shows are all based on the end result, the kill,” explained David. “And while that's the end goal for a lot of hunters out there, there's a lot of stuff that has to happen in order to get there, and we felt like that's what the hunting shows on TV were missing.” In other words, even though the hunt itself might take place over a single week, there are months of preparation that include everything from property maintenance to target practice. “We began to restructure things and now we’ve turned the channel into a vlog, which lets our viewers experience that through us.”
The channel is now much more eclectic in its choice of topics. Here, for instance, are three videos it produced in January:
A three-minute walkthrough of their camera setup
A 13-minute video of one of their New York deer hunts
An 11-minute clip of various animals that walked by their stationary trail camera
“Once we switched, something just clicked, and we noticed that so many people were returning to our channel and watching new videos,” said David.
The brothers eventually launched accounts on Instagram and Facebook as well. Initially, they simply uploaded short clips in an effort to promote the YouTube channel, but then they started seeing growth on these channels. This was a time, remember, when Facebook was trying to promote native video, and its auto-play was effective at pulling people into the Tag N’ Brag vlog. Within a few years, they were generating tens of thousands of views each month across all three channels. “And as we were able to display that growth, all of a sudden a business blossomed out of it, because you had companies that saw the growth, understood it, and realized that we were one of the early adopters in the hunting industry to go fully online,” said David.
Monetizing the channel
Tag N’ Brag stumbled into its business model almost on accident; basically a number of hunting brands reached out to the Giarrizzo brothers and offered them free products. “We would review products that we hadn’t used before,” said David. “If we liked the product, then we’d incorporate it into our content, because we were posting so consistently.”
It slowly dawned on them that their channel’s reach was actually worth something to these brands. “It was a few years of us really putting in the time -- essentially for free product -- for a handful of different companies to show that, number one, our following was valuable to them, and number two, that we were going to consistently keep growing,” said David. “And once we were able to prove that concept with a few of these companies, they started to pay us money.”
For the most part, Tag N’ Brag doesn’t deal in one-off sponsorships. “How it's structured in the hunting industry is that most companies do a yearly contract,” said David. “So we sign a contract that basically says we're exclusively using this product for a year. We're not going to use a competing product. We'll produce short product-specific videos that we’re not only going to use on our social media, but we're going to give them the rights to use it on their own social media as well.” At any given time, Tag N’ Brag has anywhere between 12 and 15 of these signed engagements.
Expanding beyond its main channel
Now that Tag N’ Brag has settled on a model that seems to work, it’s seeing if it can replicate that success with other channels. David told me he’s constantly on the lookout when networking at hunting conferences for charismatic talent that will perform well in front of the camera. He now works with a handful of hunting influencers, consulting with them on how to craft video content that will perform well on the web. “I do some of the filming for them and all of the post-production,” he said. “I can advise them on how to launch the content around each episode, and I’ve taken over their social media accounts as well.”
Right now, David’s often paid on a consulting basis for these projects, but he eventually wants to build out an entire network of channels under the Tag N’ Brag umbrella. “I foresee it as being a little bit like a Barstool Sports for the outdoors,” he said. He’s met a number of young people who would perform well as on-air personalities, they just need to find an audience, and given Tag N’ Brag’s influence within the hunting community, it’s perfectly positioned to deliver one.
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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full bio, go here.