Show me a marketer without “viral” on her marketing plan and I’ll show you an online video site that’s profitable. Advertising offline is getting harder with time-shifted television and declining viewership, and online advertising is getting more complex with paid-search prices rising and banner click-thru’s dropping. Given the low variable cost of viral, it’s natural that advertisers would want to experiment with it. “I want a piece of Web 2.0,” they say.
Advertisers beware. Getting people to promote your product by forwarding a viral video is not as easy as it appears. Save you and your clients some money and consider the “7 Deadly Sins of Advertising Via Viral Video.”
1. Make a white and brown cow. Seth Godin has a term called “Purple Cow,” which refers to marketing that is “remarkable” and worth paying attention to and talking about. Your viral video better be Technicolor Purple if you actually expect it to break through an increasingly crowded space. What is remarkable? Take a look at the Volkswagen “Fast” series featuring Jim Meskimen. (Jim is a comedian and impersonator, and you’ve heard him as the voice of Messing With Sasquatch” series. Would you view this content more than once, and show it to a co-worker or forward it to a friend? I would, and have.
2. Pretend you’re not advertising. Nothing quite irrates a consumer like being secretly persuaded. “Al Gore’s Penguin Army” is a classic example of a “funny video” that was exposed as having a PR agenda. Transparency is a ticket in the viral video door, friends. No ticket, no ride.
3. Spend a fortune on production. It pains me to see companies throw around huge production budgets on online video. I’ve seen it payoff only once. Here’s Smirnoff’s Ice Tea Partay (which was featured yesterday as one of YouTube’s top 3 on Good Morning America). Clearly this cost north of $300K to produce. But even if you pay that much, you might be better off giving it a “rough around the edges” look. Improv acting, sloppy camera moves and poor production can actually give your video that “consumer generated video” feel. There’s going to be a huge market for individual directors that can shoot viral videos for around $20-$50K, and it makes it much easier to get an ROI on viral video when you’re not having to recoup a big fixed-cost investment in production. When Yahoo featured on its homepage my “Lay Me Off” video (which I’ve temporarily pulled down at the request of some of the actors), I got a number of e-mails from people asking how much I’d charge for a viral video for their clients. Since I have a day job and I do videos as a hobby, I declined. But they’ll find someone who is quite happy to take a low fee for a video that’s powerful. Of course an advertising agency will probably mark up the director’s fees by 500%.
4. Tell consumers instead of engage them. Don’t think of your viral video as an adaptation of a 60-second spot. Obviously it’s got to be irreverent, weird, funny and different. But more importantly, the web has the ability to make the viral event a dialogue. Contests are a good example. There have been plenty of online video contests, but Mentos Geyser Contest is already shaping to be one of the most successful. Check out all of the consumers creating buzz around a candy that was a 7-11 relic 6 months ago. Seventy to date! Production costs for Mentos on those videos? Zero. (By the way, vote this Mentos Jet Pack one 5 stars and I’ll send you some cheese). BarterBee’s contest created buzzz for a CD and DVD exchange. The CEO wore a bee suit to promote it. Brave.
5. Do a video contest because everyone else is. This online-video “contest fad” will continue, and it will become more difficult to activate consumers to promote your product. Do a search for “video contest” on Google and you’ll see four or five different ads for contests. The David Chappelle video contest is a good example of a nice idea with some executional flaws. First, it didn’t initially promote the contest on its own website because it wanted to focus people on buying the DVD. Second, it petered out. Contest winners weren’t announced and insufficient media budget promoted the contest. To give you an idea of how abused contests are getting, there was a summer promotion for a mayonnaise manufacturer looking for videos about may recipes.
6. Set unrealstic conversion metrics. After someone watches your video, what do you think they’ll do? Will 30% come to your site? Will 10% buy your brand in two months? Give me a break. Viral video is one of the most difficult-to-measure parts of your marketing mix. Sure you can count views. But none of the online video sites are yet able to track the viewers so you can conduct your DynamicLogic unaided recall and awareness study. And very f people will take an immediate and measurable action. Sorry to sober you.
7. Throw in the towel and decide to just advertise around viral videos. Please don’t give up and decide that it’s easier to simply advertise around videos. There are certainly products and services that can do well through this, but it’s the lazy way to approach online video. The online video sites are mostly new, and there is an unlimited possibility for creative partnerships. Even YouTube (which has been slow to embrace commercial interests) has a homepage advertising feature for advertisers. As I write, it’s a trailer for Beerfest. Yesterday it was Paris Hilton. Revver has run a few contests, and has married EepyBird to Mentos in probably the best case study for viral video marketing yet. For best results, don’t think you have to decide between getting your videos seen on sites for free OR advertising on them. Do both in partnership.