I’m still procrastinating my AdAge article for online-video, but the process awakened me to something vital about online video. You see, when I was featured for the first time on YouTube it was mocking a “viral video genius.” It was meant to be a joke. Viral video was not an art form, and remains a mix of luck, timing and the impact of the video. But I’ve still been using the term “viral video” like it’s some sort of holy grail, and I’d like to change course in 2009.
Yes friends, the self-proclaimed “Viral Video Genius” is now advocating for the anti-virus. Viral video is dead for 2009, and I hope this Feed Company report of the best “Viral Video” advertisements is one of the last roundups I read.
Yes, Virginia. I said it. Viral video is dead. In fairness, it was a bad idea from the beginning. The term viral was around well before online-video and derives from the term “virus.” Needless to say, when I first used the term in interactive-agency pitches to pharmaceutical firms in 1999 and 2000, marketers were deeply confused.
There are three reasons I’d like to inject an anti-virus penicillin into the arm of marketing.
- The term “virus” is not polite or accurate. Social media requires a new mindset where terms like “targets” and “bulls eye” aren’t exactly terms of endearment. Business is packed with war terms, as is sports. Even “retention” or “persistence” isn’t quite the same thing as winning a customer’s loyalty. So when you want a consumer to share your promotional message with their friends, a virus isn’t the connotation you’re after. The term even implies that the video spreads despite the carriers instead of as a result of their work.
- Second, it’s increasingly difficult to go viral and virtually impossible to predict much less guarantee. I’ve done more than 700 videos, and only a few have gone “viral,” if that’s defined as millions of views. Fewer and fewer brands will have promotion that is so dang compelling that it will be passed along by consumers.
- Third, going “viral” is hardly even a worthy goal. The “viral” obsession is based on a preoccupation with “total views” instead of the right views. In our hysteria to deliver big numbers, we’ve missed a core tenant of marketing that’s more vital than “reach, frequency and single-minded proposition.” It’s called targeting.
Example: Many of you WVFF readers may remember when Agency.com’s “Subway Pitch” process was documented on YouTube, and spread among interactive marketers and agencies. Agency.com lost the pitch, and the video reached key “insiders” of the medium even though it did not get many views by conventional measures. If I’m marketing a software product to human resource managers, I want my video viewed by HR people. Sure if it’s seen 10 million times, it’s likely some of them will be HR managers. But if only 2 percent are indeed my target, perhaps I’d rather 200,000 views on blogs read by HR managers.
So let’s get back to the basics. Online-video is growing wildly, and gambling on a “viral hit” is far riskier than identifying and promoting via select channels or video creators. There are two ways to help ensure online-video investment reaches the right people:
- ensure media buys are focused on the right audience (demographics or otherwise).
- partner with popular video shows and creators (professional and amateur) that have already aggregated your most-valuable consumers.
If you’re marketing a men’s health product called “Macho Cologne,” do you buy an ad in Men’s Health (or try to get an article written about your product). Or would you launch Macho Cologne Magazine, and pray people might find it, and read it? If I’m marketing cat food, I don’t want to create my own cat videos and launch a channel. I want my ads associated with already popular animal video channels and creators (and this is getting easier with Google keywords available on YouTube). And if there’s a popular pet show that features cats, an even higher-impact model would be to sponsor the creator — especially if they have a proven ability to attract regular crowds (not just a one-hit wonder, but regular viewers/subscribers). The combination of sponsored video and advertisements is just the right cocktail is more likely to work.