The Anti-Virus to Online Video

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. 

Viral Video is Dead in 2009Yes, 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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’s “Subway Pitch” process was documented on YouTube, and spread among interactive marketers and agencies. 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. 


31 Replies to “The Anti-Virus to Online Video”

  1. Cool. Does this mean I can take the title of viral video genius now?

    You’re very right though, in the upcoming year, one of the major changes that’s going to take place is that more professionals in the Marketing, HR, and Customer service fields will realize that a consistent fan base is more valuable than a one-hit wonder, and that getting your message in front of the right crowd is more important than getting your message in front of the biggest crowd. This will no doubt come as a sigh of relief to the Marketing department for Ben Gay, who has been trying to get an endorsement from Fred since June of this year.

    This is good news for the lesser-known content creators, because if you can draw a regular crow, and if you understand your following’s demographics, you won’t need to be in the top 100 most subscribed to get sponsorship deals. Heck, I’m a no-name loser, and I’ve got one potential sponsorship offer on the table right now.

    I found great article that’s a must-read for anyone interested in the direction of web 2.0 and new media for 2009. I posted it at my blog a couple days ago. (click). It’s really worth a read.

  2. But, but, but, Youtube is going the other way, Kevin. They are trying to be the Viral Video Only Channel: viral videos, all the time, 24/7. Nothing but viral videos.

    Seen my thumbnails lately?

  3. Damn right, viral video isn’t the key. I am not viral at all and have not figured one of my videos going viral into my PLAN FOR SUCCESS! BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM BUM!

    Great post, Naltsy.

  4. This is what you were doing all cuddled up on the couch in your PJs and bright orange thermal? I remember the first day it was too warm for you to wear that last spring…it was slightly depressing.

    But now it’s daily appearance is back to being annoying again.


    Yeah. I thought when you asked me if penicillin fights viruses…you were talking about computer viruses…and a new program called Penicillin as some witty retarded marketing scheme.

    Wow. I haven’t been here in a while…

  5. @3: Dang! You beat me to it!

    @12: Penicillin and other antibiotics treat bacterial INFECTIONS, not viruses. This is why it does no good (and actually is counter-intuitive) to run to your doctor for antibiotics for every little cold.

  6. This is a real long one people, so only somecallmejim will be reading it.

    I took a look at the list and of course I agree with that guy’s #1 pick.

    Matt’s is the best, it’s almost the perfect video, non-pretentious, colorful, fun, entertaining. Why? Because there are few who can’t relate to it. I’d travel with the guy to see the world, who wouldn’t? There’s instant appreciation for the amount of effort he put into the idea, it was sweet, lighthearted, simple and plane old fun. What’s not to like? Underneath it, it did exactly what a viral video needs to do, it incorporated something we all hear about every single day, a world economy. It has all the elements of mass appeal; even if he did it before he received funding and the product.

    I thought the wii was very clever, reminded me of stickman, but once was enough.

    The Tiger Woods Ad was good, star power never fails and it was a perfect representation for the product and demographic.

    All the others I thought were for curiosity seekers. Lying is never appealing nor does it have staying power unless it’s a really really good lie, then they will make a movie out of it.

    A viral video has to have everything seen and unseen, it’s something hovering in the minds of the popular culture that falls into place and hits at just the right moment.

    I also think anything nearing 1 million hits is more of a rash than a virus, I don’t think 1 million is pandemic, more archival.

    But I agree with you as I did last year:
    -focused on the right audience…
    -partner with popular video shows and creators….

    Which BTW, is your nitch. Gwad Kevin, you’re such an advertising marketing commercial sell out whore! But at least you’re honest and outside your banker, trustworthy. You’re the Mr. Whipple of You Tube, always squeezing the Charmin. Course, I never liked that guy, I’ll have to think of a better image pretty quick.
    Anyone else, help?!

    So, here we stand about a year later at the Gated Community now being built. The pioneer days are gone and the Burbs are starting to sprawl.

    If You Tube is the site among sites, the Ellis Island of video, they are starting to see the migration. Soon YouTube will be one big fat homogenizes saccharine sweet Home Shopping Network.

    The reasons why I believe that to be true:
    .The vloggers are leaving. Vloggerheads and blogTV are just a couple of places to go and after this weekend, agree or disagree, You Tube will lose more of those folks.

    .There are now bigger and better DIY sites.

    .You Tube Travel never really took off. The Travel Channel has so much more to offer to that demographic.

    .Pets. Well, you can put a pet on any site and it will do well. Animals are universal.

    .The On Going Series, if you like that sort of thing, are bigger and better on Veoh and Hulu.

    .Almost every news and news cable outlet have their own programs up and running and they are much better quality videos; You Tube is good for segments and run downs, a good place for independents to connect, but those places will be joining forces soon, where they will use what’s left of YouTube to siphon off more users. Even Local Stations have their evening news programs online, some live on air.

    .You can now watch full high quality video episodes of The Daily Show and South Park, once a staple of You Tube, on Comedy Central.

    .Buzz Flash has tapped into the What’s Really Hot Market via Huffington, which btw is replacing the Daily Newspaper, and soon enough there will be a web site that’s just for The Hits; most popular videos on the web and they won’t be embedded crappy flv files.

    Right now I predict You Tube is saying so-long to the pinnacle with a “Thank You and God Bless George W Bush!” You will never see anything viral like that again outside an assassination. I bet this last week was their biggest week ever. All five of their front pages were riddled with George Bush and the Shoe ©.

    Maybe some will disagree, but I think You Tube, for the most part, is turning into one big fat commercial and old library media site.

    – Maybe Google will let YouTube die because they fear they can’t beat Viacom and the other oncoming law suits. Hey, it’s possible, but a different topic –

    All I can say is, if they want to keep their numbers up there they better start treating their “partners” right and come up with some new ideas pretty quick.

    Viewers are getting stingy with their time and are finding their concentrated interests elsewhere.

    I’m not saying You Tube will close up shop tomorrow, but at least in the near future they will lose market and viewer shares, because there are just more choices available

    If I were a marketer, kill me now, I’d hold off and find the right demographic for my reps product’s and partner up with just the right creators. IOW, I’d incorporate Kevin’s exact two points.

    The suburbs are here, anyone know how to get to the mall?

  7. LOL @16!

    (I read it all, btw)

    In part, I completely agree, YouTube is commercializing. However, I don’t think that the day of the YouTube vlog will ever truly die. Some vloggers are just too hardcore to leave YouTube, despite better places popping up all over to head to. Plus, for the ones that want to get seen, YouTube has the advantage of being the most viewed video site on the net.

    Saying all that, commercialization is part of life. Does anyone else remember the feelings of shock and awe just barely over a decade ago when Sandra Bullock dazzled us with her enormous, uh, technology in “The Net”? I remember watching her order pizza online and pay for her food digitally at the grocery store, and I thought “yeah right”.

    Up until about the time of that movie, the Internet was still basically a place to share information. Online payment and e-commerce were terms still waiting to be coined. Essentially, it was exactly what the guys at CERN (oh, and Al Gore) created it to be – a medium for exchanging your knowledge, “networking yourself” if you will.

    But in a few years time, that movie went from science fiction to science fact as marketers realized that there was money to be made – big money. Slowly but surely, things started changing. People started charging to put ads on their sites. Someone figured out how to sell stuff online. Before long, the internet wasn’t that original information exchange – it was a multi-billion dollar market.

    And The internet is still cool, and in fact in many ways far better.

    The same process is happening with online video. Not just YouTube, but new media everywhere. YouTube just gets caught in the headlights because they’re today’s big player. (Which is no guarantee for tomorrow. Can we all say “Excite@Home”?)

    As the web 2.0 environment grows, those soulless marketing wenches will figure out ways to make a buck. and like the Internet did in the late 90’s, social media will become a marketplace worth millions.

    The secret is to stick around long enough to be a part of this brave new web.

  8. What shall we call it instead… Contagious Video? 😉

    The idea of a single video in isolation becoming viewed by an obscene amount of people is wonderful. But to what end? You acknowledged that much of Michael Buckley’s personal success was a result of picking a particular niche (celebrity news) and mining it for all it is worth. People come back to his videos because they feel they have this ongoing evolving relationship with Michael and share an interest in his subject matter.

    I learnt recently that you can get plenty of views (and ad revenue) just by annoying people. But would I recommend that as a strategy? Not particularly, no.

    Merry Christmas Kevin. I hope you and the family have a good one. Thanks for blogging and making videos.

  9. I’m feelin’ like a Somali Pirate!

    @18 social media is already worth millions, actually billions – the RIAA finally figured that one out [click]. Sign of the times..

    Seems to me you either have to have a fluke and monetize off of that and build, or know exactly what you’re doing, and build from the bottom up fast.

    Sticking around isn’t good enough any more, you have to have something to offer, an idea and work it, push it and hope some one with more know how or know how and wealth doesn’t steal it from you and make a killing before the ideas is too old for you to sue.

    Talent is talent and a good idea is a good idea, if you got it someone will find it, or you.

    To make it, and we’re talking money now, you either work behind the scenes, take big risks and reap the benefits or you put yourself out there, give it your all, play the fool if you have to, and take the big risks that way.

    I don’t see a middle, least monetarily.

    I think looking at the resent past as a model is wrongheaded and only in this sense, dwelling on old model ideas blocks your vision from seeing the ‘something new and different’ that’s emerging, and to see that, you have to either be blessed with vision or have the connections and wherewithal to make someone else’s vision happen, or if you’re really lucky, both.

    Finding and accepting your nitch is generally pretty hard, often painful, least for most people, some just fall into it.

    FTR – I didn’t say You Tube v-logs would die, I mean or at least meant to imply, they would diminish because of the new rules.

    I also thought about this a little more from a business perspective. Google attacked the right area to clean house. Few v-loggers pull in the hits, most v-loggers even the semi-popular ones just aren’t bringing in the numbers – I’m excluding phil and michael here – So You Tube has, at most, v-loggers pulling in somewhere between 60 to 200 hits max per video and they are saying f*ckf*ckf*ckf*ck all over the place – not to mention v-loggers are a general pain in the ass to deal with – and even if you are generating 500 to 1000 hits in a week or a month it’s not worth the complaints Google-Youtube is getting from the parents of the demographic they are really after, the Awesome computer savvy next generation 10 year old tweens and Millennials. So the question and solution comes down to who’s more expendable?

    The idea that You Tube decided one day it needed a, “Hey! a little decorum here!” is preposterous. There weren’t very many sites that grew to such popularity without the foundation of the down and dirty. Let’s not forget that the web was build on the hot and sweaty backs of salacious monkey porn. Now it’s all about the music. So once mp3s, in 2005, surpassed porn in most sales Congress conveniently decided to try and regulate porn on the net and Google-YouTube, an Al Gore company, is following suit with language, albeit for profitable reasons.

    ok done.

  10. The name Walter Mitty and the derivative word “Mittyesque” have entered the English language, denoting an ineffectual person who spends more time in heroic daydreams than paying attention to the real world.

    That’s how I see vloggers.

    I read each and every word of this blog. All of them. All posts. All comments. Sometimes I get irritated at Kevin’s corporate interests cheerleading but what the hey, it’s his blog. Besides. He’s an MBA, isn’t he? He can’t help himself. But I liked this post. Hey, I’m in a good mood tonight. I got my first “Help Me Keep My Mean Drunk Sister Fat Fund” (click) donation. $25. From the ex-wife of my homeless attorney who saw my videos of him on YouTube for the first time tonight. Cool, eh?

    I hope you cheapskates gave something to the red kettle (Salvation Army) this month. It brings so much happiness to us po’ people.

  11. OMG I love these comments. And this Mr Whipple can tell you that all of the medical analogies were based on what a Nurse (babysitterofnalts who is tired of seeing me in my bright orange sweatshirt) told me.

  12. This post and its associated comments were responsible for my getting another 1.5 hours of sleep. Thanks, Nalts. Thanks, Tribe.

  13. Nalts, We hate the phrase viral video as much as you do. But for search and simplicity Top 10 Viral Video Ads makes sense for this post. We have prospective clients say “We have a viral video we want you to seed.” Well, actually you have a video you want us to seed that you hope becomes viral. It’s the equivalent of saying you have a blockbuster film before your 1st screening.

  14. @22. 25 bucks?! Does that mean pizza and beer for Christmas?

    I like some v-logger, if their short and sweet not all preachy and get to the point. If they go over the three minute mark it’s tougher to stick with them. When it comes to “art” and I use that term loosely, always keep it simple, otherwise write. I like Michael’s energy, but I don’t think I made it through a show without fast forwarding, sorry, I’m just not into the whole entertainment culture thing, and I bet Phil could tighten his rants by skipping some stories and just put those links as treats for his “fans” on his site.

    -I think a good show is not when people walk away full, but when you have them begging/wanting more.-

    @23. Kevin please, please don’t adopt the Mr. Whipple persona, I know he’s an advertising icon, but here in the underground he’s who our rents told us to watch out for.

    @25 I won’t disturb you.

    @26 I like this comment, it reminds me how we got in this economic mess. Everybody wants to be a star! [click] see: the second video at the very beginning.

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