Rumble Online Video Site Takes on YouTube. Will Fail.

Rumble will fail. Mahhhh. I just pissed in my own pants.
Rumble will fail. Mahhhh. I just pissed in my own pants.

I just got a reporter inquiry about a website called Rumble. It was created to take on YouTube head on (see story), and I think that’s about the worst idea for an online-video site ever (at least in 2014). I’m going to come off like an angry old man in this post, so try to imagine me sitting in my boxers on a rocking chair holding a shotgun.

Rumble will either change strategy or be dead in less than 12-18 months.

Its offering to video creators is so bad I checked to see if this was an early April Fool’s joke (please note 1-26-14 update from CEO, below).

  • Rumble: Because the world needs another video-sharing site for cats.
    Rumble: Because the world needs another video-sharing site for cats.

    It requires exclusive content. That’s a really bad idea if you’re trying to compete with a market leader that doesn’t require exclusive content. I  never suggest a content creator license exclusively unless they get a guarantee that offsets what they might otherwise make elsewhere. Even new better.

  • It takes about 3-4 months before they provide analytics to creators (YouTube analytics are instant, and payment is monthly).
  • 60% of revenue (now that’s decent, but 60% of nothing is nothing).
  • No guarantee of views because there’s a limited audience using Rumble (although maybe some of its partners have an audience, and they’ll pull an intermediary approach- they claim some big partners like Yahoo!). Rumble’s CEO says they’re doing 100M streams.
  • No apparent advertisers using the site. They could theoretically solve this by letting their partners sell the inventory, but that would change CPM income … creating a Rumble advertising salesforce would take many months or years).

Rumble is founded by a bunch of folks who have been doing online video for a long time. Some at  successful companies, but some come from companies (you haven’t heard about) that got destroyed by YouTube. So will their vengeance inspire them to topple YouTube? Or is history the best predictor of success?

What they do have is a nice name. Rumble. Rrrrumble. Get ready to Rrrrumble. I was going to say they have a nice logo, but the play button is kinda owned already. Hopefully the founders, advisors and employees will adapt Rumble to find a better niche. Anything but trying to compete with a market leader without any discernable differentiation or advantage.

Mind you- this comes from somebody who makes money on YouTube, but who can’t stand monopolies. For amateurs making online video, YouTube is pretty much the only way to make money via online video. So there may eventually be an online video-sharing site that caters more to amateur creators. But I sure wouldn’t hold my breath for it, and resign not to make a dime anywhere else while they try to figure it out. As I told the reporter, I wouldn’t become a Rumble creator (under current terms) if it was founded by my mom and funded Chad Hurley.

All this said, take my advice with a grain of salt. I’ve called a lot of things accurately, but I also was rooting for and initially saw YouTube as a horrible financial investment.

Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski clarifies the terms the online-video company is offering creators
Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski clarifies the terms the online-video company is offering creators

Note from Chris Pavlovski, CEO of Rumble 1-26-14

“I recently noticed your review of Rumble. I totally respect your opinion and enjoy reading various takes, although I hope we do not fail 🙂

I wanted to point out that we offer other options for video creators. The 60% profit share is definitely a difficult one for users to swallow (this is because all revenue is generated on Yahoo, MSN, and takes a long time to receive reporting, but its worth it). We also offer two other options for video creators. If the video is good, they get rewarded within 24 hours and paid within 14 days. Here are the options:

  1. up to $1000 for an exclusive video license, up front cash
  2. up to $250 for a non-exclusive video license, up front cash
  3. we do custom deals as well (for larger creators)

The profit share is the 4th option, but normally makes more than the above two if you can wait 3 months. We are currently pushing well over 100M streams per month on our partner websites, so our reach is considerable and many creators are happy with it.”


YouTube’s Redesign (Cosmic Panda) Fails & Wins

cosmic panda logo picture drawing image
He's cute. You've got to admit that.

YouTube is about one month into its most significant design change since launch: Cosmic Panda. I have a feeling I know where they got the “cosmic” and the panda.” Let’s look at the redesign, and overthink what it might tell us about YouTube strategy, and what I believe works and sucks (wins/fails).

As with other redesigns, hardcore YouTubers squealed and the rest of you probably didn’t even notice. We see that across the Interweb with any major design change by a social-media site or publisher. Unlike previous changes focused on the YouTube “homepage,” however, I believe the essence of this redesign (not having read any Google statements) is three-fold:

  1. Simplified video player: The new design creates what Philip Defranco legitimately calls a “Hulu grey” surrounding a very purist player. The majority of the information (date, comments, view count and related videos) are now almost lost”below the fold,” which has negative and positive implications.
  2. Preparing for TV/Web Marge: Cosmic Panda appears to be providing a “lean back” experience resembling television, but not too deeply at the expense of a “lean forward” user-driven video session characterized by searches, views of a channel page, comments, selection to view playlist, fast-forward-like options while we view “playlists.” Playlists, by the way, are assembled by creators or users, and are given far more emphasis in Cosmic Panda.
  3. Major Channel Page Changes: There’s been an odd disconnect between viewing a video on a “channel” page (created by a network, show, vlogger, artist or advertiser) and a regular view you’d experience by finding a video in the typical manner. And Cosmic Panda seems to be bringing these experiences (views on channe page vs. regular “watch” page) closer together. In reality, only a VERY small percent of views take place within a channel page. We advertiser and creators too often forget this. So it’s interesting that Cosmic Panda put so much effort into overhauling the creator “channel” pages. I gather these changes were made to accommodate the complex needs of networks and producers, but in reality the “branding” options have almost entirely vanished.
What Do These Changes Suggest About YouTube Strategy? I have heard for months that YouTube would make more efforts to accommodate creators/networks so that, for instance, a single channel could accommodate multiple shows. I’ve also heard that the design would make it easier to curate videos and share them, which is very important. I believe we can make some important conclusions about YouTube based on this design:
  1. Above all, the user comes first. Like Google, simplicity trumps advertisers and content creators.
  2. This design does suggest to me that YouTube wants to move toward web-TV. I could actually envision binging on YouTube content via my Google TV using this new design (something that was not as easy or fun in the previous one).
  3. Most importantly, I believe the emphasis on the channel page is the most telling. The channel pages are not frequented relative to views OFF channel, yet this is YouTube’s second major design release that fundamentally changes these channel pages. One could gather that YouTube sees value in these (or else they’d leave them alone, or give channel owners what they wanted). They didn’t. They reduced customization of the channel pages, and that’s consistant with previous reductions of channel owners (who once were permitted a small banner besides every video). So what’s the plan, Stan? Are we going to see a greater emphasis on channel/TV-like consumption instead of the graze & search model that predominates?

Reviews have been mixed but largely positive. ReelSEO digs it, and WillofDC is neutral to positive. Now before I critique it, let me acknowledge three indisputable truths:

I spent a lot of time experimenting with Cosmic Panda wearing a variety of hats. I paid too much for these Nalts hats at Lids. I want free hats.

And before I pick my “wins” and “fails,” let me acknowledge the “hats” I can and can’t wear while critiquing it:

  • As a 10-year veteren of online marketing and advertising (mostly client side, but also agency) I have some strong POV from a brand/commercial perspective.
  • As a creator with 1000 plus videos seen 250 million times, I have pretty strong feelings.
  • Finally, as a YouTube extreme “user,” I spend a lot of time on the site (although less in the past year). So I can adjust to design quirks that would send my mom into a tailspin.
  • BUT What I CAN’T speak to is what “normal” mainstream viewers feel about the site. I can only hope YouTube recognized that segment as the primary audience for the redesign, and not hard-core users, creators or advertisers.

An important internet meme is “win and fail.” Popularized by Fail Blog, this refers to victories and public mistakes — usually involving someone getting hurt or doing something worthy of a Darwin award (yes they’re still around). Let’s talk wins and fails of Cosmic Panda.

Biggest Fails

a) Where’s the Creator/Brand Love? The channel page provides reduced customization, and as a creator and marketer (who has worked on brand channels) I’m not digging that. However I do respect that simplicity is good, I resent the limited customization and the horrific minimization of everything “below the fold” (seen without scrolling on most browsers).

b) Wasted Space… New Ads? Biggest fail, which will certainly be remedied, is this horrific waste of precious “above the fold.” I want IAB standards on rich-media ads that can play here. As a viewer, I would hope the advertiser pays more for annoying/busy ads (or I’ll get out my post-it notes and cover the space). But as an advertiser I like the idea that we can use this area to serve ads that are typical online… instead of just annoying prerolls and forgotten banners.

"This space for rent." The lack of functionality on the right suggests that rich-media ad units will soon dominate this space.

c) Form Over Function: Simplicity triumphed at the expense of some important basics. I need to scroll to see the date of the video! Comments are tucked away in a separate part of the experience, which is fair since most don’t read or write comment. However it’s going to reduce engagement. Furthermore, I was saddened to see how little “love” the related videos get. This is a very important way for a viewer to find content, and a very valuable way for a creator to engage a viewer in a binge. I used Cosmic Panda for weeks before I even noticed these three choices. I don’t think my mom will notice them anymore than the previous convoluted mess that allowed you to sort videos by views, date and ratings.

Is this the right primary navigation for a channel page? Do we even notice it?

Bigs Wins

a) Simpler, Polished User Experience: Panda’s biggest victory is the simplicity and emphasis on the video being viewed… downplaying comments and ratings, and making it easy to toggle to a full-screen view. That’s important in the migration ahead (webTV). We humans have executive brains that ask for loads of functionality, but our limbic systems want fewer choices and eyeball competition.

b) Channel Emphasis: I do fundamentally like the focus on “channels” because I think it’s a deeply engrained mode for us based on television. I was pleased to see how far down you’d have to scroll to get to a “related” video by another creator. Let’s use a TV mindset to predict the future. I find US Network the best at cross-promotion of shows, and now find myself plunging deeper and deeper into its “characters welcome” family of shows. YouTube’s new approach facilitates that type of relationship between a creator/network and its audience. It’s easy to find playlists and view them consecutively with a wonderful thumbnail slider. It’s increasingly rare to binge on a string of videos that other users have found related… although I confess a guilty pleasure of occasionally getting on a binge of a specific topic (usually pets, pranks, babies laughing).  In general most of us a) chronically view a creator, b) search out videos, or count on others to help us mine for gold in a river of dung.

c) Mama Might Understand It: While I’m not crazy about the featured/videos/community tab, I do think the channel page is MUCH better at helping my mom find my most recent videos (I used a custom URL to provide that previously), and for friends/colleagues to find specific playlists. The reason that’s so important is that viewers don’t want a lot of choices… they want to either see the most recent video (“new” is almost always preferred to “good” in most mediums), or they want a specific, consistent genre of videos. I’ve always had trouble keeping various audiences pleased: My fart viewers don’t care about my family videos, and my fellow parents may not be interested in sophomoric pranks… they just want to see the family. The relationship between the audience and the creator/network needs to acknowledge that diversity, and Panda is a huge step forward on that important dimension.

AHEAD: The next step is pivotal. We need to see YouTube drive traffic more seamlessly to these channels from the videos that comprise them. It’s far from intuitive, for instance, to move from watching “Farting in Public” to my channel page (subtle icon on bottom) and then subscribe (the button has been muted from its earlier orange). Emphasis on that path (from viewer to subscriber) will help turn grazers into loyal YouTube channel viewers, thus significantly increasing YouTube’s views, average sessions, and advertising revenue. Then YouTube will have to figure out how to let subscribers to a channel “sub” subscribe to specific shows/type of content. That’s not an easy one. But I think Google can figure it out.

What do you think? Did you even read this 1500 word doctrine? Me neither.








“Texting Fountain Fall” Lady Has Criminal Background, Will Sue

Seems that lady who fell into the mall fountain while texting (in a video that went viral, and resulted in her heartfelt news appearances) seems to have some prior convictions on her record… a few retail thefts and a hit and run.

At least she didn’t appear to get any shoplifted goodies wet. For more information on Cathy Cruz Marrero, and some other “text-while-walking fails,” see Yahoo coverage.

Here’s an audio report of Cathy’s reaction, and the fact that she’s hiring an attorney based on treatment by mall security. It’s much easier to delegate theft to a licensed attorney. (Take it from a guy who’s still feeling a cold hand nipping at his wallet).

U.S. Security Associates, the company that provides security at mall, said that a security guard responsible for sharing the video had been fired (Fox News). But we can only hope the Berkshire mall will make some safety accommodations for people unable to curtail their text obsessions. It’s a civil right, isn’t it?

Favorite coverage to date? Helen Popkin, Technolog on MSNBC, warning that the Streisand effect is kicking in. Maybe Fountain-Fail Lady and Richard Heene can co-write a book on how viral can enhance a public image.

Face Fail on Live German TV: “Jumping Stilts” Accident

As seen on TV: the jumping stilts (warning: do not attempt to jump over car heading toward you)

Remember the jumping stilts (kangaroo stilts) you may have discovered on YouTube around 2007 (see SMPFilms video)? It’s probably not a good idea to use them to jump over the moving car your dad is driving.

Sir? You have a collect call from the Darwin Awards.

Here’s one for the Darwin Awards, Failblog, and “what did you think would happen?” file. Below is a video from the live broadcast of the German “Wetten Dass?” television show December 4, 2010… it’s not a pretty site, and the accident occurs at seven minutes. The “kangaroo stilt jumper” (Samuel Koch) takes a serious face plant while attempting to jump over a moving vehicle driven by his father. It’s really quite grueling to watch. I suppose when you perform with tigers, they will occasionally eat you.

Naturally, as long as we are entertained by wild stunts, we’ll encourage people to take risks. Those risks will come with consequences that are quite horrific. If the kid lives, it would appear paralysis would be possible– if not likely. And that kinda puts my balcony fail in perspective. The next time I trip and fall, I think I’ll utter the extremely unsympathetic statement “now I know how Samuel Koch felt.”

According to the BBC: Koch, a 23-year-old German contestant on a German game show, was hospitalized over the weekend, had numerous surgeries to fix his back and neck fractures, and remains in a “critical stage.” He made several successful jumps, but the live broadcast ended abruptly after the fail.  The show, which has been airing for about 30 years, is called”Wetten Dass?” It translates to “Want to Bet?” To read fairly comprehensive coverage with photos, see this DailyMall (UK) article. And if you get really obsessed, here’s more.

Again- not something to watch if you have a weak stomach. I caught the story on NBC, so of course I instantly searched recent videos with the words related to the story. I can only imagine what Sxephil and Failblog will do with this. It’s kinda sick to derive humor for it, but then again… I’d love to hear the “what were you thinking” answer from the network or television show’s safety crew.

In related news, Justin Bieber cancelled his appearance on the show. So if you want to see a young singer swallow razor blades while swimming through a piranha tank… you’re going to have to surf YouTube.

How & Why Madison Avenue Is Killing YouTube (and what it can do)

Call it a subtle scent at this week’s Ad:Tech in NYC… Lots of discussion of online-video, even if not in proportion to online-video’s growing importance to the online-marketing mix. More interesting, however, is that most conversations didn’t use the two words: “you” and “tube.” People talked about contextual targeting, video-advertising networks, and even facial recognition.

Even though every attendee received a free Fast Company that featured YouTube influencers, the words “You” and “Tube” weren’t muttered except in disgust. Even Google’s mainstream booth didn’t showcase YouTube. WTF?

Why? How was it that people would only discuss YouTube when I brought it up? And why was all the feedback negative:

  • They’re not selling inventory well. They’re not even making it easy for us to buy it.
  • They don’t understand the role of the agency because they’re used to getting money through electronic bids.
  • YouTube sees agencies as unimportant middlemen between them and THEIR customers
  • If you don’t have $40 million, they won’t customize things for you.

The “Madison YouTube Snub” wasn’t about the proximity of ads to “consumer generated content,” or about metrics or targeting. It was simply that agency buyers (as haughty as I know they can be) aren’t being treated well.

What YouTube is missing is the “Great Irrationality of Marketing Spending,” something I’ve grown to understand even if I disdain. I’ve seen it closely from all three perspectives: as a content creator, a buyer, and an intermediary. While we direct-response oriented marketers (the ones who track A/B campaigns on Google OCD style) are about results, the vast majority of advertising spending is not rational or performance driven. There. I said it. Try to refute that fact.

I’m not suggesting that media buyers are behaving recklessly or spending without consideration of their client’s money. But I do know that when confronted with a new medium with unclear metrics, they buy based on a) what’s easy, b) what they understand, and c) relationships.

I know how devalued my 4-6 million monthly views on YouTube are, and how the cost-per-view is horrifically low. So this article is a bit biased. But I also know I can’t solve that myself… it’s going to take some improvements in San Bruno. I would typically provide this advise without public fanfare as “not to bite the hand that feeds me.” I wouldn’t have an audience without YouTube. But I owe it to myself and fellow creators to help YouTube solve its biggest problem: poor monetization of traffic.

So here are 7  tips for YouTube to win back the hearts and dollars of Madison Avenue.

  1. Be Nice. You don’t have to contort your business model to fit advertisers, but at least show them love.
  2. Know Your Customer. It’s only partially true that the big brands are your customer, Google. Don’t negate the influence of the agencies on how that spending is partitioned. Even the smartest and well-intentioned marketers defer to media buyers. Marketer have two years to chase ROI and can’t possibly get into the weeds of one medium — much less one property.
  3. Teach Google sales people about YouTube. They simply don’t understand how to sell display advertising, much less video. It’s really quite sad.
  4. Educate. As market leader, it’s Google’s responsibility to set metrics, validate the medium, and educate buyers AND key influencers. Don’t expect logic to prevail, or it will be 2012 and Madison will have jacked up competitors. If I don’t see some ROI studies in 2011 published by YouTube and Forrester, ComScore, TubeMogul, Jupiter, eMarketer, or whoever… I’m going to show up to San Bruno with poop on a stick.
  5. Create an East Coast sales office for YouTube. Do it now. YouTube is floundering in silly pods, and there’s not enough pretty faces greasing agency palms. I resent it too, but it’s how dollars flow.
  6. Decentralize. Agencies do a lot of stupid things, but they know the importance of small. Google is too layered to move in the agile way that’s required of new media, and it’s killing itself.
  7. Get Creative. You don’t need to accept ad units that piss of your viewers, which is a more important stakeholder than advertisers. But explore new options, partner with greater trust, and don’t expect video to be monetized with the simple standards of your cash cow (paid search).

Any other tips? Or are you just gonna hope it takes care of itself?

America’s Funniest Videos Take YouTube By Storm

In a very interesting model, the producer of America’s Funniest Videos is bringing an archive of 1970s-present user-generated content to YouTube. And, no, Bob Saget and Tom Bergeron are not hosting, VHS players are optional, and the AFV brand isn’t involved. Thank God.

Instead Vin Di Bona (who, trivia here, used some of my 1980s clips in the trailers promoting AFV) is teaming with Phil DeFranco (Sxephil) and Toby Turner (Tobuscus) in what’s called CuteWinFail. Read about it on NewTeeVee if you actually want facts. The premise is that the audience decides if it’s cute, a “win” (victory) or “fail” (embarrassment).

Toby is one of few people who can pull off hosting this format with his manic delivery, clever writing and genuine nature. He celebrates the archaic clips without pandering to them… and avoids falling into the dangerous trap of Webjunk and Tosh 2.0, where the host snubs the content. Toby walks the fine line in a way that Phil probably couldn’t have done — simply because he couldn’t likely hide his contempt for the clips (but who among us can throw a stone?). Toby, on the contrary, mocks and celebrates the cheesy moments in what can only be called Tobuscumockercelebration.

I believe it’s one of the smartest collaborations between traditional media and YouTube, and far more likely to emulate the popularity of FailBlog than most production/network “fails” on YouTube. It’s also likely to get Phil and Toby on the big-boy radar since it has the credibility of AFV’s producer.

The biggest difference between “Cute Win Fail” and Failblog, of course, is that the clips are owned by the channel, so advertising is fair game. Poor FailBlog could be making several hundred thousand dollars (actually well more) if it was monetized, but it’s mostly “ripped” content. Di Bona’s production company (see NewTeeVee) owns loads of cheesy b-roll, and it would have been a horrible embarrassment to start uploading and monetizing it without Sxephil and Tobuscus vouching for it and putting it into YouTube context… and allowing it to be self aware of the “cheese” factor in a way that even the smooth Bergeron couldn’t have done.

Texas Tech Football Fail Does 3.5 Million Views in Days

Remember we were discussing the new definition of “viral” as about 4 million views in a short period? 22 seconds of last week’s Dallas Cotton Bowl will reach that distinction. Texas Tech’s Red Raiders tried an onside kick in the first quarter of a game. However, Donnie Carona’s kick only traveled 8 yards, and while he and two teammates stood around wondering what to do next… Bayler’s Terrance Ganaway picked up the ball and ran 38 yards for a touchdown. In fairness,Carona’s kickoff did not travel the required 10 yards for Tech to recover it.
To make matters worse, in a 52-38 loss to Iowa State two games ago, according to SportsDayDFW, Tech tried an onside kick late in the game, but the Cyclones’ Jeremy Reeves ran back Donnie Carona’s kick 42 yards for a touchdown. (additional source: MyPlainView).

Best Buy’s Social-Media Image Collapse

Until today, WillVideoForFood didn’t have a “Greatest Corporate Social-Media CollapseAward, but it’s now going to the uncontested “winner.”

Best Buy, a company once known for its savvy social-media presence spearheaded by Barry Judge (seen below, searching for jobs at Circuit City), has gone from great to mediocre to embarrassing… in just a few months.

Barry Judge, Best Buy's Chief Marketing Officer Napping

Perhaps someone with the time and patience to run some social-media monitoring analysis can use a quantitative tool to validate Best Buy/Geek Squad’s sentiment decline (a free one, Radian6 or some others listed here). But here are three recent and vivid examples of a company whose arrogance — demonstrated by aggressive attorneys, PR apathy, and poor employee relations — has made it the undisputed 2010 winner (or loser). I’m sure someone else can better document numerous other episodes that precede and follow these, but here is what WVFF judges used to base their decision:

1) Geek Squad Driver Calls Cops on YouTuber: A Geek Squad (Best Buy’s beloved repair team) van driver spotted this blogger and video creator shooting some b-roll of a van. My intent? To make a parody of a technical repair superhero responding to absurd computer requests (can you fix my cup holder? Oh that’s a CD-ROM drive?). The video, which might have been a humorous and free consumer-generated advertisement for Geek Squad, instead resulted in this… seen by a quarter of a million viewers. The driver called the police and “Nalts” got a fine for reckless driving.

Hey I’m biased here, but you know that. I’m part of the story, and wasn’t thrilled to get pulled over and fined because a Geek Squad driver got paranoid (perhaps he feared I was doing a video expose on his wicked speeding). Sensing his unease, at a red light I handed him my business card, smiled, and explained my video concept. The NJ police officer said the driver interpreted that as threatening gesture and dangerous. Really? But we can forgive a company for a freaky driver, but it was poor form for Best Buy to ignore me. I wrote the company’s PR group, and a simple apology would have probably brought me right back. Did I mention I captured that driver again two weeks ago? I think he was selling ice-cream and crack cocaine this time, but don’t quote me on that.

2) Best Buy Intimidates Employee for Parody Video With No Mention of Creator’s Employer: Then there was poor Brian Maupin, a Best Buy employee who was fired (or as Best Buy would prefer you conclude: was suspended, rehired, and quit under duress) for this funny “iPhone vs HTC Evo” video seen by 7 million. The video didn’t mention the creator worked for Best Buy, and there’s this whole “freedom of speech” thing that Best Buy’s social-media policy seems to have forgotten. But Maupin knew the event undermined his chances to ascend to Assistant to the Regional Store Manager.

3) Geek Squad Sues Catholic Priest. Now the Geek Squad is protecting its rapidly-depreciating Geek Squad trademark (see undercover expose) by suing a priest who created a God Squad logo (readers of The National Catholic Register will no doubt boycott the store). While we understand trademark vigilance, we believe this Wisconsin Priest (Father Luke Strand) might have been handled with a bit more diplomacy, and agrees… calling it a “PR nightmare.” Yeah, when a corporation sues a priest… Catholics (and there are a few of us) aren’t going to be thinking about trademarks when we go elsewhere for our electronics.

Please comment below… and I invite anyone to defend each of Best Buy’s actions. It’s hard to give up on a company you love, and I’ve seen some interesting debates on various articles and blogs. I’d also like to invite anyone to join me on a 2010 boycott of Best Buy. There’s even a Facebook page to boycott Best Buy (apparently they fund anti-gay politics). I haven’t walked into the store since the po-po pulled me over, and the Maupin story gave me more resolve. But now they’re messing with a Priest? I read the Best Buy circular weekly, and never went more than 10 days without shopping there. But I’m done with the store for 2010. We’ll see if Barry or a well-meaning public-relations firm can turn this around, and revisit them in 2011.

Hey at least I have a great case study for the sequel to Beyond Viral (now available for pre-order on Amazon). Did I mention Amazon also sells electronics?

Sponsored Videos: How to Sell Without Selling Out

  • The biggest mistake most online-video marketing programs make is they promote and don’t entertain. I’m not talking about forced pre-rolls here, but “branded entertainment” or “sponsored” online videos. As a result, these videos are ignored, not shared, and often do more harm than good.
  • In reaction to that mistake, we’re likely to go to the other extreme. Entertain but not promote the brand sufficiently, and that will line the pockets of YouTube webstars without benefiting brands.
A sponsored video should initiate a behavior like trial or loyalty. But if it's "in your face advertising," the audience is gonna puke, exit video, and probably think worse of the brand.

So we’re on this entertainment/marketing see-saw, and it’s easy to lose balance:

  • Sell Too hard: Well-meaning advertising agencies, perhaps fearing that the video would lose impact, have made some decisions I’d consider “deal breakers.” The campaign is trying too desperately to appease advertisers — like forcing the logo or a slate at beginning of a sponsored video, which is a good cue for audience to shut the video. This harms the creator and the brand, and you’ll know it when you see 50% “thumbs down” and “sellout” in the comments 100 times.
  • Too soft: A recent film promoted via YouTube webstars, and the film itself was only mentioned briefly at the end of each video (after more than 75% of the viewers were likely long gone). I felt like that film wasn’t getting its fair share of the exchange. If people can’t recall the brand or identify it’s sponsored, you’ve probably gone too soft.

Instead, marketers might consider how to sell a product WITHOUT making a video feel like an advertisement… keeping in mind that audiences drop from an online-video in massive numbers, and eye-tracker reports the eye darting at the close button… as the viewer is just waiting for an excuse to move on… just like you’re not reading anymore because you’re looking at the lady below.

For instance if you’re promoting Gatorade, you’re notconcerned about how much screen time the bottle gets and whether it’s tagline and ingredients appear.  Consistent use of a specific phrase may satisfy a brand or agency, but it’s not required and can be a turnoff. You simply want someone to buy Gatorade later, and that effect does not need intrusive advertising in a video.

For the record, I used the author's example (Gatorade) and only later decided to include this image. But I do plan on using hot chicks in all of my blog posts for the next month.

Consider this time-tested but recently refined “10 Reasons Why Positioning Benefits Fail” It’s written by the smart peeps at Brand Development Network International Richard D. Czerniawski and Michael W. Maloney. I attended a class by these seasoned and street-smart marketers while at Johnson & Johnson, and the “boats and helicopters” are a nice way of cutting through academic bullshit. Parenthetically, isn’t it remarkable that some of the smartest brand marketers have absolutely the worst possible name and URL for their company (almost as bad as “Will Video For Food”).

I’m building off this must-read blog post, to develop some key takeaways for bridging the gap between a tight brand strategy and a fun and flexible online video.

  • Make the benefit unique. If I don’t know the difference between well water and spring water, then you’d better be cheap, in a good bottle and not give me an after taste. The USP (unique selling proposition) is not developed by the YouTube creator, but they’ll need to understand itfor their creative brief unlesss it’s a straight up “product placement.”
  • Go beyond matching benefits to broad needs. In this medium, we have a fairly tight community with a common group of values, needs, rules and annoyances. We use words like “sellout, fail, rofl” to signal what’s appropriate.If the need your product/service solves is as broad as “I want to feel safe about financial decisions,” here’s an opportunity to link to a more relevant need among YouTubers… Not a requirement, but really improves brand relevancy.
  • Try narrowing down to a meaningful emotional need. I too have read enough creative briefs with “empowerment” or “get back to life.” Keep in mind that on video we can communicate these emotional benefits with an eyebrow or a smile, and don’t need to drop it verbatim (which is a turnoff for the viewer).
  • Keep benefits extremely simple as not to weigh down a video. As a video creator I’ve received briefing documents with a list of 20 different phrases to use. It’s overwhelming to me and my viewers. Three is the magic number.
  • Benefits should go beyond “cost-of-entry.” Yeah that video camera has great quality… is that the best you can do? Seriously. You might as well say “it’s as good as the rest.”
  • It’s important for the creator to have some room to breathe, but you may want to help him or her avoid junking up a video with enthusiasm words that have no meaning: great, super, exciting, fun, awesome, wild…
  • Agencies and marketers should provide strategic language that helps provide the creator with direction. A slogan verbatim is nice, but a webstar expressing the right message is even better.

Parody of Billy Bob Thorton’s Radio Flip-Out

I was making $16,000 a year for the Georgetown Courier, when our photographer got news that Pierce Brosnan was shooting Live Wire. The determined photographer convinced the doorman at the Watergate to ask Brosnan if he’d let her take his picture. Then she asked if I wanted to cover the story. What a break! Brosnan’s handlers told me NOT to ask about James Bond, however. At the time, Brosnan’s Remington Steele contract forbid him from being the next Bond, and that was a touchy subject.

How do you think I opened the interview? How can you NOT ask about something so important to him? I did it delicately by asking him why it was so important as to not be discussed. And then he spilled the beans.

I’m reminded of that story when I watched the Billy Bob Thorton video, where his handlers must have insisted to the show’s producers that the topic of Thorton’s film career not come up. How can it NOT come up? Really? Are you now a rock star only, Billy Bob, in your post Angelena days?

But really, should Billy Bob Thorton be blamed for flipping out on Canadian Interviewer (QVT/CBC Radio) Jian Ghomeshi?

No way. It’s the interviewer’s fault. Here’s my experience with the SAME guy (Ghomeshi) last year. He made me so mad I was fixin to kill him with this lawnmower blade. Hmmm.

Footage used with permission by QVT and CRC Radio (I called their media team on commute home and spent hours more than you might think on this stupid video. The tension builds up around 6 minutes in the actual clip:…