Video Contests: Creative Awards & Popularity Contests (Butterfingers)

Jared Cicon aka “Video Contest King” has some sage advice for would-be video contest entrants, and characterizes three types of contests (and which to avoid). Of course, he neglects to tell you not to enter a contest he’s entered. Your chances are slim against his polished creative. Don’t bother.

Jared doesn’t temper his resent against contests that allow video creators to leverage their existing fan base to jack up views and, in his view, manipulate contests. He prefers contests rely less on the creator’s social-media fan base and more on the video creative itself.

The problem, of course, is that the contest sponsor is often running a contest less to identify brilliant creative… and more to engage audiences. So a popular contest entrant with a luke-warm video entry is, to some degree, more valuable to the marketer or agency than a brilliant consumer-generated ad created by an unknown videographer. The advertiser benefits from free visits if the “popular” video creator sends his or her viewers to the contest site. Then the contest micro-site has actual visitors… something they don’t usually otherwise fetch without a significant online-advertising budget promoting it. Ideally when they get to the contest microsite, they’ll find more videos like Jared’s (versus some really poor samples I hazed on a previous post).

Nobody's Gonna Lay a Finger on my Butterfinger video contest

Fortunately for Jared — who creates television-quality commercials but has no major social-media fan base — most contests fail to capitalize on the audiences of popular video creators. For instance, I entered a Butterfinger Contest months ago (see contest site). Although the video was promoted heavily via Yahoo Video banners, my entry didn’t go to my Yahoo-Video profile but presumably to a dark FTP site. It’s not even showing up on the contest site, and I’m not even 100% sure it is being considered. Jared posted his entry on YouTube (an act of generosity or to show off his work) but says it’s disqualified because he used minors. Perhaps mine suffered a similar fate.

This is a contest built for Jared not me. I would not have likely entered knowing Jared was going after the same contest and the same category (gadgets). In fact I entered mostly because my wife kept asking me to do so (she was more optimistic than I that we could win the $25K grand prize). I typically avoid “top heavy” contests (where the winner takes all and the runners up get token prizes). Based on Jared’s previous post, I imagine he might have declined a runner’s up award… also more interested in $25K than a year’s supply of candy).

Had I teased my YouTube audience with out-takes of my contest entry, and sent them to the Butterfingers contest website to see it, the contest website would have likely had 5,000-20,000 visitors (generating that kind of traffic can cost $$$$ when you’re buying display ads). When you’re running a contest, you ideally want Jared-like creative samples (especially if you plan to use them offline) but also some actual traffic on the contest site so the contest is not an embarrassment.

So how could Butterfinger have engaged more target customers, and still ensure the winning video was actually good (and not just done by a popular creator who was able to mobilize fans to jack up votes)?

Two options: a secret panel of judges weighs NOT just the creative but the total views. Then I’ve got an incentive to send my audience to the contest (which I didn’t, if for no other reason because my video never showed). So Butterfinger gets the benefit of my audience, but I can’t completely manipulate the contest because Jared gets points for actually making a better video entry. Alternatively (and a more fair model): agencies judge a video strictly on its creative merit… then contract with popular social media and video “stars” to promote the contest by paying them to make an entry and invite their large audiences to check out the contest microsite. Babe Ruth has done this previously with Rhett & Link, although the video seems to have vanished. Maybe the pay-for-entry is disqualified from winning, or maybe the judges aren’t informed about these deals to avoid bias.

Why are contests still making obvious mistakes after three years of me ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting and ranting?

Perhaps the agency is cutting a turnkey deal with the video-sharing site, and is guaranteed a certain amount of visits/impressions (giving the contest owner little incentive to find more efficient sources of traffic).

Bottom line: Video contests are often under optimized, and its why PopTent (xlntads) and other companies exist. Jared and I offer two distinct benefits to a contest, and this is not well understood by most brands developing contests. Jared is a professional creator who will ensure the winning video can survive on television and impress visitors to the contest microsite. I have an active online-audience, and can help promote the contest to other video creators and ensure that the contest microsite actually has people to impress (without sucking away precious media dollars that might be better spent to promote the, er, brand not the contest).

“One-Hit Wonder” Viral Videos Earn Cash: David at Dentist, Numa Kid, Charlie Bit Finger

So you got lucky and had a video go “viral.” Now what do you do?

YouTube is now giving “one-hit wonders” a chance to become a YouTube Partner, where they’re eligible to earn a percent of advertising revenue from their videos. This may, of course, be frustrating to those who have applied for the Partnership program, but have been refused — most likely because some of their videos contain copyright infringements, but sometimes perhaps because their videos aren’t garnering enough views to make it worthwhile for YouTube or the Partner.

But it makes sense, as the “David After Dentist” story illustrates. And remember that this is not new. Revver helped EeepyBird fetch more than $35,000 from the Diet Coke & Mentos video in 2006.

David After Dentist

About 2 weeks after “David After Dentist” went viral (now at 28 million views), I received a nice note seeking advice from David’s dad (Booba1234). “We are still trying to process all this,” he said. “I am not looking to exploit David in anyway. However, we don’t want to miss an opportunity IF there is one.”

He even offered to pay me for help, and I told him he was silly. I referred him to the YouTube Partner peeps, encouraged him to monetize it (hey, college savings), but I wasn’t sure he’d get approved. My e-mail note said: “If your video had been monetized (already), you would have made a few hundred bucks (at that point). The trick is that joining the YouTube Partner program takes some time, and sometimes requires more videos…”

I was thrilled to see Booba1234 was put on a “fast track” and is now a YouTube Partner… but I can’t take credit.

In retrospect, I realize how easy it must have been for YouTube to say yes. At nearly 30 million views, “David at the Dentist” video has probably been viewed more times than the entire history of many existing YouTube Partner channels. It’s not “charity” to help one-hit wonders monetize. YouTube also profited from the viral sensations as soon as it was able to include the video in partner content (where it fetches exponentially more dollars per view than the mass of other content on its site).

The lesson? If you hit the “viral lottery” with a video, apply for a YouTube Partner account as quickly as possible. While YouTube historically accepted only established video creators who were “most subscribed” or posted videos fairly frequently, the company is eager to monetize the “long tail” of video content… and frankly some of these “viral one-hit wonders” qualify as part of the “short tail.” BUT don’t waste a lot of effort creating more content unless you enjoy it, or you have more video that will interest the same audience who devoured your one-hit wonder.

While it’s nice for these viralizers to have residual income from one video, few “one-hit wonders” have succeeded in evolving that into a broader platform. For example,  David’s dad has only about 15K subscribers, and has posted just a few videos since “David at the Dentist” went viral 7 months ago (January 2009). He is trying to monetize his classic moment in other ways: offering the video for sale (via download) for $1.99, and a link to a t-shirt website (, which is currently dead.

Numa Numa kid

Similarly, the famed Gary Brolsma aka “Numa Numa kid” will enjoy continued revenue from his one-hit wonder (assuming they find his original and not the myriad of ripoffs). And his “return” video fetched a nice 13 million views. But his new channel (NewNuma) has under 35,000 subscribers and is basically distributing unrelated content by other creators, presumably who pay him for a cost-efficient way to access his residual audience.

And look at Cynthia Holmes’ Otters Holding Hands, which has partner ads but sits in a channel with fewer than 500 subscribers. She’s posted more videos of her kids, but they’re not getting noteworthy views.

Then there are some one-hit wonders like “Evolution of Dance” (YouTube’s most-viewed video) that infringes on copyrights and can’t likely be monetized. And dancer Jason Laipply has done precious little to extend his platform since (unless you count a sponsorship for Stopain under the guise of being an  arthritis foundation video, which was viewed under 50,000 times.


An exception? The parents of “Charlie Bit My Finger” have an account, HDCYT, with 57,000 subscribers, and have continued to post well-viewed videos ranging from cute new ones to television recaps about Charlie. He’s also selling t-shirts. Perhaps there’s something enchanting about watching these kids grow up… a sharp contrast from the awkward return of Numa Numa or unrelated sequels to a cute otter moment.