Starving Artists Take Note: Video > T-shirts

A child peddling a light was the $10K winner that brought Poptent past the $1 million mark

I was happy to hear Threadless founder and former CEO Jake Nickell on public radio’s “Markeplace” tonight, and how he was “crowdsourcing” in Threadless’ decade of business… even before there was a name for it. “Last year we paid over $1.5 million out to artists,” he told interviewer Kai Ryssdal. Designers upload their creations, and the community votes for the best… which are produced and sold with artists getting a $2K cash prize, $500K in a gift certificate, and royalties.

Then I compared it to today’s news. Philadelphia-based Poptent (www.poptent.net), which crowdsources video production for large and mid-sized brands, has given out $1 million in cash payments. That’s certainly a first for online video, and considering in no doubt went to a small sub-segment of the 20,000 Poptent videographers, it’s a pretty good sign for the online-video creator community. The million-dollar man was hit by Sean Cunningham, a NY-based freelance videographer who received $10,000 for creating this video as part of GE’s “Tag Your Green” ecomagination campaign. Disclaimer: I worked with Poptent when it was Xlntads, and also participated in the GE campaign as a YouTube creator.

It’s a wonderfully inspired “amateur” creation that could easily fit as a broadcast television ad. Community comments on the video are positive, even if some might have been from competitors. Cunningham has been a member of Poptent since October 2008 and participated in previous Poptent assignments for Becks Beer, eHealth, and Snickers.  All four of the crowdsourced GE videos can be viewed here.

What’s even more encouraging? The assignment came not directly but via a major agency’s digital arm (OMD). That tells me the market is finally understanding that while agencies won’t soon lose their seat at the creative and strategy table, there are lots of Cunninghams with bright ideas. Even if it took six versions (see screen shot).

Online-Video Marketing That… Doesn’t Feel Like Advertising

GE launched a health campaign today on YouTube that is part of trend toward softer advertising that, I believe, will have better long-term dividends even if it’s hard to measure.

GE is taking a lightly branded approach to promoting health and wellness by sponsoring a “Healthymagination” challenge among people on YouTube. There’s very subtle branding from GE, and no “drive to healthymagination.com” play. In fact the company is not trying to build a microsite, and is aggregating commissioned videos on Howcast’s YouTube channel. Now millions of people will watch and participate in health-challenge videos by iJustine, Alphacat, Rhett & Link, Smosh, me and other YouTube people with large followings.

This is about as far from an intrusive yet measurable pre-roll advertisement as you can get, but GE’s brand will now be associated with health — broadly across a number of demographics.

Okay I doctored this banner with the faces of YouTubers. But click to see real channel.

As someone participating in this health challenge, I am certainly biased. So let’s look instead at Pfizer’s YouTube homepage advertising “takeover” in January, which was centered around videos the company commissioned about health and fitness. The promoted brand (Chantix for smoking cessation) was present but not “in your face.” The insight that may have spawned this approach? Smokers aren’t exactly going to dive into a video channel about quitting.

In a current campaign with a similar “hands off” approach, Rhett and Link’s I Love Local Commercials campaign was sponsored by Microbilt. But the video series is a celebration of cheesy local ads for small business (Microbilt’s target). There’s no forced messages about how Microbilt offers credit, debt collection or background screening to small businesses. People can get excited about cheesy commercials or health (especially when a charity benefits). But it’s hard to get jazzed about debt collection, smoking cessation or light bulbs. It’s the same reason I used Mr. Complicated to promote Clear Point (who cares about staffing technology?).

Brian Bradley, MicroBilt’s EVP of Strategy & Emerging Markets, acknowledges it’s hard to put an ROI on programs like this (parenthetically I addressed this topic on Tuesday at a marketing conference, and here’s the deck).

“Although the initial work that lead to “I Love Local Commercials” was very spontaneous, it is part of a body of work at MicroBilt focused on building awareness and establishing thought leadership across market segments, ” Bradley told me via e-mail. “So that our traditional marketing and sales efforts are more successful.” Bradley said, for example, that if his sales people call a business prospect who hasn’t heard of MicroBilt, they can quickly find out it’s a real company.

It’s tempting for us marketers to force our brand so we can realize (or assume) a near-term ROI. But sometimes the most effective long-term strategy is to have a gentle presence while something bigger, more interesting, and more entertaining takes center stage. This is more instinctive to corporate communication or public-relations people, but they’re generally without budgets to sustain even small pilots like these.

The results may not show up in website visits, instant purchase, and awareness/recall studies. But I would argue that test/control or pre/post qualitative studies (while being cost prohibitive for these case studies), would indicate that target customers have higher favorability of these brands. I don’t think pre-rolls and banners could do that alone.

And isn’t that what separates the AIGs from the Disneys?