AdAge Celebrates YouTube Sellouts

AdAge called out the biggest YouTube sellouts— those known for sponsored videos for top brands. Naturally my headline would have read “YouTube’s Most Prolific Sponsored Artists” had I been included in the list. For those of you whose nipples don’t get pointy when you hear words like “advertising, marketing, Mad Men, spot, creative brief, storyboards, USP, reach, frequency and single-minded proposition,” AdAge is kinda the Forbes for advertising junkies. It’s like Men’s Health except some straight people read it.

shaycarl
shaycarl t-shirt

The actual article is titled “Meet YouTube’s Most In-Demand Brand Stars,” and it’s a nice representation of the booming webstar, perhaps the central point of “Beyond Viral,” an amazing new book by Wiley & Sons coming out Sept. 21. Despite some conspicuous misses and a few odd inclusions, the article points to some interesting nuggets like MysteryGuitarMan (MGM) preference for a blank creative brief… his videos have never been better, and each one squashes my own confidence more aggressively than the next.

I would have also liked to read a “who’s who” of the companies that link stars with brands (Hitviews, Mekanism, PlaceVine, Howcast, YouTube). That’s something you don’t see covered well, and it’d be fascinating to read about the total market for sponsored videos and the dominant players.

TubeMogul helped compile this list, and you can see the webstar’s vital signs on the TubeMogul marketplace. The stats seem to be out of synch with YouTube’s counter and other sites (TubeMogul has me at 145 million, while YouTube alone counts 161 million…. so my views on Yahoo Video and other sites must be negative 16 million). It could be that once I “private” a video (like those I’ve buried because I no longer like them), I lose Tubemogul credit for them.

Before I could go to bed sulking for being overlooked by AdAge and Tubemogul, I discovered author Irina Slutsky sent me a note about this a week or so. And yeah I missed it. Just like the two e-mail offers to appear on AnnoyingOrange, one of the hottest web series by DaneBoe.

ADHD online-video creator and marketer seeks minimum-wage e-mail account manager from India.

These peeps don’t seem to read my blog, but I consider more than a few of them as friends… Trippy (he’s been in my kids’ bed), Buckley (he spanked me), Penna (wrote the Nalts theme and couldn’t get into bars at early YouTube gathersings), and Shay (he was new, we collabed, then he became twice as big as me overnight… and also got a lot more viewers). Others are more like acquaintances like Justine (who keeps a safe distance, but I made her what she is) and Smosh. Speaking of Smosh, Ian and Anthony get props for the recent Butterfinger Snackers video (“Selling Out”) that spoofed the criticism they’ve taken lately for doing a few too many sponsored videos. Heh. I did a Butterfinger video in 2006, a year before I goofed on this whole sponsored-video space with this video, which mentions Smosh. I’m guessing the Smosh kids never saw this diddy…

It’s me 3 years ago mimicking the emergence YouTube “sell outs” and the personalities who might desperately broker brand/webstar love connections... you know, the entities connecting brands and web stars. Most YouTube webstars know more about engaging an audience than turning a brand strategy into effective and persuasive messaging… so they need help. There are some exception- like Rhett and Link, who could just as well be their own boutique creative agency, as reflected in the quality of their advertainment and the highly unusual ratio of branded to non-sponsored views. I almost like their sponsored videos better than their brand-deficient ones because like a pro athlete they make it look easy.

And, lest I miss mentioning my book (Beyond Viral) in a single post, you’ll find mention of almost all of these cats inside the low-cost pages… including featured sections on Rhett & Link, Charles Trippy, Shay Butler and others.

Hey what ever happened to Buckley? I think he ignored me like Caitlin Hill (thehill88) and iJustine. Maybe Buckley needs an e-mail intern… I wonder if there are any Indians with the name Mason?

On YouTube, Popular and Good Are Different

I would have predicted that by April 2010, YouTube’s “most popular” videos would be consistantly good. In fact, however, we’re seeing some all-star talent like Mediocrefilms and BlameSocietyFilms getting far fewer views than they would have a year ago. And we’re seeing some YouTube channels ranking consistently on YouTube’s most-viewed and most popular sections that are (how can I put this nicely?) kinda “Naltsish.”

Why? Sure there’s an increasing amount of competition, but the only common thread I’m seeing among the high performers (in views and subscription growth) is regularity (videos posted daily or several times a week). To some extent this isn’t entirely new, but I would have thought by now that the “most popular” content would kinda sort out the good from the bad. Has my taste departed from fellow YouTube viewers, or is the algorithm screwed up?

It would appear that routine posting, more than anything else, is key. Talent continues to be far less important than regularity, as well as the basic standards I address in “How To Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent” (engaging with audience, collaborating with popular creators, etc).

Joe Penna, MysteryGuitarMan, is an exception to a new rule: popular and quality YouTubers channels are hardly correlated.

There are notable exceptions. Nobody in web video has produced more consistently creative and awe-inspiring videos in 2010 than Joe Penna, known as The MysteryGuitarMan. It’s perplexing that even the most extremely awesome and popular YouTube amateurs is virtually an unknown beyond YouTube. When I speak at conferences, few recognize the most-viewed or most-subscribed people like Fred… and certainly haven’t heard of MGM (aka JP).

Check out a few of these videos from this playlist and you’ll quickly see why he’s predictably on the “most viewed” or “most popular” pages. His videos are not just audible and video joy, they’re painstaking acts of labor. Each take creativity to a new level, and is the output of countless hours of work.

MGM for free wrote my Nalts theme song back in 2007, and I’ve watched his videos over the years. He kinda fell off the grid in 2008-2009, but 2010 has been his year. I think about him at least once daily. I literally go to the computer just to see his new video (versus stumble into him on a YouTube binge). And when it’s something especially awe inspired like “Happy Dance (looping around),” I bring the whole family around the computer, like a 1940 family gathered around a radio to hear Orphan Annie.

According to Penna’s Wikipedia entry, he was going to pursue medical school. While the world could have used a creative and determined doctor like Penna, I’m really, really glad he chose to put his passion into film, video, creativity, illustration and music. I think his more than 750,000 subscribers would agree.

Parenthetically, Penna recently joined Rhett and Link (who haven’t posted a video in weeks and it hurts) to collaborate in the Swamps of North Carolina. Given Rhett and Link’s collaboration with MGM that produced this painstakingly wonderful t-shirt video (read more), I can only imagine what we’ll see next week as the result of sleepless nights by Rhett, Link and Joe.

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?

The Davids vs Goliaths of Online Video

Okay. I gave myself a 15-minute “time out” to reflect on why I have a difficult time wishing success upon the Hulu.com and Strike.tv. models — and a new one I found this morning called Heavy.com. And it comes down to a “David vs. Goliath” perspective.

Online video, to me and many others, represents the opportunity for talented individuals to garner an audience (and profit) without experience, connections or specific talent in one entertainment discipline — writing, directing, acting. I’m hard on Strike.tv, when in fact the initiative is, in fact, its own David against the Goliath of the Hollywood machine.

I’d like to retain a large audience online as Nalts, but I’m quite happy when shows like “The Retarded Policeman” blast past me in views and subscribers (and I take great honor when writer/director Greg Benson refers to me as Geriatric man). I look forward to the day that “Clip Critics” garners an audience well beyond mine. Even shows like PopTub and HBO Labs “Hooking Up” take care to ingratiate themselves to the core online viewers and “stars.” The shows’ motive may be to tap into the vibrant YouTube community, but it still feels polite.

There’s another problem with the format of many online shows on Strike.tv and other sites. They are unrelated “shows” with different target audiences — trying to create another destination site. Success to date via online video is primarily driven by an individual (not a “show”) posting on an already popular video site… not by trying to invent a new network or destination. I can’t fault these guys for trying, because they want to monetize their content, and maintain control. But unless something changes, the creators of these shows will find greater profit by building a larger YouTube audience with a smaller revenue percentage — instead of trying to siphon an audience to an unknown website in hopes that the higher “CPM” advertising revenue will create profit.

This has no precedence of working, even if Hulu enjoys greater revenue (and growing audience) because all of the content is “advertising friendly.” How often does someone return to “Funny or Die” to see if anything as big as “Landlord” is worth checking out? This Stavenhagen’s Food Pawn Shop with Steve Buscemi and Will Ferrell” looks promising, but the site isn’t streaming for me to tell… did someone forget to pay the server bill?

I will continue to root for the “little guys,” like ShayCarl, who has no connections to mainstream media but still has a delicious portfolio and rabid fans. Check out Rhett and Link’s theme song for ShayCarl (due to his victory of the SuperNotes contest). Shay is a family guy who rallies his “ShayTard” viewers like the Pied Piper of YouTube, and his horrible editing and clunky branding (see his homepage banner) makes him “one of us.”

Finally, I hope that new entrants to online video appreciate is that what makes a “show” popular is the lack of a show.

The majority of top YouTube “stars” are in not shows, but individuals doing their own writing, editing, acting and promotion. Sure this may change, but it remains mostly true today. And that’s what fascinates me about online video. It’s also why many of these people — without a proficiency in one creative discipline, but rather a “mix” of many — may not “cross over” to mainstream media. But they are undeniably building a new medium that I quite like — and I’m not alone.