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 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?

Online-Video to Marketers: Lighten Up, Francis!

In one of the more memorable moments of the incredibly quotable Stripes, a new recruit warns his fellow troupe: “The name’s Francis Sawyer… but everybody calls me psycho… any of you call me Francis I’ll kill you.” The drill sergeant’s response: “lighten up, Francis” (see video).

“Lighten up” was one of the pieces of advice in a column titled, “Four Ways to Protect Your Brand: Throw Away The Script.” The piece, written by former show-business executive Walter Sabo, reflects his learnings as CEO of Hitviews, a company that helps brands leverage online-video stars to produce sponsored videos that reach viewers in a different way than most online advertising.

It’s hard for a marketer to let go of his or her message, especially when the more a marketer cares about a brand the harder it is to see a promotion depart from a well-researched and carefully crafted strategy, message map, and creative brief.

I’d argue that “letting go” or “lightening up” is the second most difficult thing to do (followed almost certainly by gaining approval to engage in non-formatted promotion from conservative legal council and senior management less familiar with the medium). On this blog I’ve recounted my own experience with “giving up control” on social media. I preached it while at J&J but it became a lot more difficult when I saw my own brand (Propecia and “Nalts”) take on their own personalities online. In some cases both Propecia and “Nalts” (if I may call my online persona a brand) was inaccurate or at least incomplete. Fortunately Walter is not asking brands to depart from strategy, but to allow more creative control than we marketers typically afford agencies.

Indeed a video star is different from an agency’s director or producer. They have their own voice, and an audience that expects that voice to carry through entertainment and the occasional promotion. Have you ever heard a spot by Howard Stern? Give him too much copy or edit his script departures and you lose the impact of having him endorse the product — which sounds like an endorsement by a trusted personality.

I’m not familiar with many marketers who will enjoy being told to “lighten up,” but I trust that agencies can help educate their clients that a carefully controlled promotion is called an “advertisement” and is quite often tuned out. But webstars given some creative freedom to make the message their own is what breaks through the clutter.

Disclaimer: I am a “webstar” who has made videos for Hitviews on behalf of such clients as Reader’s Digest, Fox, MTV and Microsoft. One of my favorite aspects of this medium is trying to make widely-viewed videos that promote a brand but, above all, entertain. In most cases when a brand tampers in the creative, the views and persuasive power of the video is not as high. That doesn’t mean we “webstars” don’t need strategic direction and a creative brief… it just means that if we’re allowed to interpret it in our style for our audience the results are far more interesting.

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.

Why YouTube Beats Twitter and Facebook for Marketing

I’m so tired of the hype around Twitter and Facebook for marketing, and I recently wrote a satire of the whole social-media racket. Here’s why I like YouTube better for marketers and advertisers, and I’ll end with an example.

  • It’s the second largest search engine
  • You get an assload of data on the video’s performance (see “more” below).
  • People notice ads because they’re in a passive viewing state, rather than a dialogue with friends
  • The messages are more visceral in video (versus text)
  • You’ve got a chance at being seen- organically and via paid media
  • You can control your message

Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter are quite popular, but where does a brand play? Do people really want to “friend” a brand? Maybe if it’s one they already love, but that’s not a good customer acquisition play… just a retention complement.

Twitter is good for content providers, stars, and bloggers… but there’s not a good advertising play. The spam I get saying “earn 87.00 per tweet” is nonsense. I’d unfollow someone that was whoring regularly,  and 140 characters is too limited for most brand messaging. More importantly, your “tweet” has a shelf life of about 10 minutes, and there’s nobody that can tell you how many people even SAW your tweet. Then it’s virtually gone. YouTube videos have a residual value because people can continue to find them, and the view counter speaks for itself.

Should you advertise on Facebook? I guess, but I don’t know of many brands getting a great engagement rate on Facebook ads… maybe a bit more targeted, but ads are as ignored as most banners on websites. And what brand or company has valuable information it can dole out via Facebook messages intravenously?

The bottom line is that Facebook and Twitter are conversations between people, and advertising is an interruption. YouTube is somewhere you go regularly to graze, and a visceral ad will catch your attention if the video is boring. Promotion within a video (sponsorship) are much better because they’re contextually relevant, entertaining and there’s an implied endorsement. And, as you’ll see if you hit “more” below, there’s a wealth of data on its performance.

Let’s “bring this home” with an example. On a per-impression basis, these two promotions probably cost the advertiser about the same…

  1. First we have a random ad I discovered on one of my infrequent visits to Facebook.
  2. Next we have my most-recent sponsored video on YouTube (it’s at about 50,000 views and is one of the most popular videos of the day). It’s a sponsored promotion for Fox Broadcasting’s “Glee,” that I did via Hitviews. Click “more” below to see the data associated with it.

Which one would compel you?

Boring Facebook Ad
Boring Facebook Ad

Continue reading “Why YouTube Beats Twitter and Facebook for Marketing”

Readers Digest Saved Me from Video Drought

Readers Digest and I have had a long history together…

  • We’ve spent many hours together (often on the loo, but that may be TMI).
  • I used to explain that I subscribed to the mini magazine because I wanted to monitor the pharmaceutical advertising (it’s my day job… I gotta know who’s advertising). The truth is I like the jokes and cartoons. Forbes and Managed Care magazine don’t exactly wake me up.
  • One year my mother-in-law got me a subscription! That’s love.
  • When my grandmother was alive, I sent her a large-print subscription. Years later after she died, Reader’s Digest sent a letter with the following on the direct-mail solicitation: “Granny Hanemann… we miss you.” My mom thought it was cute, because she missed her mom too. Decades later I still have it.
  • I attended a meeting at my day job a few months ago, and met one of the smartest direct-mail data analysts I’ve seen. He was from Reader’s Digest, but resigned a couple weeks ago and went to a competitor. Bummer.
  • I once sent a “life in a day” kinda story to the editors about my wife meeting Harry Connick, Jr. You see, Jo was a big fan, and when I saw Harry (a classmate of mine at Jesuit) outside a New Orleans diner, I asked if he’d pose in a picture with Jo as a surprise. He politely refused, and Jo overheard that and was indignant. “I can’t believe that man wouldn’t take our picture,” she said. I told her to look more closely at the guy, and explained that I was trying to take her picture with Harry Connick, Jr. Anyway, the Reader’s Digest editors called me and verified the story, but never ran it as far as I know… I could’ve used the cash too.

Well you can imagine how excited I was last month when I heard they wanted a Nalts video. Great timing since I’m on video 700, and “running shy of ideas” (hah). Readers Digest online is packed full of stories that make for good parody. We shot a few extras that didn’t make this cut, but they were a bit corny and made the video drag. I dig when a client sees value in brevity.

So here’s the video. I’m glad we got it launched while Sarah Palin and her lipstick pitbull gags are still topical. Ultimately it seems people were less interested in me riding a child’s bike, being terrified by a turtle, and trying to put makeup on the neigbors’ pit bull… and more interested with my wife and her freakishly perfect teeth. 🙂

A big thanks to those of you who have already made “Out of Video Ideas” the top #6 rated comedy of the day and #39th of the week on YouTube! That really helps assure advertisers that they can brand and still create fun content! I tried something new by launching it at night (I usually post in the morning), and it’s encouraging to see 7,000 people watched it as I slept).

Online-Video Ad Spend: Optimistic But Still “Sculpting Fog”

Don’t get depressed about the economy folks. Even wrecklessly stupid brands are squeezing old-media spending in favor of paid search, targeted interactive advertising, and … yes… even online video.

Marketing and advertising spend on online video has a good future. Even though it’s a small sliver of online spending and difficult to measure (slicing fog), Uncle Nalts has some ideas for the industry that can help. I’ve even numbered them below, but let’s look at the problem first.

Today’s eMarketer reports that LiveRail (LiveRail is a video ad server, so take this with a grain of salt) estimates 2010 at $1.4 billion, up from a 2008 spend of about $619 million. eMarketer is a bit more conservative (and recently downgraded its forecast), but may not be counting special programs… for instance, it’s hard to measure sponsorships that are unique to a creator or a website. Nonetheless, most agree that online-video represents just 2% of online spending, which is asburdly low. It reminds me of how slow media buyers were to capitalize on paid search in the early 2000s. I need to say that again. It reminds me of how slow media buyers were to capitalize on paid search in the early 2000s.

Daisy Whitney wrote a nice article summarizing the issues with measuring the online-video advertising. Uncle Nalts spoke to Whitney, but she had tossed her phone in the bathtub before he got his points across… Whitney reports that IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau – see its blog) likes its methodolgy for capturing spending.  IAB measures “digital video commercials” or “TV-like advertisements” that appear before, during or after a variety of content, but not brand integration. “We believe we are capturing the biggest part of a growing market,” said David Doty, senior VP, thought leadership and marketing, at IAB.

Clients for whom Nalts has done promotional videos, or consultingI couldn’t disagree more. By IAB’s definition, I make zero income on online-video advertising. That’s because my YouTube Partner revenue is based on “InVideo” ads that presumably don’t meet IAB’s definition. And certainly the low income CPM-based “display creative” around my videos is not captured in that spend. But as grateful as I am about YouTube sharing advertising revenue, I make far more money through custom videos (aka sponsored videos).

What are sponsored videos? See this page for examples of entertaining videos that have subtle brand messages. My fellow creators do more subtle “product placement” for money, but I haven’t messed with that yet because I fear backlash if I’m not transparent. And I don’t want someone thinking I’m getting paid by Coke if I take a swig in a video. Even though I totally would if my friend Mike at Coke Interactive would throw be a friggin’ bone.

So what do we need to spur further uptake in online-video advertising?

  1. Measure it more precisely to help brands understand how to allocate their spend, and increase online-video advertising from 2% to something closer to 10%.
  2. Conduct more studies that show video advertising works — even if it’s surrounding (gasp) amateur or consumer-generated content.
  3. Encourage experimental marketers who are not only open to new channels, but pressure agencies to identify creative options so they’re not lost in the clutter.
  4. Reward agencies for exploring new vehicles to reach target consumers when they’re engaged in their experience (and not brain dead on the couch). The inventory is there, folks, but we’re not going to solve the problem by hiring stupid CPM media buyers that are recently graduated, hungover and trying to find a new boyfriend.

Sponsored Fun or Selling Out? Comedy Duo On Road Trip for Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz.

rhett and link buffet songRhett and Link, comedic video amateurs, are mountaineering above the overhang of “The Great Cliff of New-Media Sponsored Advertising.” They’re harnessed to each other with a taut rope, knotted with creativity. The friends swing effortlessly to the next hold in a pendulum traverse. Rhett knows the objective danger as he firmly grabs his nub, and Link’s total attention is committed to spotting him. Their eyes lock, then gaze slowly down upon the falling spree at the mountain’s base. It would be a perilous drop to their death (is that ZeFrank’s skeleton?). But they both smile, knowing full well that they’ll live to see another climb.

[Editorial addition 6/20 9 pm EST: Rhett and Link have an insightful comment below] In their latest celebration of corporate sponsorship, the singing and acting duo present this hysterical video called “The Buffet Song.” It’s a song parody about all-you-can-eat buffets. Now there’s *every reason* I should have known this was a sponsored video:

  1. It was clear on the video’s description and it was a reply to a video about the Alka Seltza tour.
  2. I received this from them via e-mail, and it was explained as a video that it’s part of their of “Great American Road Trip Series” sponsored by Alka Seltzer.
  3. Heck I even last week agreed via e-mail to meet them in Philly (Pat and Gino’s Cheesesteaks) for a video that they said was part of some Alka Seltzer series. They wrote, “It’s part of our Alka Seltzer road trip gig…. We’re still developing the angle so if you’re interested, you can weigh in as we develop it.” I took that as a fun challenge, and began soliciting others to collaborate. See- sometimes it’s not all about the money. Maybe they’ll have free samples.

But then, like, Yipes, Scoob… I opened this video above, and all of that awareness vanished — just like those pain pangs of overindulgence when met by a delciously effervescent glass of heartburn and indigestion medication.

In fact, I’d like to take you sequentially through my experience, which is something I can’t stand in a conversation. I’m always telling my wife, “you’re burying the lead again, Jo… I don’t need to know about how much change the post office gave you before the freak you saw on the way out. Just tell me about the freak.” But now I digress…

To read about my sequential experience wrapping my small brain around this video campaign, click MORE (bottom left corner of this blog – right above the “share” link”). Trust me, it’s worth it.

alka seltzer

Continue reading “Sponsored Fun or Selling Out? Comedy Duo On Road Trip for Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz.”