NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Viral-video marketing, as it's traditionally been defined -- create a cute, funny, breathtaking or unexpected piece of content, seed it in the right places, and watch users pass it along -- has developed into a legitimate form of marketing. But what if marketers' fixation on all things viral is leading them to neglect other valuable and more consistently successful online-video strategies?
When General Mills' Betty Crocker brand wanted to move its web-video presence beyond "infant stage," it eschewed traditional trappings and worked with a digital content company, Touchstorm, to go another direction: study what kind of information consumers are hunting for, and then give it to them.
So they turned to search-query data. Turns out lots of people wanted information on cakes -- more specifically, kids' birthday cakes. The companies created a video series about how to make cakes shaped like princesses, pirates and ponies. The result? More than 4 million views and 50% greater time spent viewing than typical for consumer-package-goods-branded videos, according to online-video-measurement firm Visible Measures.
"There's a hole in the market when it comes to what consumers are searching for and where marketers can reach them," said Alison Provost, CEO of Touchstorm, part of PowerPak Holdings.
Brands in the search space are very organized around bottom-of-the-funnel terms or product-related terms -- search for digital cameras, and you get results for more than a half-dozen retailers or manufacturers. But brands are rarely organized around topical, top-of-the-funnel terms -- search for how to take black and white photos, and it's a brand wasteland. It shouldn't be that way, Ms. Provost said.
In the digital world, brands are increasingly content companies, and that content is expected to give viewers something: ideas, utility or entertainment. While the latter is the domain of the viral videos that dominate the online-video marketing discussions today and is a staple of many technology and entertainment brands, CPG has been less successful in the space.
"If you really understand what makes video move around the web, there's much more to it than producing something cool, dropping it on a site somewhere and watching it fly around," Doug Moore, VP-advertising and branding at General Mills, said in an e-mail. "Fact is, like anything in marketing, there's an art piece and a science piece. We wanted to evolve both."
The distribution for Touchstorm's videos comes from deals it cuts with editorial sites, which take both the non-branded and branded, paid content, such as ABC News Now and local news affiliates. TiVo and websites like Glam.com and Brash.com also distribute content. For General Mills' cake videos, about a quarter of the views happened on BettyCrocker.com, a quarter from the publisher affiliates, a minority from TV placement and the rest from YouTube and search.
A few years ago, news sites taking content branded and paid for by Betty Crocker would have raised all sorts of red flags, but Ms. Provost is finding it's more acceptable now.
"Brands can be legitimate experts, and if the consumer is looking for a certain kind of information, then they as a news organization can provide it, then there's room to play," she said.
Touchstorm is not the only one trying to create these kinds of videos for brands -- its ilk includes sites such as Howcast.com and eHow, both of which look more like media companies. Touchstorm has recently added pre-roll ads to its video; the others have been selling advertising for a while now.
"Brands need content -- they need it for Facebook, for their own sites, they need it for search," said Jason Liebman, CEO of Howcast. "If someone's going online searching for something like how to make a cup of coffee, you should be there in some way."