It's Time to Bury Viral Video

Dave Bushnell Reviews 'Beyond Viral'

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"Beyond Viral: How to Attract Customers, Promote Your Brand, and Make Money with Online Video" by Kevin Nalty begins a bit too superficially as it tries to cover all the basics of online video. But it ultimately delivers an enduring and important lesson, which just happens to be on the cover: It's time to bury so-called "viral video."

Although YouTube is now the number two search engine behind Google, it's easy to forget that it only saw its first upload in 2005. Shortly after, the 5 million views generated by videos like "Saturday Night Live"'s "Lazy Sunday" launched marketers on an often fruitless chase for the vaunted "viral video." Those same marketers ignored the fact that videos can't be viral; videos have to go viral. That important difference is fantastically difficult to engineer and often bases a marketing plan on the same logic that drives the purchase of a lottery ticket: You can't win if you don't have one, but just having one doesn't mean you have an appreciable chance of winning.

The author advocates a more reliable approach. Mr. Nalty, a former Johnson & Johnson marketing executive, has found online fame as "Nalts." He's the ringmaster of a YouTube channel featuring friends, family and pranks that has attracted 170 million views and well over 200,000 subscribers. He draws on this success to advocate that brands should pursue more reliable strategies, like working directly with YouTube channel partners or so-called "web stars."

It's a compelling argument that arises from the numbers. Web stars are content producers that have already captured that viral lightning in a bottle. The most popular among them can reach well over 1 million views, not for a single viral win but for every video they release. And they command their own YouTube channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

These content producers are ready and willing to use their channels to integrate brands into their videos at efficient costs. Mr. Nalty also makes a good case that they don't just command a strong audience, they also understand what speaks to their fans. Working with web stars isn't a media buy, it's a content partnership.

To be sure, that content partnership may well come at the price of a certain amount of control, and that may test marketers' courage. But it's ultimately no different from any product placement, which has always been about the balance between marketing message and authenticity.

The first two-thirds of "Beyond Viral" is a focused treatment of the channel, the value of web stars and how marketers can use them to advance their brand, making the shift in focus of the last six chapters abrupt. Mr. Nalty spends the last third of the book advising the reader on how to become a web star. As a result, marketers may find this to be a valuable 150-page book trapped inside a 280-page book.

Even so, its lessons serve as useful reminders to marketers trying to make their way through video opportunities: Experiment with fads, but don't invest in them. Look for the value behind the buzzwords. The best partners show a consistent track record in audience-building content. And before putting the weight of brand dollars behind a new channel, make sure it has dependable weight to give back.

While it must be admitted that a YouTube channel partner advocating that brands invest in YouTube channel partners will not win any points for subtlety of approach, Mr. Nalty's ability to parse his video experience through the eyes of a marketing executive nevertheless makes the book's core message an effective primer for brands in this space.

Dave Bushnell is President of Digital at Viva Creative, and learned the lessons of online video as Executive Creative Director of ThinkTank, the digital agency of record for Lady Gaga.
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