How Apple Found Its Groove In Social Video

Winning the Battle for YouTube With Amazon, Motorola and Nokia

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Matt Cutler
Matt Cutler
Advertising exists to influence consumer choice. Every day consumers are interrupted by thousands of images and sounds with the goal of affecting how they choose the brands they buy. From television, to radio, to magazines, to billboards, to online video, advertising is designed to snatch our attention away from whatever it was we set out to do and refocus it on the ad.

Social video disrupts this model. Social video allows consumers to watch practically whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. It allows them to quickly and easily share video with their friends and family, comment, rate, mix, mash, repost, review, parody, and more. Through video-sharing sites such as YouTube, DailyMotion, Metacafe, Yahoo!, Break, MySpace, and others, social video provides a nearly limitless selection of music videos, film trailers, webisodes, user-generated content, brand advertising, and much, much more. Like cat videos.

Now, a question to brands: When faced with nearly infinite choice, do consumers choose to watch your ad or your competitors'?

Even though we're still in the early stages of social video, the question is critical to answer. When consumers have such vast choice and still choose to watch, interact, and spend time with a brand advertisement, it demonstrates genuine brand interest and preference.

We see this every week on Ad Age's Top 10 Viral Video Ads Chart. Many leading brands have recognized the opportunity to be chosen directly by consumers in social video and are planning, budgeting, and executing campaigns accordingly. In fact, the competition has become so steep that the threshold for entering the chart has increased over 230% since Q3 of 2009.

As we've tracked this social video growth over the course of the past year, we've been aggregating our performance data at higher and higher levels in efforts to understand video consumption patters across entire industries. It begins with the clips themselves, which roll up to campaigns, which can span hundreds or even thousands of unique video clips. From the campaigns, we build brands, and from the brands we build entire industries. We call this industry-level view 'Share of Choice' because the data reveals the brands consumers choose to watch most often in social video. And the results so far have been fascinating.

For instance, the mobile technology category (including smart phones, tablets, e-readers, and MP3 players) boasts some of the world's most savvy marketers and has been a true battleground for consumer attention, and choice, over the course of the past several quarters:

Mobile Tech: Brand Share of Choice

Apple is the category's current leader, though it hasn't always been this way. In Q4 2009, Apple didn't have any official presence in social video. Instead, Verizon led the industry with over 90% Share of Choice. It wasn't until Q1 2010, with the launch of the iPad, that Apple developed a dedicated strategy for capturing consumer choice in social video. However, despite Apple's new approach and the iPad's popularity, Motorola rose to the top of the industry in Q1 on the back of a Super Bowl campaign featuring Megan Fox in a bathtub.

But as dominant the Verizon and Motorola campaigns were, they faded in subsequent quarters. Apple, on the other hand, continued releasing new content on a regular basis in support of its major product launches, helping to build its relative share.

In the most recently completed quarter however, Apple's Share of Choice dominance was challenged by increased competition from Nokia and Amazon. These two brands fought back with high-impact campaigns in support of the N8 and the Kindle, respectively, and were able to make real consumer choice inroads at Apple's expense. Now, in the current Q4 2010, Microsoft and Blackberry each have new campaigns in-market that have generated significant interest. Time will tell, but perhaps Share of Choice will be one of the few areas that Apple will be losing ground for two quarters in a row.

Many categories in social video follow trends similar to those we see in mobile technology. They're growing immensely, the number of players is increasing, and the competition is getting more intense by the day. Across the board, social video is growing, which makes it more challenging for brands to break through the noise and attract significant audiences.

Brands that make the Top 10 Viral Video Ads Chart are moving in the right direction, but as the mobile technology example shows, fortunes can change quickly. And when consumer choice, preference, and, ultimately, purchase intent is on the line, brands need to know where they've been, where they stand, and where they're going in social video.

Matthew Cutler serves as CMO at Boston-based Visible Measures, a measurement firm for internet video publishers, advertisers and viral marketers. He's also an enthusiastic, if middling, soccer player and coach. Matt blogs at and @mcutler.
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