Is the Promise of Viral Success Holding the Ad Industry Back?

Great 'Social Creative' Alone Does Not a Viral Video Make

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Josh Warner
Josh Warner
Recently Tim Williams, founder of Ignition, in an otherwise spot-on AdAge blog post, asked, "How much does it cost to reach a million people on YouTube?" Tim's answer: $0.

YouTube ad sales will disagree with Tim and so do I.

To reach a million people on any social network, including (or, I should say, especially) YouTube, takes time, money and a huge dollop of creativity and planning. I imagine Tim is being dramatic to make a point: spend more money on creative and your media costs will be lower because more people share good creative on social networks.

True, but dropping even good creative into a social network and not supporting it with an adequate marketing budget is exactly what you shouldn't do. In fact, one of the best times to put more marketing weight behind creative is when it's good. Your media planner will tell you that, so why is it different for creative made to be shared on social networks?

I think the answer has a lot to do with how agencies sell through brand creative targeted to users on social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The easiest pitch for the agency to make -- especially to marketers on the early side of the social media learning curve -- is to focus on the potential virality of the creative. Whether it's a brand application or video that's less of an ad pitch and more a useful tool or fun piece of content, the pitch to the advertiser is often the same: this creative is so good it will be shared by millions. It's only natural for the marketer to say, "Great, then I don't have to spend as much to support it."

It's ironic the most attractive promise of socially-targeted creative -- it will be passed around, I know it will -- is one of the biggest impediments to its success. Creative agencies and media buying firms are hobbled out of the gate with low budgets and high client-side expectations that are passed on, often painfully, to social-marketing firms that often work for them. The end result: No one wins, including our increasingly social industry.

What do you think? Please share your comments.

Josh Warner is president and founder of Feed Company, which promotes and distributes brand videos, including campaigns such as Levi's "Backflip," Ray-Ban's "Catch" and Activision's "Bike Hero." In three years, it's marketed more than 100 videos on the social web.
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