Letters, Sept. 13, 2010

Published on .

Let's not be so quick to ditch the viral video

RE: Jim Louderback's "There, I Said It: Screw Viral Videos" (AdAge.com, Aug. 30).

I guess that in the desire to find a topic to write about that will get press attention, and consequently promotion for Louderback's company, this subject is as good as any. However, the whole premise of the story is rather vacuous and counter to everything that producers (and artists in general) are all about. For example, would one argue that it's wrong to try to produce a "blockbuster" movie that breaks all attendance records, since it is nearly impossible to duplicate that success? No, one would never advise a producer to just make routine, humdrum films or videos (unless there was a deliberate plan in effect that makes doing so financially or artistically valuable).

From the advertiser's perspective, would an ad agency recommend that the advertiser not get involved with merchandising opportunities of successful films, and instead opt for an unsuccessful film? No, unless by the nature of cross-promoting with junk movies that there is an energy that gets created by associating with the "world's worst," which would benefit from its own "viral" success.

To me, as a producer/director of nearly 40 years, and being one of the owners of the company that was the first to use streaming video on the internet, the biggest problem that I have with "viral videos" is the word "viral." Buzz words have been around a long time -- probably since the beginning of language. And since the rise of the World Wide Web and the dotcom boom, it seemed like new buzz words were invented every day just to show how hip someone was, or to try and hype something into a "viral success" (oops, I just made a cardinal error by using a word to define a word -- apologies to my grade-school English teachers). I've always been satisfied in using "word-of-mouth" to describe the grassroots action that I would hope that any of my productions could benefit from.

In any event, in the thousands of videos that I've created and/or posted on the internet since 1996, I want every one to have viral success. Not all do, but then not every Spielberg movie is the best there ever was.

In the same way that I would urge that youth sports teams never stop counting score and that they never lose the appreciation for winning, I would always counsel producers to try to hit a home run. The real key is to develop a promotional-merchandising strategy that allows an advertiser to derive great benefit from the videos other than just the measurement of audience numbers. Then, if your video goes supersonic, it's all the better.

But then, to understand this, you have to actually understand marketing and advertising.

I think the key here is the concept of "viral." Does every company want more eyeballs for the money they spend on video content? Absolutely.

As a video producer, I respond to clients that ask for a viral video with one simple question: Who do you want to see your video, one customer who is interested in buying from you or a million non-customers who just want to be entertained?

We're all about visual storytelling. We create powerful videos that tell a company's story. And the success of our work is not determined by whether or not the video goes viral.

Great article. Many social-media companies claim to create "viral videos," probably because clients keep asking for them.

Old Spice Guy is a great example. The "viral" success wasn't viral at all; it was the result of an evolution of similar campaigns over many years.

Marketing is hard work -- even online. Nothing comes easy. The best results require a great strategy and killer execution.

Comparing viral and episodic video is a "dessert topping/floor wax" argument -- they appeal to two very different audiences. I agree that putting a lot of time and money into deliberately trying to create viral video is a waste for most advertisers (but putting money into episodic video that's not a close fit for their market is just as big a waste.) On the other hand, does anyone seriously believe that, for example, Procter & Gamble would have gotten even a tiny fraction of the exposure that it got for its viral Old Spice campaign if it instead ran conventional ads on Revision3?

Viral videos are the Hail Mary pass of advertising, but just as some quarterbacks are a lot better than others, some advertisers and agencies are a lot more likely to be successful with virals than others.


RE: "Lemon-Lime Gets Boost After Years of Neglect" (AA, Sept. 6). Diet Sierra Mist will continue to use a blend of aspartame and Ace-K, not HFCS.

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