Advertising Week

Pushing, Patience and Nonlinear Thinking: How to Succeed at Viral Video Now

Advertising Week Panel Talks Strategy for Captain Morgan, Audi and Dentyne Campaigns

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A scene from 'World Gone Sour,' a Method Man video promoting Sour Patch Kids
A scene from 'World Gone Sour,' a Method Man video promoting Sour Patch Kids

Building a successful video virus requires more than clever creative, panelists said during an Advertising Week talk on Thursday entitled "The Viral Business: How Brands Can Create Online Video Hit Machines."

Buying a TV spot delivers a big crowd of consumers all at once, for example, but audiences for web video take time to accumulate as pass-along and social media build. So patience is often a necessary virtue in planning and gauging branded video endeavors, said George Smith, senior manager-social activation strategy and execution for PepsiCo. The company's first video with the humor site Funny or Die to promote Pepsi Max in Australia and the U.K. generated fewer than 100,000 views, but the audience had doubled by the 10th video, he said.

"You need to build audience and train your audience," he said, noting that music videos have a formula that audiences have come to understand, which heightens their enjoyment of them.

Panelists also pushed for investment in distribution. Even good creative -- like a current Method Man-fronted spot for Sour Patch Kids -- can't be expected to distribute itself, they said.

"If we're going to invest $150,000, $200,000 in creative, we should invest at least that in media," Mr. Smith said. "What a lot of people forget about Old Spice is it was a Super Bowl commercial."

Marketers and agencies also need to remember that they're not necessarily controlling the order in which consumers watch installments of a multi-part series. Adam Pincus, a managing partner and director of content at media agency MediaCom, discussed "Untitled Jersey City Project," an Audi campaign his agency distributed in which short episodes emulate TV storytelling in a compressed format. It's a thriller currently airing over four weeks on FX and available online, working in political intrigue, conspiratorial fat cats and a body mysteriously falling from a construction site -- as well as prominent placement for Audi, with scenes shot on location. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger, but Mr. Pincus said it's not designed to be viewed in a linear manner.

"In the digital environment, you're going to encounter any episode pretty much at random," he said.

Jackson Jeyanayagam, VP-digital strategy at Taylor, talked about the success of a 2010 effort he worked on for Dentyne Pure gum. The brand wanted the product to exude confidence, so a video featured the comedy duo Rhett and Link finishing dinner at a pizzeria and getting up the nerve to ask out their waitress after chewing a piece of Dentyne and freshening their breath. (Then they start a rap battle to outdo each other.) The campaign got 4 million views in its first week, Mr. Jeyanayagam recalled. More remarkably, in his view, a fake voicemail set up for the fictional waitress that was eventually integrated into the campaign got 2,000 messages in its first day.

The spot's success was at least partially attributable to Rhett and Link's inherent audience, Mr. Jeyanayagam said.

Brand managers are often too risk-averse to advocate a branded video endeavor, fearing that a failure could tarnish their careers, Mr. Jeyanayagam said. Others try it once but stop there unless they get a runaway hit. "I think a lot of time brands fail and never go back to [branded video], which is frustrating for us," he said.

Diageo's director of marketing for rums, Tom Herbst, showed a Captain Morgan spot entitled "To Life, Love and Loot," set in 1661 Santo Domingo and showing a banquet that culminates in the guests -- including the eponymous captain himself -- festively smashing their dishes and glassware. Mr. Herbst noted that while his team was happy with the couple million views the spot racked up, they were even more pleased with the fact that it drove 150,000 new fans to Captain Morgan's Facebook page.

The panel was moderated by Dan Greenberg, CEO and co-founder of Sharethrough, a social video advertising platform and distribution network that several of the panelists have worked with.

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