Commentary

An Antidote To Viral Video Fever

You'd think that viral video fever would have run its course by now.  But judging by the number of marketers who continue to ask their agencies to take their brand messaging and turn it into the next Evian "Roller Babies" or Dove "Evolution," it's clear the epidemic rages on.  Please, people, take two aspirin and call me in the morning.  I'll cite you the latest statistics on just how many of those online videos designed to go viral actually do.  And then I'll let you in on some good news. 

Only 1 in 500 of the online videos that brands produce gets more than 500,000 views.  Meaning, viral hits are like capturing lightning in a bottle.  It's amazing if you can do it, but miracles don't make for good marketing strategy.  What's more, even those that "make it" tend to net only 10 million views.   If that's all you get after a huge production investment and a lot of "seeding" (digital media bought to promote the video), what have you really won? 

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Is viral video a game worth playing? I'll plunk down 10 bucks on the lottery when the prize is $300,000,000.   But if the prize is only $10 million, and it costs me $250,000 to play -- the average cost to produce a viral video  -- well, how often should I do that?  

The real issue is, why aren't consumers eating up those high-cost videos?   Ask anyone who's tried to write hit songs, get elected to office, or land a starring role:  it's just a lot harder than it looks.

There's a much more reliable formula for producing hits when it comes to online video.  Change your paradigm from branded entertainment to branded information.  Nearly 60% of searches are for information -- meaning, tens of millions of your prospects are out there actively trying to solve a problem or improve their lives.   Whether that means help for their heartburn, tips on how to copy a celebrity hairstyle, or answers on how much to feed their newborn, a few things are true in every case: 

·     There's a brand out there that is THE most credible on the subject, and chances are, hasn't laid down the answers on video yet  

·     Information-based searches most often yield no paid search results.  A shampoo company will buy the term "shampoo" but not "rockabilly hair," leaving the space wide open for consumers and others to answer the implied question, "How do I get rockabilly hair?"   

·     Most consumers are in a "needs" state.  Brands advertise for decades hoping to marry the moment when the consumer's need matches the ad campaign; here is a fountain of people who NEED something, who WANT something....NOW.    

Brands have a lot to say on these topics. But how you say it -- and who speaks for you -- makes a huge difference.  Consumers want to be informed, not hit with a hard sell.  So share your expertise - and trust me, consumers will share their love.   

You need more than informative video to achieve TV-like reach online; you also need effective distribution.  The dirty secret of many so-called viral videos is that brands can end up paying for 30% to 50% of views.  It's not enough to post the video on your brand's site or rely on the "post and pray" approach on YouTube.   And beware of those who say they'll distribute your video, only to ad buy the space. Your information is worthy of earned media.

If you really want TV-like reach and internet-like engagement, that two-part formula - 1) making information-based content that people are already searching for, and 2) distributing it editorially, through earned media, is effective when done right.  

But first, you have to give up the viral pipe dream. 

3 comments about "An Antidote To Viral Video Fever".
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  1. Debbie Dreher from Think Again Media, July 14, 2011 at 1:46 p.m.

    Well said Alison! Couldn't agree with you more. We get this question a lot as well and we also turn it back around and say, yes, we could create the most interesting, compelling, super creative, smashingly fun viral video and post it to YouTube but then what. Without a proper plan, seeding and being part of a larger effort, you are correct, the chance of being a smash hit, is slim. Informative content is exactly what we've been doing - and it works!

  2. John Evans from LIGHTGROUP, July 14, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.

    Alison, thanks for saying it so well! More than once someone said to me "we're wanting to create a viral video" and I can hardly keep from laughing out loud. Most often it's in response to having some idea of what their budget may be and quickly recognizing they've been mesmerized by a story of 'millions' of eyeballs. To your point, creating valuable content targeted to a defined audience is far more likely to return a result that meets objectives, including being shared one individual to another. Those who share want the psychic reward from providing value to others. Isn't that why we share things in the first place? Valuable information gets shared ...what a concept.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 14, 2011 at 6:35 p.m.

    Remember the old Alka Selzter story? "Everybody" knew Speedy, but it didn't sell Alka Selzter. And there were only 3 TV stations then.

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