A Vaccine For The Viral Virus

Was George Romero the keynote speaker at the last major marketer’s meeting?  Because a zombie apocalypse seems to have overtaken the marketing industry and given rise to a fast-growing legion of marketers in single-minded pursuit of one thing and only one thing.  No, not brains -- brains are clearly missing from this equation -- but viral video. 

I’ve said it before, but clearly it bears repeating: Viral video is NOT a silver bullet marketing strategy.  You know how many branded videos go viral?  As I noted at Internet Week’s “Feeding the Beast” panel at OMMA Video last month, only 1 in 500 videos made by a brand generated more than 500,000 views (the subject of an upcoming Touchstorm research paper).  That’s not a strategy; it’s a prayer. 

If it’s views you’re looking for -- and let’s face it, that’s every marketer’s dream for online video -- I can show you a better way, one that doesn't involve throwing spaghetti on the wall to see if it sticks. 



The right approach to content, combined with the right distribution strategy, may not have the cachet of videos gone viral, but it does have chops.  And, unlike viral, it’s both controllable and bankable.

So what is the right content? 

Brands need to determine what is the right mix for their online video. Right now, brands are trying the next seemingly good idea when they should be determining what is the right mix of advertising, entertainment and information-based videos for them. It will depend on their objectives, their category and the competition, but this is a good place to start.  And that’s only half the battle.  The right content strategy has to be supported by the appropriate distribution approach. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to distribution, as it can occur via paid, earned or owned approaches. 

And this is where things get sticky for so many marketers.  The obsession with viral has fueled a confusion about the difference between good content and appropriate distribution.  If you’re shooting for a viral video, then you’re probably blurring your content strategy with your distribution strategy, as viral banks on content that will ensure sharing -- which means you are literally trying to predict the popularity quotient, a difficult feat at best. 

Why not try a more tried and true route, one that combines informative content with an earned media distribution?  And by informative content, I mean content that informs consumers on topics they are actively seeking information about online via search engines.  Over the past five years, we’ve produced and distributed hundreds of videos. In this time, we’ve learned that tailoring your videos to consumers’ needs is the better way to go.

When executed correctly with the brand’s best interests in mind and developed based on search data, information-based video reaches consumers in an engaged need state, has staying power and positions the brand as an authority. Believe it or not, each of these elements is connected and dependent on one another.

Viral video, or even video timed to current events or the news cycle, has proven to have a short shelf life. Event-driven content will receive the bulk of its views during its original distribution date, while evergreen content will continue to build its viewership long after the viral views have faded. The growth in viewership over time is fueled by, and also facilitates, sharing on social platforms and distribution via editorial networks.  The added push from editorial and social platforms drives search results and engagement levels since the content will now live on more URLs and come with a recommendation.

So can we all agree to leave the viral video-making to the kids in the garage and focus on more sophisticated video strategies?  Here’s hoping we will all use the antidote to the viral madness.



3 comments about "A Vaccine For The Viral Virus".
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  1. Gordon Vasquez from, July 17, 2012 at 2:47 p.m.

    As a Video Content Producer this story is exactly to the point as it relates to Viral Video. We have clients asking and willing to pay for a Viral Video thinking it's the answer.

  2. Jay Davis from --------, July 17, 2012 at 4:26 p.m.

    This post should be required reading for every VP and C-level who ever even thought about sitting in on a marketing meeting.

  3. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc., July 17, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.

    It is said that after Warner Brothers' hit with "42nd Street," a rival studio head shouted, "I want '43rd Street'!" Viral videos are almost by definition flukes, like the "Pet Rock" of yore. As Alison points out, the hardworking video that gets lots of views over lots of time is often a better value.

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