Hard To Reach: Even When Video Goes Viral, It Doesn't Necessarily Catch On

Before you take your holiday break, here’s a statistic you might want to drown in a healthy serving of eggnog: The most shared ad of the year, Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” was shared 4.24 million times and viewed 60 million times on Dove’s U.S. YouTube channel.

You think that’s beautiful? In a media world cutting itself into finer and finer customized – and not always commercialized – shards, that’s just plain ugly for an advertiser interested in building brand awareness. And, seriously, name an advertiser who isn’t interested in that.

At the end of the day, even viral hits aren’t all that spectacular. In fact, the second most-shared video of the year – Geico’s famed “Hump Day” commercial – was shared 4 million times, and viewed 19 million times. And that’s probably in large part due to repeated airings on TV, which fed its online virality. (Note: the sharing stats come from Unruly Media and the views stats come from YouTube.)

By the time you get to the 20th most shared video, a five-minute PSA for, featuring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the Miami Heat’s Chris Bosh, the numbers drop like a stone. That video was shared about 754,000 times and viewed slightly over 11 million times. When you think about how many videos had viral aspirations this year, that’s a complete and utter downer. It’s slightly less than the non-DVRed audience on Thursday night this week for the CBS sitcom “The Millers.”

And, yes, the comparison to TV is apt. Because, well, TV -- who watches it anymore the way it was originally intended? Appointment viewing seems limited for many of us to live sports events, and YouTube is a veritable TV network for today’s kids, but what really took me by surprise in 2013 is how a confluence of technologies has completely upended viewing of video content, and done so cross-generationally. That’s the scariest part for those trying to get a message out to whatever is left of the mass market.

When I got my first iPad, two years ago, I never imagined it would quickly become our second TV, but the explosion of streaming apps from the cable companies – and the death of the TV we used to have in our kitchen – made it so, particularly for our nine-year-old daughter. But it was when we got Netflix that I fully realized the TV model – including  big-budget commercials – was broken beyond what I’d previously believed. Our daughter suddenly shifted from watching cable on the iPad to preferring Netflix’s on-demand kid content.

And then my husband – not a Luddite, but certainly a media traditionalist – went rogue from his long-held viewing habits. Like someone on, yes, crystal meth, he got hooked on “Breaking Bad.” Night after night, after the kids had gone to bed, I would find him sitting in the living room, earphones on his head, binge-viewing on the iPad. He’d barely ever picked the thing up before. Now that his “Breaking Bad” fever has broken, we’re watching “House of Cards.”’ And one of my main near-term objectives is to get Amazon Prime’s Instant Video up and running on the flat screen so I can finally show our teenager,“This Is Spinal Tap.” All of this viewing is commercial-free of course.

Which brings me back to viral videos. The stats I detailed above may be a little rough, but they still should demonstrate how looking to viral videos to promote your product is no replacement for the old-fashioned paid media that used to guarantee reach and frequency. The problem is that, increasingly, that model doesn’t exist anymore.

2 comments about "Hard To Reach: Even When Video Goes Viral, It Doesn't Necessarily Catch On ".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, December 17, 2013 at 4:14 p.m.

    The Beverly Hillbillies used to play to 60MM Americans a week. Jed Clampett would take one look at this digital mess we've made and say: "Pitiful...just pitiful."

  2. Stuart Meyler from Beeby Clark + Meyler, January 14, 2014 at 4:28 p.m.

    Speaking of Breaking Bad, the finale drew 10MM live viewers - one of the bigger if not biggest serial drama TV audiences of the year.

    So the question is not just audience size, but what is more effective - purchased media on a TV program where reach is increasingly limited and people don't watch the ads or video content that people self select to view or do so at the behest of a friend?

    Reach of the Johnny Carson era where 40-45MM viewers could be reached each night on a single platform (TV) + content provider (NBC) is gone and never coming back.

    Content will increasingly be consumed in smaller and smaller slices and across a wider and wider range of devices. Better get used to it.

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