Now that YouTube is more popular than all the sites of the TV networks combined, you may wonder whether broadcast TV's days are numbered. It may well become more important for your brand or company to be on YouTube than to be advertised on TV. Undoubtedly for some that day has already arrived. With Google having acquired YouTube, certainly it has a heck of a lot more resources at its disposal. You can bet that YouTube will be one of the major players in consumer-generated media for years to come.
Already, YouTube has launched careers, such as that of YouTuber "Brookers" who was hired by Hollywood celebrity Carson Daly because of her zany videos. YouTube has also brought international fame to previously unknown bands such as Sick Puppies, a band popularized by the hugely popular and inspiring "Free Hugs" video set to the Sick Puppies song "All The Same."
And then there are the hugely successful commercial viral campaigns, such as Blendtec's "Will It Blend?," the brilliant video series on various household objects that are run through a Blendtec blender—including marbles, rake handles, and even iPods.
"Will It Blend?" was the brainchild of George Wright, Marketing Director at Blendtec, and Blendtec's Founder and CEO, Tom Dickson. George Wright recalls the birth of the idea: "Tom likes to run non-standard things through our blenders in the demo room to test out their strength. One day I wandered in to the demo room and saw sawdust on the floor. Tom was testing out the blenders again, this time it was a 2 x 2 jammed into the blender to see if he could destroy the blender or the 2 x 2."
That gave George an idea: why not post those demonstrations of "extreme blending" online. The trick to creating a viral campaign George reckons is to make it funny and worth watching. They went to work creating the videos back in the fall of last year, starting with five videos: "Don't Try This at Home Blending." They built a companion microsite to go with it—WillItBlend.com—and sent an email to all employees to pass on the word of the videos and the Web site.
They also emailed their customer base and asked for suggestions of things to blend. At the time George was traveling and had his Blackberry; all the emails coming in were set to forward to him as well. Calls to his Blackberry wore out the batteries in a few hours, coming in from the media, print magazines, and TV. They were featured on a Today Show segment the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. iVillage Live did a segment on them too. They were interviewed by Newsweek, Playboy Magazine, and the New York Times.
Blendtec had a surprisingly low budget. It happened to have an on-staff video producer and on-staff webmaster, so development of the first five videos ran somewhere between $50-$100—including buying the domain name, a couple of rakes, some marbles, and few other supplies. So it can definitely be done on a meager budget.
George Wright advises that companies wishing to get into YouTube marketing focus on something that is fun, with either the interviewer laughing or scratching his/her head, because only then will they want to pass it on. But don't force it. It really should be something worth watching.
George's second piece of advice is to clearly demonstrate the product. For Blendtec, initially it was 100% about branding. After the brand awareness has been established, there has to be a need, a problem in need of resolution. George says a consumer watching a blender that is blending a rake handle would conclude that that make and model of blender would do a pretty good job at blending ice as well.
Blendtec has seen a dramatic increase in sales of at-home and commercial blenders (which are sold to restaurants and coffee shops, etc). The "Will It Blend?" campaign targeted the home market and online Web sales were more than four times greater than in the previous top-selling month. All other channels have seen big increases as well.
George also advises to make sure that the subject of the video is real: no "smoke and mirrors." Tom Dickson is real. The blender is real. Tom is the owner of the company. He designed the machine. The experiments are reproducible.
Blendtec isn't the only company having success with YouTube. Intuit, maker of the Quicken, QuickBooks, and TurboTax software, are in the midst of a YouTube campaign, known as the Tax Rap. It was a pretty off-the-wall idea suggested in a brainstorming session; as luck would have it, Intuit was able to secure rapper Vanilla Ice as its front man. After that, it decided to just pull out all the stops—avoiding any corporate marketing feel to the campaign.
Seth Greenberg, Group Manager of Online Advertising and Internet Media at Intuit, says, "Rather than people making fun of our campaign we wanted to poke fun at ourselves." They went to Vanilla Ice's house in Palm Beach, Florida, and spent several hours there shooting. Vanilla Ice has been a big supporter of the campaign, according to Seth. What is interesting is that Vanilla ice is a polarizing figure. But that is what is making it a phenomenon on YouTube. (AdCritic.com said "I don't know how to read this campaign...")
The campaign has been getting more buzz offline than online. It has been covered at least 50 times by news outlets like CNN, as well as local stations. Entertainment Weekly listed Vanilla Ice's Tax Rap as #10 on its Hit List. And it made it onto Page Six of the New York Post.
The key to the Tax Rap video campaign is not just that Vanilla Ice is the front man, but that it also encourages participation and viewer support. There is a contest with prize money of $50,000, with users encouraged to create their own rap about taxes to compete for the prize.
Unlike Blendtec, Intuit made a much more sizeable investment, including buying a Contest channel and a Branded channel on YouTube, as well as paying for visibility on the YouTube.com homepage. Those were crucial factors for Intuit's getting over one million views of its video. Seth figures that it would have been hard to scale virally without it.
Online jewelry retailer Ice.com made its first foray into YouTube marketing this year as well with its "Mr. Cupid" interviews of passersby. Executive VP of Marketing and founder Pinny Gniwisch put some videos up of himself conducting impromptu interviews on the streets of New York City, in Times Square, on the ski slopes of Utah, and elsewhere, prior to Valentines Day. Pinny said the videos did very well for the company, which has even bigger and better plans for Mother's Day: Those interviews feature celebrities, such as one of the actors from the hit TV show Heroes.
Speaking of Heroes, it was revealed that the hilarious viral spoof posted to YouTube called "Zeroes" actually had NBC behind it. NBC pulled it off brilliantly, but it was somewhat risky, because sometimes the community lashes out at the company behind the campaign when it is revealed as a marketing stunt.
YouTube has been used for effectively brand damage control as well. For example, the CEO and founder of JetBlue Airlines recently put up an apology video on YouTube because of the Valentine's Day winter storm incident in February—a campaign that was well-received.
One product that got some excellent brand recognition and building from being on YouTube was Smirnoff's Raw Tea. Smirnoff produced an uproarious music video called "Tea Partay," with preppies rapping.
Another beverage, Mountain Dew, executed a successful YouTube campaign with its videos of jive-talking octogenarian Sue Teller offering surprisingly hip advice to young viewers.
It's great to get the links to the video, as it increases the video's visibility in the search engines. However, social media expert Neil Patel notes that the problem with most popular YouTube promotions is that YouTube gets the links and the original site usually does not. That means that the search engine visibility benefits don't usually transfer to the company's Web site. That's not true of a MySpace marketing campaign, however, because its profile page can link directly to a company's Web site.
Regardless of this shortcoming, YouTube offers much in the way of brand visibility when the campaign is well-executed. That doesn't just mean posting a great video; marketers must also know how to take advantage of the social nature of the site—to build up friends and to get on user subscription lists.
Jonathan Mendez of optimizeandprophesize.com is an evangelist for the power of tags for marketing on YouTube. His advice is to make copious use of tags on your videos (ensuring, of course, that the tags are all relevant to the content), to spread your tags out among your clips, to use adjectives to make your videos more visible to folks searching based on their mood, have some category descriptor tags (bearing in mind that YouTube's default search settings are Videos, Relevance and All Categories), match your title and description with your most important tags, and don't use natural language phrases or waste tag space on words like "and" or "to."
Along with all these great pearls of wisdom imparted from the above-mentioned viral video marketers, I would also interject: Don't be afraid to make a start, even if it's modest and has no budget behind it. You won't get anywhere without experimenting with the medium. No risk, no reward. Who knows, it might be your inroad to Hollywood!
Take the first step (it's free).
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