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Master Viral Video Advertising in 3 Easy Steps

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What if I told you that you could get the word out about your company for cheap? What if I told you that you could not just get the word out, but really make a splash? Call now and we’ll throw in free shipping!

I moderated a panel at Streaming Media West in San Jose, Calif., this week that featured three small companies who’d employed online video as an experimental, non-conventional form of advertising. Some of their spots went viral, some of them didn’t — but what did they learn?

Case Study #1: Tubes Networks
Presenter: Steve Chazin, VP of Marketing
Impetus: “Our target customers are tech-savvy and too smart for me. They would never click on ads.”
Concept: Tubes Networks sponsored an episode of French Maid TV, a popular podcast that hadn’t published in a while. Although the show directly referenced Tubes, a file-sharing service, it centered around a storyline about a sexy French maid losing her clothes.
Cost: Negotiated down from $50,000. He wouldn’t say it explicitly, but according to the math below the price was $30,000.
Results: More than 3 million video views; 30,000 new users; customer acquisition cost down to $1 from $10. “Priceless word of mouth.” A segment on G4TV.

Case Study #2: GPS Maniac
Presenter: Lester Craft Jr., Editorial Director
Impetus: “We had no marketing budget.”
Concept: The GPS device product review site commissioned Nalts, one of the top comedians on YouTube (our profile), who had already made a video about GPS, to make two videos on the general theme of GPS that referenced GPS Maniac.
Cost: $1000-$5000
Results: The videos got only about 40,000 views each, but the company was featured in write-ups about the role of product placement in online video.

Case Study #3: Personality Hotels
Presenter: Yvonne Lembi-Detert, President and CEO
Impetus: Lembi-Detert was told she should make a virtual tour to promote her boutique hotels in San Francisco, but she felt it wouldn’t have enough of her signature personality. So she went to video startup TurnHere.
Concept: A video tour of five of Lembi-Detert’s hotels, starring her. “An oversized infomercial,” as she called it.
Cost: $6,000
Results: Guests recognizing her, including ones who don’t fit the profile of her normal clientele, and telling her they’ve watched the video. She said her normal form of advertising — an order of 20,000 brochures — could have cost $10,000.
Video: No embed available; click through.

So were these three video ads successful? All three presenters emphasized that the video projects were experiments. Since people are just starting to explore such forms of online video advertising, the videos succeeded — to some degree — on novelty alone, by drawing publicity and invitations to sit on panels. But is novelty enough?

“The real key was not 50,000 [views], but a million,” said Craft, admitting he would have hoped for success on the level of Blendtec’s “Will it blend?” series. He said an unknown brand like GPS Maniac might have been better off with a more straightforward approach rather than Nalts’ funny sketches. Still, Craft added, given the low cost, people might as well make a lot of video ads on the chance that one of them will be a hit.

For Lembi-Detert, virality was not the goal — hers is a niche offering — so personalized video advertising fits nicely into her positioning. And for Tubes…well, despite the world’s tsking about sex selling, it clearly works, regardless of the medium. Tubes isn’t a grand success — Chazin mentioned after the panel he is leaving the company — but it got the buzz it was hoping for.

So what about that three-step plan hyped by our infomercial headline? Sorry, but there aren’t any easy virality equations yet, and there may not ever be. You’ll have to keep experimenting.

14 Responses to “Master Viral Video Advertising in 3 Easy Steps”

  1. Let’s keep in mind (as always) that 3.4 million people started watching the video. There’s no telling how many made it to the 10th second, let alone the final second.

    3.4 million is an achievement, certainly, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.