Posted on December 6, 2007
Filed Under Marketing 2.0 |
I was amused when TechCrunch published a post by Stanford student Dan Ackerman Greenberg on “The Secret Strategies Behind Many ‘Viral’ Videos.” Dan had posted a comment on The Drama 2.0 Show two days prior in response to my post on Stanford’s Facebook application course for which he is the TA. Dan thanked me for my post, apparently not recognizing that it was tongue-in-cheek, and even said that if I was “interesting,” I should check out the course website and blog. Needless to say, I was not initially impressed with Dan Ackerman Greenberg.
So when I read the post on TechCrunch in which he admitted that his company uses what many would consider to be unethical tactics such as forum spamming, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Not only did the post cause a firestorm which forced Dan to try to backtrack, it proved that a top university education can’t buy common sense. If Dan has clients who feel his recipe for viral video success is worth paying for, it was awfully stupid to reveal the recipe on TechCrunch, especially given the fact that it was obvious the tactics he uses would call his ethics into question. While the buzz landed Dan on CNN (where he didn’t exactly provide an awfully articulate pitch for his company), in some businesses, no PR is good PR: you want to keep a low profile. You won’t find the world’s top spammers, for instance, revealing their tricks of the trade on a blog. Common sense. As they say, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
I initially didn’t feel compelled to write about the Dan Ackerman Greenberg drama, but do think there are a few interesting points to be made, especially after reading some of the comments on TechCrunch:
- The value of viral video to brands is still highly-questionable. In his CNN interview, Dan was unable to state whether these videos actually generate tangible results (i.e. increased revenues) because the truth of the matter is that nobody knows. Dan resorted to the cliché “they get the brand into the conversation” line. As I discussed in my previous post about viral video, from a pure marketing/branding perspective it’s clear that some viral videos have resulted in decent exposure and “conversation,” but at the end of the day, branding is supposed to impact the bottom line in a positive way, either directly or indirectly, and there’s no compelling evidence (yet) that it does. In the case of the Smirnoff Tea Partay campaign, for instance, I even asked if it’s possible that some of these videos could impact brands negatively.
- The value of viral video marketing services is highly-questionable. In his original post, Dan noted that videos his company “promoted” for a movie studio received 6 million views on YouTube, ~30,000 ratings, ~10,000 favorites, ~10,000 comments and 200+ blog posts. According to Dan, the client was unable to get more than a few thousand views for these videos when they posted them online themselves. Not only is there no information about how the movie studio was originally trying to promote these videos, but there’s little analysis of just how valuable any of the views, ratings, favorites, etc. were to the studio. Dan does mention that the movie was a “blockbuster” which begs the question: did the viral video exposure really help make the movie a box office hit? The answer is almost certainly no. I suspect mainstream press attention, reviews from professional movie critics, etc. were much more effective at driving people to the theatre than a viral video on YouTube. And given that the studio apparently spent a “significant amount of money” creating the 10-20 second viral videos and Dan admitted that his company paid bloggers to post about them, whether the viral video campaign was even profitable is questionable (obviously there’s no way to track this).
- It’s unclear whether good viral videos need “professional” promotion. As one commenter on TechCrunch claimed, his repost of a GEICO ad received 300,000 views on YouTube. While this commenter could by lying, there certainly are a lot of videos on YouTube that have received wide exposure and a decent portion of them probably got there without the tactics employed by people like Dan. As such, if a brand is unable to get exposure for its viral video, it might be wise for the brand to consider the appeal of its video as opposed to considering the use of a promoter.
At the end of the day, three things are apparent from all of this:
- An education from a top university doesn’t buy you common sense.
- For all the talk about viral video, what it actually delivers for brands in the form of tangible value is elusive.
- Popular user-generated content services like YouTube have and will continue to be infiltrated by the marketing interests that many Web 2.0 idealists thought they were doing away with.