Consumer Choice and Viral Video

What is different about ads that go viral and ads that don’t? Is there a difference between television ads and ads that go viral on the internet? The folks at Visible Measures are experts in social video analytics and advertising — they are the measurement platform behind the Ad Age Viral Video Chart. We sat down with Matt Fiorentino, head of marketing at Visible Measures to get his take on trends in viral video and earned media content.

According to Matt, ads are seeing a large increase in viewership online — 2.7 billion views in 2010 up from 820 million in 2009. But these are not the same ads you see on television. “This content isn’t traditional advertising with facts and features,” Matt says, “it’s more about storytelling.” Television spots are limited to 30 or 60 seconds, but online video ads can be up to 10 minutes in length. This is long enough to engage the audience in a story that speaks to the brand’s identity. DC Shoes created the “Gymkhana” series of videos, each around 7 minutes in length, and this series has garnered over 100 million views. Toshiba and Intel created the “Inside” series of videos about a woman trapped in a room with nothing but a laptop — her only hope of escape is to mobilize her social networks.

Why does storytelling matter so much? “It all begins with choice,” according to Matt. “Advertisers are looking for premium content to advertise against — but there is a limited amount of premium inventory.” Matt’s advice for brands: “If you want to tell your story, there are an infinite number of opportunities to do this through social video advertising. This enables consumers to choose to watch and share your story.” Don’t interrupt their chosen media — become their chosen media.

This kind of storytelling allows brands to embed their identity into the users chosen media, into media users want to share. It takes brands out of the realm of paid, earned, and owned media and into the realm of identity media, where the brand can control the message, and users want to share it. An increasing number of brands are having great success with this — Red Bull has created content affinity with their series of extreme sports videos. “When you think Red Bull you think extreme sports,” Matt observes.

These campaigns lead to sales bumps. BMW attributes a 12% increase to their “The Hire” series; Old Spice showed a 27% increase in sales in just the first six months of their “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” series with Isaiah Mustafa.

“Consumers are in control now,” Matt reminds us. “They can skip ads if they don’t want to see them, or watch ads when you don’t expect — on their smart phones, on an airplane, almost anywhere. The brand might not even know. What’s important is to give them what they want. Give them great storytelling, get the customer to embrace the brand’s identity, and they will be your best marketer.”

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