YouTube: Playground For Exhibitionists



C’mon, don’t tell me you’ve never pretended to be one of those. It’s really safe to come out of the closet now. Even my friend’s boss has publicly declared it. You know you’re a YouTube addict and so is everybody else. Everybody with a broadband connection that is. What’d you think I was referring to?

YouTube LogoYouTube, the video-sharing site that everybody just can’t seem to get enough of is a true web phenomenon. A phenomenon phenomenal enough to be snapped up by Google for a cool 1.65 billion smackeroos (that’s the equivalent of owning a fleet of Boeing 787s – ten to be exact).

You can confidently proclaim it to be the poster child for Web 2.0 and no geek will take issue with you on that. Unlike the iTunes store, whose emphasis is on downloadable videos, YouTube is strictly (and I use this word very loosely) streaming. And of course, YouTube is free.

With overheads lower than that of a cable TV company and with a bigger audience to boot, you’d be forgiven to think cable networks are packing it up for greener pastures. Though that’s never going to happen, YouTube’s runaway success is another clear indication of disruptive technologies at work in a post-Web 1.0 era. And the reason for this success? Only one that immediately springs to mind – amateur viral content producers.

In other words, anyone with a weakness for exhibitionism (with a tagline like ‘Broadcast Yourself’ you can understand why) and a little bit of time to spare, has the ability to create, produce, upload, watch and share their own or others’ videos; all without the budget of a Hollywood Studio. Let me put it to you this way. You don’t need a budget. Got a cellphone? Then the binary world of stardom is your oyster. It takes less than three minutes to set up an account and start uploading your videos to YouTube.

If shooting videos ain’t your thang, watching probably is. With more than 100 million videos offered per day and more than 65,000 new videos uploaded everyday, you’ll have enough reasons to explain away your 10-year absence from your in-laws’ weekend visits. Employees had been known to miss lunch-breaks disputing whether ‘lonelygirl15’ was real or just a teaser. CEOs were found to have cancelled business meetings to practice the ‘Numa Numa‘ dance behind closed doors (you guessed it, it’s not the secretaries anymore).

It’s this creative control you have over the content you consume that makes YouTube the sensation that it is today, never-mind the low-res videos that your computer serves up.

But I’m No Exhibitionist, I’m An Entrepreneur

And so you are. Which is why you need to pay extra attention to the implications of how consumers are grazing content. It only makes good business sense to do so because this democratization of mass media is about to affect your advertising and promotional strategies. Traditional advertising methods as you know it, are already queuing at the edge of the cliff, ready for its leap of death.

When Google snapped up YouTube, it cemented the future of online videos. The appendage to that should read, “We’re Taking Over The Advertising World, Suckers!” and Google will be quite right as the defection to online viewership escalates.

But how Google is going to monetize YouTube is anyone’s guess. Everything that industry analysts are throwing out at this juncture, are merely conjecture. It will happen though, as where the crowd goes, advertising meekly follows. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as Cervantes said, and going by the increasing number of network television companies that are now scrambling to place their programs online, the pudding is tasting quite, splendid.

But some companies are not waiting around to see what Google does. They have taken the responsibility upon themselves to test the waters of social computing and leverage on something called the, ‘viral effect‘.

Take General Motors for example.

GM Gets Peer Production

General Motors’ foray into the bottom-up approach of managing their business was well-exhibited with the Chevy Tahoe SUV’s four-week ad campaign back in March. What GM did was leverage social computing at its most elementary level. They had visitors to their site create their very own Chevy Tahoe commercial, providing remixing materials for visitors to do as they please.

Control over such a campaign was obviously non-existent (every MBA’s nightmare). And it proved to be the case as an eclectic mix of opinions were demonstrated via these videos. And as you may have probably guessed by now, videos of these campaigns were sighted on YouTube.

Many pundits pooh-poohed the move by GM. But they’ve missed the whole point of what Web 2.0 signifies – that today’s consumer is in control. GM seized the opportunity to engage its users, and it proved successful as it attracted participants (all 30,000 and more of them) it otherwise never would have. Even with GM’s TV ad budget of over $2 billion (that’s for a year), it may never have attracted the attention it received from a TV ad the way it did through social computing. Granted, many of those participants might never become a Chevy Tahoe customer (unless of course they’re descendents of the Davy Crockett type) but that’s besides the point. GM has won over the hearts and minds of the neutrals, which makes a difference in today’s world.

Update: I may have been wrong about GM’s participants not becoming customers. Here’s what Frank Rose wrote in this month’s issue of Wired Magazine:

the Tahoe Apprentice campaign has to be judged a success. The microsite attracted 629,000 visitors by the time the contest winner, Michael Thrams from nearby Ann Arbor, was announced at the end of April. On average, those visitors spent more than nine minutes on the site, and nearly two-thirds of them went on to visit; for three weeks running, funneled more people to the Chevy site than either Google or Yahoo did. Once there, many requested info or left a cookie trail to dealers’ sites.”

He continues,

Sales took off too, even though it was spring and SUV purchases generally peak in late fall. Since its introduction in January, the new Tahoe has accounted for more than a quarter of all full-size SUVs sold, outpacing its nearest competitor, the Ford Expedition, 2 to 1. In March, the month the campaign began, its market share hit nearly 30 percent. By April, according to auto-information service Edmonds, the average Tahoe was selling in only 46 days – quite a change from the year before, when models languished on dealers’ lots for close to four months.”

(source: Wired magazine, December 2006)

Whoa, yowzer! That’s what I’m talkin’ about … I was already a believer in the power of social computing long before this, but this just fortifies it. Dion Hinchcliffe sums up GM’s embrace of what is an incumbent prerequisite to continual business growth, in a very simple but potent illustration:


Buick, on the other hand, apparently got it wrong with this one. David Kiley has the story.

Another Form Of YouTube Marketing

Dove nailed this one with its campaign for real beauty. A 75-second clip which cleverly struck a chord with women across the globe – has garnered close to a million views on YouTube.

(if loading is slow, watch it on YouTube)


Pete Blackshaw explains:

The YouTube metrics along are quite impressive: nearly a million views, hundreds of comments, and about 2,400 “Favorites” rankings. Plus it made a host of YouTube honors. But, the YouTube metrics are only part of the story. The well-coordinated campaign deeply penetrated the blogosphere, crossed global boundaries, served as context for deeper textual discussion, and entered a host of social networks. For 10 days, it topped the charts of linked-to brand videos on both BlogPulse (owned by my firm and Technorati.”

And something about consumer-fortified media (CFM),

Unlike the vast majority of viral videos out there, this ad was 100 percent brand or agency created. But it was fortified by intense consumer commentary, conversation, and dialogue. Put another way, co-creation was an end results but not the starting point. Looking ahead, expect CFM to become a key success criteria for brands looking for tangible evidence of consumer appeal, involvement, and engagement. Every Super Bowl ad, for instance, has latent potential as CFM, but it’s not a guarantee.”

Dove’s ad campaign was a clear case of creating value for the consumer. Value that compelled viewers to self-engage in word-of-mouth marketing for Dove, or as Pete Blackshaw calls it, consumer-fortified media.

Nike Just Did It … Again

If I may expand on Pete’s consumer-fortified media, a now infamous Nike ad featuring the mercurial Ronaldinho was created in the mold of Dove’s ad – to stir up conversation and induce the ‘viral effect’.

What struck me immediately the first time I watched it was, “Is this a spoof?” It was an amateurishly shot video, something that a kid armed with one of those bleeping plastic devices that comes with video capabilities ( yeah … a cellphone, that’s right) would produce. Then Ronaldinho does this thingamagic thingy with the ball at his newly crowned Nike- adorned feet, volleys it four freakin’ times in a row against the top of the crossbar from a considerable distance, and the clip ends with a cool handshake with the guy who brought him the boots.

Here, watch it.

(if loading is slow, watch it on YouTube)

Now, if you’d even the slightest idea of the concept of probability, you’ll understand the significance of this video. But a true soccer fan could careless about math. “How the #*%! did he do that!” would probably be the first thought that flashed across his blank face.

Ten minutes later, “Wait a minute, could that video have been manipulated in some way? There was no way he could have done that.”

Questions like these popped up in hundreds of chat rooms and blogs. Needless to say, the video was one of the most talked about on YouTube for a period of time. Time magazine featured this video ad in a segment called, ‘Viral Videos that Swept the Nation‘.

I understood then the significance of adding the ‘ amateurish feel’ to the Nike ad. If it had been professionally filmed with a budget rivaling that of an A-grade Hollywood flick, it might not have created the buzz nor contributed to the ‘viral effect’ the way this one did. Remember, most of the videos on YouTube have a rather, ‘ home-made’ vibe to it. Playing to this visual magnetism was a very smart move by Nike.

Before I turn this post into a yawn-fest, let me just hand you a last bit of update. YouTube and Verizon have teamed up to serve VCast subscribers the functionalities of downloading and uploading video clips. The catch with the downloading feature however is, only a selected number of videos from YouTube are provided.

While this is another step in the right direction, phone carriers have yet to embrace today’s culture of consumers as producers and online socialites. By sticking a charge to subscribers for selected content or mobisodes, is not only antithetical to what social computing represents, but sacrilegious on all Web 2.0 fronts.

Carriers have to forgo control of their networks to a certain extent, if they’re going to win over more customers. The days of yore where corporations control information flow are all but over.

P.S. I’m sorry but this Ronaldinho ad is still bugging me. If you’re a soccer maniac, I’ve got to show you this.

Ronaldo’s reply to Ronaldinho:

One fan’s theory of how Ronaldinho actually did it:

2 Responses to “YouTube: Playground For Exhibitionists”

  1. Very nice synthesis of what’s going on today. And I think your builds on the CFM concept are spot-on! — Pete Blackshaw

  2. Thanks Pete, your article on the Dove campaign (another great piece btw) was the first that I’d heard the phrase ‘consumer-fortified media’.

    It certainly was worth mentioning it here as I know, a segment of my readers who may not have heard of it before this, can benefit immensely from your future observations.

    Keep dishing it out Pete, we can’t get enough…

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