Viral Videos

In this episode, we look at the wild and crazy world of Viral Videos.

Some brands spend big money on videos and nobody watches, meanwhile a cat video is viewed by millions. It's a world with no rules, fuelled by luck and timing.

We'll look at the most viewed videos ever, including a video a woman made when she quit her job that attracted almost 10 million views, the Evian bottled water video that went into the Guinness Book of World Records, a Nivea viral video that might have gone too far, and a Dove video that broke the Evian world record.

These days, marketers can't necessarily spend their way to consumer attention, they have to earn it. And a viral video is one of the most powerful ways to do it.

One day, Marina Shifrin decided that she didn't like her job anymore.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 10.18.58 AM.png
Marina Shifrin decides to serve notice.

The company she worked for made online videos. Marina didn't like the way her boss was more interested in video views than video content.

So she decided to make a video of her own, and went in to work at 4:30 in the morning.

All alone, she put on the Kanye West song Gone, and filmed herself dancing all around the office.

Shifrin sneaks into her office at 4:30 in the morning, and makes her own video.
Source: YouTube

She danced at her cubicle, she danced in the hallway, she danced on a desk, she even danced in the washroom.

And as she danced, words appeared on the video.

This is what it said:

"It's 4:30am and I am at work.
I work for an awesome company that produces news videos.
For almost two years, I've sacrificed my relationships, time and energy for this job.
And my boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets.
So I figured... I'd make ONE video of my own.
To focus on the content instead of worry about the views.
Oh... and to let my boss know... I QUIT."

Then Marina stops dancing, walks to the office door, and turns out the lights.

The final words on the screen say, "I'm gone."

She posted the video on Saturday, September 28th. By Monday, the video had a quarter of a million views.

Five days later, it had nine million.

Suddenly, Marina Shifrin's resignation video had gone massively viral, and she was being interviewed by dozens of news and talk shows.

Including Queen Latifa's talk show on Fox.

After Marina explained her reasons for quitting a job creating viral videos by making a viral video, Queen Latifa asked her this question:

Shifrin gets a job offer from the Queen.
Source: YouTube

And that wasn't the only job offer Marina got as a result of her viral video.

As of this writing, the video has received over 16 million views.

The world of viral videos is one without any rules. Sometimes millions of dollars are spent to create them, and no one watches.

Sometimes someone posts a video of a cat doing something cute, and millions watch.

In the world of advertising, videos are fast becoming a major element of many campaigns.

But unlike paid advertising where you can guarantee an audience, the world of online videos makes no such promises. Whether it goes viral or not is completely out of your hands.

It could be half a dozen views, or half a million.

And nobody knows the secret recipe...

The difference between a viral ad and a viral video is intent and length. A thirty-second ad that goes viral was made for TV, and just happened to get an updraft online. A viral video, on the other hand, is a film that usually runs anywhere from 90 seconds to eight minutes long.

It's made specifically to live online.

And as with all new advertising techniques, it ain't so new.

Between 1933 and 1941, Chevrolet produced close to thirty short films that featured various aspects of Chevrolet technology.

Some featured the braking system. Some showed the amazing manufacturing process at Chevrolet. And still other films showed the public how automobile production, and Chevrolet in particular, was an expression of American industry and progress.

Each film was made to enhance the image of Chevrolet in the minds of the buying public. The films pre-dated television, and were shown in over 4,800 movie theatres to millions of people across the nation - which were the viral videos of their day.

One of the more creative of those films was called, "A Coach For Cinderella."

A viral film, circa 1936.
Source: YouTube

It was an animated feature that told the story of Cinderella, who had her coach put through a "modernizer" to magically turn into a Chevrolet.

The full-colour film was made in 1937. A full 13 years before Disney made the definitive version of the story.

Another viral film for Chevrolet, starring Dinah Shore.
Source: YouTube

As time went on, Chevrolet would make dozens of films, including this 12-minute feature with star Dinah Shore:

Along with the 1950's Chevrolets, came the launch of television. Soon, short films were replaced by traditional commercials on TV. Advertisers would sponsor programming, and the structure of TV shows didn't allow for long-format ad films anymore.

But every now and then, they were still used for very special occasions.

One of the most interesting, to me, was the 5-minute film Chevrolet made to introduce its new line of cars for 1965.

It aired during a rare commercial-free episode of the hit NBC TV show, Bonanza, in late 1964, where the last five minutes of the program were given over to a new Chevrolet promotional film.

It was a strange film on many levels.

First, it was hosted by Canadian actor Lorne Greene, who played patriarch Ben Cartwright on Bonanza. The Cartwright family appeared in full western costume, and actually drove the cars down the main street of Virginia city, past horses and saloons, circa 1860.

First, Lorne Greene introduced Pernell Roberts, who played his son Adam on Bonanza, to tell viewers about the Chevrolet Corvette. Then Greene made an unexplained jump through the time/space continuum and introduced Robert Vaughn, the star of the Man From U.N.C.L.E., to tell viewers about the Chevrolet Corvair.

Next, Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched appears and tells us about the new Chevelle.

Then Michael Landon - aka Little Joe Cartwright - tells us about the new Impala. And after we've seen the full line of 1965 Chevrolets, Lorne Greene takes us home:

When eras collide: A promotional film for Chevrolet where Bonanza meets Bewitched.
Source: YouTube

It's an astounding bit of marketing on many levels. Not only was it a 5 minute and 27 second film that aired on primetime television, but Bonanza and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. were both NBC shows, whereas Bewitched was an ABC production.

Hard to imagine the networks would even allow that kind of cross-promotion.

But advertisers ruled. Chevrolet not only sponsored Bonanza and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on NBC, but also Bewitched on ABC.

Reaching audiences in the 20th century was relatively easy, with three or four main TV networks delivering over 80% of the population.

Paid advertising was the preferred method, with 30-second television spots being the preferred vehicles.

And while the arrival of cable would eventually splinter the viewing universe and make it more expensive to find large audiences, that 30-second mentality didn't really change.

Until the arrival of the Internet.

The term "viral" had no real marketing definition until the year 2001.

If an ad campaign "caught on," its reach would usually be confined to word-of-mouth in the region, or country of origin.

And that "word-of-mouth" was difficult to quantify.

That all changed when another automobile manufacturer decided to do something that had never been done before...

The first big viral video success online, pre-dating YouTube.
Source: YouTube

BMW had found that their advertising had lost its power because competitors had all started adopting the same techniques. And BMW's revenues had dropped considerably from the previous year.

So they asked their advertising agency, Fallon Worldwide, to come up with something unprecedented to change their fortunes.

The agency creative department felt stifled by the confines of traditional 30-second television commercials.

So they approached the project more like... a film. They wanted to show the car for longer periods of time, within an exciting, extended storyline.

They also knew that 85% of potential BMW buyers were young, affluent males who spent most of their car-shopping time online. They were upwardly mobile consumers who didn't have time to watch television.

The agency came up with a motion picture idea, where a James Bond-type driver would be "hired" to save, transport and escort various characters using different BMW models.

The agency hired David Fincher, who had directed the movies Seven and Fight Club. He convinced the ad agency to break the story down into five separate short films, to facilitate downloading, and allow more flexibility in attracting talent to the project.

Fincher then convinced A-List directors Ang Lee, John Frankenheimer and Guy Ritchie to come onboard. British actor Clive Owen was chosen to be the star - as the skilled, hired driver.

Each episode ran five to seven minutes long, and was uniquely filmed for computer viewing. So things like file size were kept in mind, and scenes were shot to work on a small screen.

The first episode was titled, The Ambush, and featured Clive Owen saving a diamond smuggler from machine-gun toting assailants...

The BMW Films would help make Clive Owen a star, and inspired "The Transporter" film series.
Source: YouTube

In the Guy Ritchie-directed episode, he managed to convince his wife to be the star. Her name was Madonna:

Director Guy Ritchie casts his wife in one of the BMW films. Her name was Madonna. Perhaps you've heard of her.
Source: YouTube

The five action-packed films were given the umbrella title of, "The Hire." They were released every two weeks, and while tailored to each director's style, were carefully written to work as an ongoing series.

In a highly unusual move, print ads promoting the films ran in Hollywood trade magazines, as well as Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. Movie trailers ran on VH1 and Bravo.

When the series finally went live online, the advertising world finally met the word viral. The series recorded over 11 million views immediately - which in 2001 was unprecedented - and pre-YouTube.

Not only did The Hire win every conceivable award in advertising, but it also won awards in film festivals and was reviewed in entertainment magazines, and even in the New York Times.

The groundbreaking series garnered media coverage that was simply not accessible to traditional commercials.

With that success, three more films were shot the following year - costing almost $25 million dollars for a total of eight films.

By June 2003, the BMW films had been viewed 45 million times, vastly overshooting the original goal of reaching 2 million viewers.

The series not only inspired a real movie, titled "The Transporter" starring Jason Statham but BMW sales rose 17.5% between 2001 and 2002, helping it outsell Mercedes for the first time.

The Cannes International Advertising Festival said the BMW films had, "caused the industry to stop in its tracks, and reconsider the way forward."

Word is that BMW Films will return in 2014.

With that stratospheric success, the advertising industry tried to emulate this new brand-new territory called "viral videos."

One of the most notable was the video for Evian Water.

Evian, three times more expensive than most competitors, was losing market share to cheaper bottled waters.

So a hilarious video called Roller Babies was shot in 2009. It featured babies pulling off jaw-dropping dance moves on roller skates to the song, Rapper's Delight by the Sugarhill Gang.

The Evian viral video broke world records, baby.
Source: YouTube

The tagline was "Live Young."

While Roller Babies had a TV version, it went viral as a video. It broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the most viewed viral film ever - with 66 million YouTube views and over 170 million online views.

Yet, with that incredible viral success, the Business Insider news website reported that Evian's sales went down.

And the Daily Mail reported that Evian's share of the bottled water market was just 0.3%, down from 1.2% a decade earlier.

I suspect those two widely viewed videos managed to stop Evian's decline, but clearly, even wild viral success doesn't always translate into wild sales success.

One of the ways advertisers try to get a video to go viral is to be bold and outrageous.

Nivea tried that tactic recently with a video called "The Stress Test."

In a German airport, Nivea ambushed a series of people in the waiting areas. The Nivea staff hid behind a wall, picked out specific passengers, and secretly took their picture.

Then, using digital technology and remarkably quick response time, they printed a fake newspaper with the passenger's picture on the front page with a headline saying they were a wanted criminal.

In one instance, a Nivea staff member sat across from a young female passenger and casually read the fake newspaper. The second the girl spotted her wanted face on the newspaper, a fake news story appeared on television sets in the waiting area, showing the same picture, and describing the fugitive passenger perfectly.

The victim's panic grows with each passing moment, and other passengers begin to point and stare. Then the German authorities walk up to her.

The passenger, almost beside herself, can barely speak. At that exact moment, the authorities ask if she is "stressed" - and open a case they are carrying, containing Nivea Stress Protect deodorant, to keep you dry when you're stressed.

The girl, realizing it was all just a prank, sits there awash in relief.

The Nivea video - a viral prank that went too far?
Source: YouTube

The prank video went viral immediately, and has amassed over 7 million views to date.

But it was controversial, as many asked if it went too far. Did it abuse the public?

Was a line crossed just to chase viral success?

One problem is the current threshold for what defines a "viral" video. To make the Advertising Age Viral Video Chart, for example, it takes at least 1.5 million views. Four years ago, it only took 220,000.

That's significant, because it means advertisers have to fight much harder to get noticed today, which can lead to risky decisions.

According to Advertising Age magazine research, audiences in 2012 chose to watch video ads 4.6 Billion times or about 13.2 million times per day.

That is incredibly alluring for the advertising industry, because those people actively sought out those videos. Very few people actively seek out television commercials.

Plus, a lot of paid advertising dies the moment you stop paying for it. Viral videos live on.

That's why around $4.12 billion dollars was spent on advertising videos in 2013.

Maybe the biggest viral hit of that year was the Dove "Sketch Artist" video.

The Dove viral video that smashed the Evian Guinness Book Of World Records.... record.
Source: YouTube

In the video, the sketch artist asks women he cannot see to describe themselves, and draws a portrait based on what they say.

Then strangers are asked to describe the same women who they had just met in the lobby, and the sketch artist draws those pictures.

When the two portraits are shown to the original women, they see the one described by themselves is plain and unattractive, but the one described by strangers is positive and nice looking.

The video made the point that only 4% of the women around the world consider themselves beautiful. And that women are more beautiful than they think.

The Dove Sketch Artist videos were an immediate viral sensation. More than 30 million viewed the video in the first ten days.

The video also stirred up a lot of debate, with many people disliking the implied importance put on looks. But many more felt it made a critical point, as one woman articulated in the video itself:

According to reports, the video has overtaken Evian Roller Babies as the most viewed viral video in history.

Maybe one of the most delightful viral videos of the year came from WestJet.

Working with Studio M, a content creation company, WestJet created the Christmas Miracle. Utilizing amazing software technology, 250 passengers waiting for WestJet flights in Toronto and Hamilton were invited to scan their boarding passes on a special screen. Suddenly, up popped Santa Claus, who was able to ask passengers - by name - what they wanted for Christmas - in real time.

Then the passengers boarded their planes for a flight to Calgary, happy in the fact they had just talked to Santa Claus.

But here's what they didn't know:

While the planes were in the air, WestJet staffers in Calgary rushed out to buy and wrap all those Christmas gifts - with less than four hours to do it.

When the WestJet planes landed, and passengers were gathered around the luggage carousel...

...beautifully-wrapped gifts suddenly started coming down the chute. Gifts that were personalized with the passengers names on the tags.

All the gift wishes they had made to Santa were fulfilled. The WestJet customers could not believe their eyes.

WestJet creates a viral sensation.
Source: YouTube

WestJet used 19 hidden cameras, a production crew of 18 and 150 Westjetters to execute the Christmas miracle. The airline made a pledge that if the video were to hit 200,000 views, it would donate additional free flights to the Ronald McDonald charity to reunite families in need.

The video got over a million views in the first 24 hours.

That number hit 10 million on day three.

At one point, it jumped 6 million views in only four hours.

One week later, the video had close to 30 million views.

Virally speaking, I think they hit their number.

By the way, the company that Marina Shifrin quit put their own video out, with the staff dancing all around the same office.

It has attracted over one million views so far.

Marina Shifrin's old company puts out a viral video of its own.
Source: YouTube

The message of the video?

We're hiring.

Marketing is a very complicated game these days.

With entire industries springing up producing ad-avoidance technology, advertisers are desperate to find new ways to connect with consumers.

Online video offers the tease of low cost and big results, the scale of which has never been available - or imaginable - until this point in history.

Yet, over 100 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Which means 1.4 million videos uploaded every day.

And the chances of getting noticed are like your odds in a casino.

But like a casino, some do win big.

And with 4 billion views on YouTube each day, it's like having 4 billion slot machines. But how those numbers tumble is luck of the draw.

The seismic change in marketing in the 21st century is that advertisers can't necessarily spend their way to a consumer's attention, they have to earn it.

But even a viral video with 60 million views doesn't guarantee sales.

And that is the mystery of marketing. Your message can be relevant, the creative compelling, the exposure into the tens of millions, and still nobody is convinced to buy your product.

It's enough to make advertisers join Marina Shifrin and yell out "I quit"...

...when you're under the influence.

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