Monday, April 07, 2008

Youtube Views

In the three years since its launch, Youtube has
cemented itself as a pillar of UK culture. From TV highlights to music promos to weird and wonderful amateur clips, Youtube is our default source of bitesize, on-demand video content.

Advertisers and their agencies are still trying to figure out how to exploit this uber-platform; how to grasp - and realise - its potential as a vehicle for brand communication. We've uploaded our ads. We've experimented with risque films and longer forms. Some have 'gone viral', some haven't.

Beyond that, we've thrown making-ofs, out-takes and other video assets into the mix. We've linked episodes and built series. We've urged Diginatives to respond with videos of their own. But no-one has uncovered the magic formula - the formula that guarantees 10m views rather than 10,000. (Let's leave the quality of those views to one side for now - important question as it is).

There is, of course, no magic formula. Even 'be novel with your content' fails as a rule of thumb when parody, remixing and reference litter the most-viewed lists.

That's not to say that Youtube can't be gamed; that there aren't tactics and ploys for success. Two recent news stories might inspire fresh thinking on how to craft a Youtube hit. These stories suggest that novel approaches to the Youtube platform - as opposed to novel Youtube content - can generate the extreme viral effects that advertisers crave.

First up, the
mystery surrounding Clauras Bartel's amateur music video for the CSS track Music is My Hot Hot Sex. After its initial upload last year, this relatively uninspiring video garnered a staggering 120m views before being taken down by Youtube moderators (mirror version here). Theories abound, with Bartel himself suggesting that salacious tags and and titles may have contributed to the film's unprecedented view count. Whether or not he's right, the notion that meta data - not merely optimised, but used creatively - can strongly influence a Youtube film's findability and exposure should give advertising people food for thought. With the Youtube Insight audience analysis tool on its way, naive video uploads could soon be a thing of the past.

Less mysterious, but equally inspiring, is the so-called 'Rick Rolling' craze, which has delivered
9m Youtube views for a grainy Rick Astley music promo. Rick Rolling is a playfully subversive meme spread by bloggers and forum users who disguise hyperlinks to the Astley video as links to juicy gossip stories. By thus spurning web e-tiquette, Rick Rollers have delighted their audiences and massively amplified the view count of an otherwise unremarkable video. Rebel brands seeking online engagement should take heed - their Youtube behaviour may look a little square by comparison.

To reiterate, neither of these examples offers a magic formula, or a simple prescription for advertisers. In a media environment where attention is earned, not bought, there can be no certainties of effect. (Translation: we'll still be wrestling with Youtube alchemy in another three years time.)

But what we might learn from Clauras Bartel, the Rick Rollers and other Youtube deviants, is a determination to challenge and repurpose new digital platforms. That's an 'engagement zag', in BBH speak, and it'll get us to fresher, more famous work.

A note of caution: as brand stewards we must be careful not to confuse harmless play and harmful spam. When a video marketer described his cynical ploys for blue-chip clients on TechCrunch, the blog's readers responded angrily.

For me, the acid test is simple. If a brand's tactics are part of the story and part of the fun, then they are fair game - and good game.

First and foremost, Diginatives want to be entertained. Somewhere between straight-laced behaviour and exploitative acts, there's an interesting space where brands can deliver that entertainent.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Techno-politico ponderings

Facebook has been coming in for a fair bit of stick recently. But writing in The Guardian's G2 supplement on Monday, Tom Hodgkinson advanced a case for the prosecution that transcends the usual complaints about privacy and walled gardens.

Hodgkinson outlined a grand conspiracy theory which posits Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as neo-con puppet in chief, and his string-pulling fellow board members as hawkish ideologues, hell-bent on pursuing a warped, capitalist-libertarian utopia.

Bizarre but fascinating stuff. And an awkward reminder for principled Diginatives that the tech world ain't as apolitical as they might like to believe.

Another case in point: Intel's (allegedly) despicable behaviour as partner - now former partner - in Nicholas Negroponte's laudable OLPC scheme. Whether the claims of duplicitous dealings are true or not, it's sad to see a technology firm's involvement in a charitable venture descend into self-interested, tragi-comic farce.

These two stories convey a simple truth: in the era of uber-transparency, the corporations behind and beside our favourite technologies will be held to account like never before. That can only be a good thing, I think, for what use is tech if it doesn't make the world a better place?

Any individual or group seeking to obstruct that goal for selfish ends will fully deserve their flaming in the blogosphere's cauldron of free speech - a self-righting mechanism we Diginatives should hold dear.

Let's not even get started on Google and their 'don't be evil' mantra...