Online video success: Four days, 1.5 million views and counting

Viral videos, they are the bane of the PR firm’s (yes and/or ad agencies, I admit it) existence.

In this age of YouTube, Upstream, Justin.tv, etc. everyone wants to create an online video and send it into the vast viral universe.  They dream that it will magically be blessed by the viral/social media gods and gain favor.  They dream that each time they hit the “refresh” button the viewer numbers will be higher than the last.

Then they wake up.

Because the truth is for every online video that makes the YouTube hall of fame, there are thousands of others that get cast into the online ocean never to be seen or heard from again. In fact according to this from Slate.com, you have better odds in winning the lottery than having viral video success on YouTube.

We work on a great collaborative team that includes Steve Cummings, Emily Duke, Julia Webster and others at THP,  my old boss from The Martin Agency Joe Slay (Joe’s not old…he’s just an old boss of mine…you know what I mean) and a former colleague of mine, Steve Mullen of EndGame PR.  Joe is the team's quarterback (a dollar in the till for a sports analogy, sorry) and Steve oversees the website and social media presence.  Our collective client is Dan Schecter of Richmond’s Carpenter Co. Carpenter makes pillows, mattress toppers, foam products, just about anything you buy for your bed.  They sell those products to retailers and you buy them, with many of them carrying the SleepBetter.org logo.  The SleepBetter.org website is Dan’s baby and part of our team’s job is to drive traffic to the website thereby keeping Dan happy.

We had a lot of fun working with Dan.  Dan is a great strategic thinker who wants to have fun with his customer base while both educating them about the benefits of Carpenter's products, and showing those customers how those products can improve their health and daily lives.

Last year the team took over a small Texas town and did a concert with the singer, Jewel.  Earlier this year, we did a cool Bedtime Stories campaign and worked with Betty White at the high of her recent new-found popularity.

But Dan has always wanted to do a cool, fun, successful online video featuring pillows….lots of pillows.

Our collective mission:  To create a fun, cool online video with tons of pillows and related products, get hundreds of thousands of people to watch it, and have it drive unprecedented traffic to SleepBetter.org.

Hmmm….

The bad news is that we didn’t get hundreds of thousands of people to watch it. The good news is in four days we got more than a million people to watch it….and counting.  As of Friday, September 17, 2010:   1.4 million viewers.

Here it is….

So given all the odds against us (and all other teams facing the online video challenge) how did we succeed where others do not?

Here’s what we did:

  • Make them compete to create your video:  Our team researched about ten troupes from all over the world before landing on four groups and getting initial treatments.  We gave them a creative brief with parameters and make sure they were true to the products and the client’s goal.  For a number of reasons we decided to work with Rhett and Link, who as you just saw if you watched the video, are extremely talented and make outstanding videos.
  • Work with the professionals:  Because they have these large communities they understand what makes them tick, what excites them, what gets them to watch and share.  This is the initial spark of viewers that most online videos lack.  You can’t go viral without a host, can you?  These communities serve as the host.  Rhett and Link has an active community of 500,000 people online.
  • You get what you pay for:  Online videos are not cheap but they don’t need to be expensive either.  You are working with the professionals to help ensure success.  You can spend a lot of money on cool looking videos, push them with tons of marketing and have nothing to show for it.  Our money was well spent, it had somewhat of a built-in audience and now we are spending our time and money merchandising success instead begging people to watch.
  • Remember the ultimate goal:  The tendency is to get lost in the “coolness” of it all.  Our goals were to celebrate the product, communicate certain points including some of the health issues related to keeping one’s pillow for too long, and to get large numbers of people exposed to the brand and then drive as many people as possible to the SleepBetter.org website.
  • Think strategically:  Why do most online videos fail?  Because they rely on external forces to create an audience.  They require celebrities, ad campaigns, website seeding, influencer pitching, etc.  But what if you could almost count on success by tapping into an existing online video market?  The answer is, you can.

So way beyond 1.5 million views in four days, tons of YouTube awards, and tens of thousands of hits to the website later, we’re happy and most importantly Dan is happy.

There’s more to come, however, this first video has set the scene for a second one currently in production here in Richmond by a local group.  We’ve taken some of the lessons we’ve learned from Rhett and Link and inserted some secret ingredients into the video (we’d tell you but we’d have to kill you) that will hopefully help it take off.  Plus, they’ve agreed to help us give it a boost as well.

The ultimate lesson here is consistent with all things online and social.  You can bang your head against the wall and try to force things to happen, or you can research, listen and search out the communities that already exist and give them what they want.

And if you do it in a way that is fun, informative, entertaining and not too commercial you might be able to achieve your marketing goals as well.

Jon Newman

In 2002 Jon cofounded The Hodges Partnership and has helped to grow it into one of the country’s largest public relations firms (based on O’Dwyer’s annual rankings). Jon has taught communications as an adjunct professor at VCU, speaks regularly at conferences and meetings and blogs and tweets about public relations and marketing issues.

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