$250,000 up for grabs in viral video contest

Think teenager’s bedroom rather than corporate boardroom when launching a viral video marketing campaign.

That’s the advice Billy Reid, a Canadian YouTube celebrity, has for marketers, advertisers and budding viral videographers seeking to promote a product through the popular video sharing site.

“Viewers need to see that the video comes from a real place and isn’t the product of some boardroom meeting – think about something like a 14-year-old’s bedroom,” said Reid in a recent interview with ITBusiness.ca.

Reid is famous for his music and comedy videos that appear on YouTube under his pseudonym “Very Tasteful”.

He is among a group of online personalities who’ve transitioned from the Internet to mainstream network television. Back in 2007, Reid hosted the short live CBC series Exposure, which featured the best viral videos from the Internet. His other works have appeared on MTV, The Comedy Network, VH1’s Best Week Ever, CBC on Demand, Sketch with Kevin MaxDonald, the Gemini Awards and The Science Channel.

Most recently, Reid also became the spokesperson for Frito Lay Canada’s Doritos Viralocity Contest, which runs from February 14 to March 31.The nation-wide competition asks Canadias to name the company’s newest flavour of the tortilla-based chip product and create a 60-second online video that speaks about what the flavour “inspires in them.”

A custom-designed algorithm will measure the videos’ “viralocity” quotient, based on data pulled from internal and external online sources such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Digg and AddThis. Entries that meet or exceed the 10 million viralocity points Doritos received Maximum Doritos Viralocity status and are eligible for an additional $150,000 bonus prize.

Viral video’s slippery slope

So what’s the deal? Visit a a teenager’s bedroom, sprinkle some chips around, shoot video, make it go viral and collect $250,000, simple, right? Not quite, says another YouTube champion.

“Viral is dead,” according to Kevin Nalty, an interactive media marketing expert and YouTube personality, who used to work for ad company Johnson &Johnson Merck & Co Inc. before his YouTube video  became famous. Now the head of his own social media marketing firm Nalts Consulting in Doylestown, Penn, Nalty cautions people: “Please, please don’t chase the viral dream.”

That advice of course is for large companies itching to catch a late ride on the viral video train.

“For sure there are some profits to be made, but viral video is largely the domain of indie-type projects rather that big budget productions,” Nalty said.

Throwing big money on YouTube flicks just won’t work, he said because the medium is largely a “hit-or-miss” channel based on very fickle audience taste.

Typically, videos that go viral, Nalty said, are short, funny and captivating flicks that peak the viewer’s interest. Viewers, he said often go for clips with a home video feel rather than those that smack of slick, corporate editing.

The social media scene which has the potential of fueling a video or product’s rise to fame can also turn around and bury the thing. Just as recommendations to watch a certain video spread around like wildfire across social sites, so does negative comments and review, according to Nalty.

“There’s simply no way of knowing what is going to be a hit with the viewers,” he said.

Shirley Brady community editor for the New York-based BusinessWeek online magazine said social media has become a huge liberating factor for consumers of media.

They are no longer helplessly waiting for advertisers or broadcasters to tell them what to watch on their screens, she said.

“More often than not, consumers today are also the ones creating content and saying what’s worth watching or not,” Brady said. “Unfortunately, or fortunately after all these years, no large company seems to know how to do it right and make money out of it.”

Making consumers decide

Giving consumers a free hand in making decisions is what the Doritos Viralocity Contest is all about, according to Claudia Calderon, brand manager for the snack brand.

The 2009 Become the Doritos Guru contest asked people to submit a 30-second commercial about that year’s unnamed Doritos flavour. The winner got $25,000 in cash plus one per cent of the net sales of the new snack. Net sales collections have so far reached “six figures” for winner Ryan Cooper, according to Calderon.

This year, Doritos is spicing up the social media component of the campaign by employing a metrics tools developed by 10th Power Technologies Corp., a Toronto-based software development company. While entries will be posted on the Doritos YouTube site, contestants will be free to blog, tweet and promote their creations on other social media channels. Based on its custom-designed algorithm, the tool will then calculate how viral a video has become by compiling and analyzing data from sites such as Google, YouTube and Twitter.

“It’s going to be the consumers and viewers, not Doritos, who will be choosing the winner,” Calderon said.

She said, her company decided to employ a social media-based strategy for the campaign, because it allows Doritos to identify with its younger customer based. The brand, which markets flavours such as Guacamole, Sweet Chili Heat and 2nd Degree Burn Fiery Buffalo, appeals to teens and young adults. These age groups are also among those that use social networking sites.

How to make your videos viral

YouTube celebrity Reid has the following tips on how to make your videos viral:

Appeal to the funny bone – Humour is the key to the success of many viral videos, according to Reid. “There’s no law against using other emotions, but generally viewers tend to find humour more accessible.”

Brevity is the soul of wit – Keep it short and sweet. There will be longer videos, but those that catch on are often around two minutes long or shorter. “Many viewers don’t want to spend four minutes or more on a video. They’ve got other things to do, ore more video to watch,” said Reid.

Be creative – “For the most part creativity trumps everything else,” according to Reid. Viewers want to see something new and unique. They don’t want humour to “be forced”.

Employ social media tools – Drive traffic to your site and create buzz around your creation by using all appropriate social networking tool available. “Blog about it, invite your Facebook friends, twit about it and go to tumblr, whatever work,” said Reid.

Support local stars

Quite a few big name companies such as Fox Networks, Coca Cola, Microsoft Corp, MTV and various film studies are jumping on the YouTube bandwagon, says Nalty of Nalts Consulting.

But rather than throw huge amount of advertising dollars on sophisticated YouTube campaigns, he suggests companies study the space first and identify YouTube’s resident stars, who can carry the brand. “Don’t throw $300,000 or more on a YouTube campaign, because it’s never a sure thing that viewers will come.”

Nalty said it’s much wiser to spend $5,000 or $10,000 on an existing YouTube star who already has an online presence and access to tens of thousands of fans. “A little cheque will go a long way, especially if they’re in college”.

What local talent can Canadian marketers turn to? Nalty says marketers might find some gems in the likes of: The Wine Kone;  Cutewithchris; Corey Vidal;  and FlippyCat. “When these guys put up a video, tens of thousands of people tune in right away.”

“If you are in Canada and you’re not aware of them, as a marketer you’re losing a lot of opportunity.”  

Other marketing experts take a more sanguine view about viral.

They say the industry is still in a state of flux and marketers and advertisers are still seeking the digital era’s new magic media mix.

“We’r clearly seeing a shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing,” according to Steve Levy, president of Canadian market research for Ipsos Canada.

Marketers and consumers are gravitating towards e-mail, online and mobile, he said. “No doubt this trend is partly fueled by the economy. Companies are moving stuff to a less expensive, more measurable medium.”

A recent Ipsos Reid poll of Canadian marketers indicate that 81 per cent of respondents believe more ad dollars will go to online media in the near future. Meanwhile, print media spend fell by 41 per cent; radio by 26 per cent and TV, 22 per cent.

Wise companies are also using digital media to “listen” rather than talk, according to Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image, a Toronto-based marketing and communications firm. “Some surveys show 20 per cent of firms have some Twitter presence.”  

But not all of these companies are trumpeting their brands — rather they are using Twitter as a research tool.

“I think an alternative way to use Twitter is to find out what conversations are going on in your space,” Joel said.

He said the medium lends itself to immediate and candid conversation. The marketer can use this to gauge the thoughts and interest of a community, or a certain demographic, in a topic, Joel said.

“Listening in on the conversation helps you feel the pulse and the flow of public opinion.”  

While there are some overnight successes, Joel says marketing in the social networking space takes time to produce results. “It’s a slow process. Companies need to build trust, value and communities.”  

Follow Nestor Arellano on Twitter.

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