Viral Content

Successful Ads Require Talent

It’s so silly, it almost doesn’t feel like it needs to be said – but to make an ad that works, one must have talent.

Over the last few years, marketers have gone insane trying to figure out how to make a video, “viral.” They look wistfully at the Old Spice ads, and say, “See? We need to do something like that!” Then they proceed to turn out commercials that look like commercials, which no one wanted to see in the first place.

Here’s a great example of the good and the bad: The first is the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that was in wide rotation last year:

This ad gets the product information across but in a stale way. It smacks of laziness. “We got the job done, now let us get back to figuring out our ad buy schedule so we can ruin people’s evenings by forcing them to watch it.” The only time I remember people talking about it was to express how bad those 5-Hour Energy ads were.

Here’s the commercial for 5-Hour Energy that is running now.

Can you spot the difference? Sure, the production value on the newer one is slightly better – if only because there were more edits, meaning more shooting days, and they took pictures of the actor jumping out of a plane.

That’s not it, of course. The difference is the new commercial is FUNNY. The one before that is NOT.

In fact, the first commercial looks exactly like how a commercial is supposed to look: Lame.

"Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit right up and listen to what he's saying," said no one ever.

“Oh look! Another uninspired pitch man! I better sit up and listen to what he’s saying,” said no one in the history of ever.

Like I said, the first commercial does what it is supposed to do: Inform you of the product, tell you what it does, and tell you why you need it. It also makes you hit the mute on your remote or go get a snack while you wait for “Big Bang Theory” to come back on, because you didn’t DVR it and so cannot get around this ridiculous commercial.

The newer one gets the same job done – but makes you want to watch it because it is funny. It might even make you share the commercial with your friends, increasing its audience.

Making a campaign or commercial viral isn’t something you get by reading enough blog posts (like this one) about it, or books by people who have declared themselves industry experts.

It is done by being talented – by knowing how to write something that is funny, or shoot something that is engaging. Selling the product isn’t forgotten, but it isn’t the most important aspect of the piece. Since no one wants to believe they aren’t talented, they write what they’ve always written – shrieking, intrusive ad copy – and hope for the best.

This can’t be that difficult of a concept to understand, can it? If you want to have content that sings, that makes people remember you, that gets shared far and wide, you need to hire writers and production staff with talent. Talented people can create something fun that still has the key message development and call to action required in a successful ad. This is true of all forms of advertising, mind you. Paid search ads, landing pages, radio spots, print ads… the level of impact is always increased dramatically when someone decides to significantly up their game.

The key is thinking of your content as something that should be entertaining. Otherwise you’re getting the work done of creating content, but you aren’t getting the job done.

By the way, that image I used above? I found that on Google. It had the title, “I want to punch the 5-hour energy guy in the throat.”

Yeah – I’m sure THAT’S the reaction the company was hoping for.

Viral Video isn’t about Advertising – it’s about Entertainment

I watched “Celebrity Apprentice” tonight – it’s a guilty pleasure.

The only reason I’m writing about it is the challenge: They were asked to make a “viral video” promoting an O’Cedar’s spray mop. If you’ve ever had to do this for your job, it had to have pissed you off too.

It seems everyone thinks the way to make a viral video is to make a commerical like you see on TV, then put it up on YouTube. From that, possibly through magic or devine intervention, people will share it around.

Ironically, I found this image for "Viral Marketing" - and outside of me calling it out for stupidity, there is nothing viral about it.

“Sheila! I just watched this commercial for a floor mop on YouTube! You have to see this!”

Only Penn Jillette seemed to understand how viral content works: You make something people WANT to share. You don’t make something you want people to share.

How many of the things you shared, “educated you on the product?” Probably none. Because that’s boring. What you likely did share were people inuring themselves, pets doing weird things, dirty jokes… things that made you laugh.

That’s not where they went on Celebrity Apprentice, though. Both groups pushed on making what were the same kinds of ads you push past with the fast forward button, thankful that you have a DVR.

I dont’ blame them entirely, though – and not just because it’s reality TV, and you can’t trust anything you see or hear on reality TV. I blame the executives of the company for not have a clear idea of what they were asking for. I’ve had those meetings with clients who said, “there’s this video that’s very popular, and I WANT THAT.” Great! Yeay!

And then, “It should tell people all about our product, and showcase all of its features, it shouldn’t  be the butt of the joke, and it should tell them why they must give us their money… but otherwise, go crazy!”

It doesn’t work that way. A viral video that promotes only carries the name of the company or the product – and  then you go crazy. What makes something viral isn’t the sell, it’s the fun.

How much milage do you think the Nintendo Wii got out of the video below?

The answer is Nintendo got a LOT of exposure out of this. I can also guarantee you the executives of Nintendo would have never approved of that video if they paid an agency to make something viral, and this is what they were presented with. That disconnect exemplifies why a company cannot make it’s own viral content if they insist on taking themselves seriously.

I remember the executive of one company explaining everything they wanted in their viral program with the exact same language about showcasing a project.

“Then I’m afraid it won’t go viral,” I told him.

“Well then what can we do to MAKE it go viral?” he asked.

“There’s only one option,” I said. “We go door-to-door with shotguns and MAKE people watch it.”

Seriously – just spending some time coming up with something people will actually want to watch takes much less work.

Now THAT is how you do a commercial on YouTube!

As commercials uploaded to YouTube go, this is perfect.

No ad copy, no “take aways” – just something that gets your attention, and keeps you watching. At the end you get the company’s information, AND THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW.

Look at the number of views this thing has gotten! It’s got 2,485 likes on YouTube… and as of this posting it’s two days old! You REALLY think your slick, in-house commercial with nothing but talk about your product is going to beat that!?!

Facebook Video Ads – They’re great, and hopefully can stay great

Facebook Video Ads

Normally I’m pretty down on paid placements and Facebook. I mean, I know they can work for advertising, but usually they’re both a drag. But I have to admit, I really do like the Facebook video ad placements.

The ad for Target works better than a TV ad for one simple reason: They know you have the option to play it or not, so they try to make it worth your while. Rather than pimp several products at you at once, they just let you know about the sale.

Their approach, “I made a funny video,” acknowledges the culture of online videos the ad exists in. That is, most of the content actual people create and upload has the same kind of thinking as their ad – “look’it me!!! I’m being funny! Aren’t I funny!?! Watch me dance, Mama! Watch me dance!” I love that they were smart enough to see that, and play off of it.

Facebook Video Ads

But that’s just content. Getting back to the mechanism itself, it doesn’t try to promote all of the products Target that will have on sale this weekend, the way Television ads try to do. With TV, they fire off a slew of on-sale products to get them lodged in your head before you can change the channel.

If Facebook can adequately quality control the video content that’s used for these placements, this could be a very profitable marketing channel. That is, they’d need to make sure no one puts up video ads that are crap just because they have deep enough pockets.

Let’s say I’m a restaurant owner, and I make a commercial that’s really, really bad. It’s bad because I’m an unqualified, untalented shit, and my real job is running my restaurant. But I can afford an ad buy on Facebook, and they let me, so it appears on everyone’s page who lives within 100 miles of my restaurant. If my ad is bad enough, it could turn people off to ever video ad that appears in that space. I might get some exposure, but Facebook will be allowing me to foul their ad space.

It’s the same thing that killed paid placements on search engines. The reason people don’t trust paid search the way they do natural search is there’s no filter for paid ads – just a marketer with a credit card. With natural search you at least get Google’s assurance that the page they produce has to do with what you’re searching for. With paid you could get almost anything.

So I’m hoping Facebook puts some real care into this placement. It’s the kind of thing that could finally make them money. All they have to do is hold out for quality, and not let any idiot with a Flip Video buy space on it.

Learning New Tricks: Staying interesting in an interesting world

Well, I admit it – I fell off on the blog this last week. In my defense, I’ve been trying to learn Adobe Flash, and besides all the other things I have to get done, that takes time.

Why Flash? Primarily because I want to start an animated vlog in 2011. It’s ambitious, sure, but if done right it will be interesting. And if there’s one thing I have endeavored to do with my online publishing, it’s be interesting. (If and when I get it going, I’ll let you know.)

You always need to add more to your toolbox if you want to stay interesting. Too many bloggers and online publishers of other stripes take for granted that people will want to see or read what they’ve done, just because they’ve done it. That’s a mistake. Whatever it is you’re sending out into the world, you owe it to the world to be as captivating as you can every time.

Eric Reid, @CiaoEnrico

Me, at Ignite Phoenix - 3/30/2010

Earlier this year I was a presenter at Ignite Phoenix #6. At that time, I thought it would be something fun, a chance to flex the theater muscles a bit. But since people were paying, I could not take for granted that people would just love whatever I spewed out – I had an obligation to entertain them. The idea behind Ignite is to share your passion, but frankly, if people are paying to see what you have to say, you owe them something special.

Think of your site that way. People do not owe you traffic, or clicks, or conversions. If your product is so jim-dandy wonderful, maybe you don’t need to do much. But if not, you have to put extra effort into being visually stimulating, thought provoking, or even entertaining in order to get them to see what you need them to see.

Whether you’re blogging, posting to a Facebook Page or Tweeting, if you want to get anywhere, you’d better be delivering something worth people’s time. Shutting Down, the micro vlogging site, is closing it’s doors this month. All of it’s users received an e-mail today (included beneath this post) from founder Sol Lipman saying goodbye.

I have mixed feelings about this, frankly. Last year I posted about the reasons I felt 12seconds never took off like so many people thought it would initially. After that I used the site more, and found I rather liked it – even though my initial criticism was, I feel, correct: People who post video want more than 12 seconds worth, YouTube has a larger potential viewership, and most people aren’t brave enough to constantly shoot video of themselves.
12erator: The Song That Best Captures How I Feel Today on

Above: An example of 12seconds’ embedding code not working. Among all of the other points I made in my initial review of the site, this one is still the most annoying to me. Ah well – what do you want for nothing, right?

Still, the concept for 12seconds did grow on me. After a few months I managed to shoot some bits at least I was happy with. It seems the real magic of 12seconds was that, since you’re only on the spot for a short amount of time, you can only make yourself look so stupid – so go for it because how bad can you possibly make yourself look in 12 seconds?

The problem is, with 20% of social media users actually producing content, far fewer of them are willing to regularly broadcast video of themselves. Not when a Tweet or a Facebook update takes less effort and doesn’t make them self-conscious. It’s a subtle issue that they could never have gotten around, as it was baked into the concept of 12seconds itself.

Actually, given the recent news of Twitter’s updated page, and how they were going to partner with among other sites, I thought they were doing better. I had even planned on using them for a project coming up in a Twitter/12seconds hybrid campaign. I guess I’ll be going back to Vimeo after all.

What’s strange to me is that no other site stepped up to buy them. It seems like the kind of concept Facebook would be all over, getting more users to post free content and hopefully make a run for all that YouTube traffic. Perhaps Twitter would have found it more useful, as the only major site that doesn’t have it’s own in-house video solution? Perhaps the site didn’t seek out any offers, and simply wanted to lay it to rest rather than sell it?

Hopefully there will be more details in the coming weeks. Suffice it to say, though, you’ve just lost one more use for that dusty webcam on top of your monitor.

Dear 12ers,

Nearly 3 years ago, David Beach and I decided to grab a beer at a local pub and talk about startup ideas.  I told him a dumb idea and he told me about one called 10seconds.  I said, “we should do that one.”  He said, “okay.”  And that was it.  That is until we figured out that was already taken.  12seconds sounded pretty good to us too.

We set out on a journey that would take on a wild ride of ups and downs.  We experienced birth, death and (Beach) even battled cancer.

Today we are announcing the end of 12seconds.

Why?  As you probably know, everything has a life cycle.  12seconds is in its twilight.  After all the new product launches and attempts at a revenue model, fundraising with VCs and late night coding sessions with Jacob hunched over his monitors – it’s time to call it.  It is time to end 12seconds.

However, if 12seconds had a bucket list it would have filled it up with amazing life experiences!  We launched an innovative micro-vlogging system, built crazy mobile apps, created revenue with legit sponsors, we were nominated for awards and had the best users on the Internet – our beloved 12ers.

12seconds is not a failure – it is a life well-lived.  It really is about the journey.  I know this because I’m at the destination.

You’re thinking, “holy crap I made like 1000 12second videos, what do I do?”  Later this week, we’re going to release a download tool for you to capture those moments in time.  It will be available until we pull the plug – on October 22nd.

If you have any questions or want to say goodbye, feel free to reply to this e-mail or click here ( to wish us all well.

There were a lot of team members and users who made 12seconds an incredible experience.  I can’t possibly list them all here but you know who you are.  Finally, to my co-founders Beach and Jacob – I love you guys.

Sol Lipman

Another way to look at Twitter Followers

There’s always been a lot of fluff behind the number of Twitter Followers a profile has. If you’ve been on there for a day, you know how it goes: If you have 20, you aren’t that popular, if you have 1000, you’re at least more popular than most of the people you know, and if you have 30,000 you can think of yourself as a minor superstar.

As a personal feel-good, that’s fine, but as a metric of success it’s shoddy. Businesses tend to measure the success or failure of their Twitter accounts by things like follow counts because they can’t accurately measure how it has increased their conversion rate. This has never been easy to see, since social media generally catches people when they aren’t ready to buy something – they’re there to play. It’s like advertising to people at the park: If they see the ad they may buy the product later, if they think of it, but for now they’re just there to walk the dog or push the kids on swings.

It’s hard to know how many people read tweets, then follow through and buy something. But a follow count is easy to measure. If that jumps up fast, your company and product must be popular, and this must be working, right?

Maybe not – maybe a sharp increase in followers is really a sign that everything else you’re doing, you’re doing right. Look at the stats for Old Spice’s Twitter account, via

Stats for OldSpice on Twitter

Boy THEY sure got popular in a hurry, didn’t they? They must have really done a lot of following of other people, and posting #FollowFriday shout outs, even paid some company to put their profile on ads saying, “you should follow OldSpice,” right?

That, or they made a TV Commercial that no one can stop talking about.

OldSpice’s twitter follows show the success they’re having elsewhere. It also gives them another venue to catch people who are interested in them because of the commercial. Maybe someone who’s entertained by the commercial doesn’t instantly go out and buy Old Spice. So interested people follow them on Twitter, where they continue to receive messaging from the campaign, and eventually, maybe, give their product a try.

In this case, Twitter isn’t the first or the last stop in the conversion funnel – it just keeps people in it.

So if you want Twitter to work for you, the moral here is to have a larger campaign that kicks off the interest. Unless what you’re posting is so miraculously brilliant you bring in followers who’ve never heard of you before, Twitter is best used in conjunction with a larger campaign.

It’s why social media IS NOT more important than media buys. Television, print, radio, etc. have the widest audience, and are the best means for getting people moving towards your product.

Goodbye, SarahPalinU5A

Update: The original author of @SarahPalinU5A moved to the new Twitter address, @SarrahPalinU5A and is active again, and doing the same brilliant posts I gush about below. I’d like to take credit for bringing him/her/them back with this blog, but I’m just not that egotistical. 🙂

Shame on Twitter for removing the account @SarahPalinu5a – which is not to be confused with @SarahPalinusa. @SarahPalinu5a was a spoof of the actual Sarah Palin twitter account @SarahPalinusa. It parodied posts made by our favorite losing Vice Presidential candidate turned failed Alaska governor.

@SarahPalinu5a was the most brilliant kind of parody available on Twitter, where few are who they actually say they are. One would have thought that the actual Sarah Palin account’s “Verified Account” status would have been enough to let people know the difference between the real thing and the parodies. After all, if SarahPalinu5a didn’t say, “Verified Account,” then obviously anyone who got there should be able to figure out it wasn’t actually Sarah Palin.

Which leads into the first reason the profile may have been pulled, that Twitter doesn’t want someone pretending to be someone else. I find that hard to swallow, given the number of “fake” personality profiles. Surely no one actually believes Betty Draper, a fictional character on the show, “Mad Men,” is really posting tweets. People are capable of reading content and discerning whether or not something is from the actual person.

I doubt anyone thought these posts were actually from Palin:

“I’m so heartbroken about this spill in the gulf situation. All those animals. They’re polluting our oil.”

“Some days I just wanna stay in bed and play with my boobs.”

“The liberal media wants us to believe a volcano in Iceland is disrupting air travel. Everyone knows Iceland is too cold for volcanoes.”

“Keep fighting the good fight [insert republican candidate]. Don’t let [insert democratic opponent] win the election in [insert November]!”

The complete brilliance of SarahPalinu5a can still be found here.

My hope is that this is the result of an overly aggressive protection from parody on Twitter’s part – but I have a feeling the cause was much more sinister.

Because the other possibility is that the Palin camp caught wind of what was going on, and moved to squash it. I don’t doubt enough lawyers making enough phone calls threatening lawsuits could get a site like Twitter to buckle under and do what they’re told.

I really hope that isn’t the case. I don’t know which would make me feel worse: That Palin has a legal hit squad out to make sure no one tarnishes her name worse than she does herself, or that Twitter would give in to anyone making this kind of threat. I won’t go into how Larry Flint got the Supreme Court to rule on just this sort of thing, because as I say, I don’t know that things went down this way.

But if they did, it’s a stark reminder of how little ownership we have over what we do on social media sites.

Which shouldn’t surprise us either. We are involved in an agreement with sites like Twitter: We’ll provide you with our content, you provide us with your network of potential readers.

If social sites start buckling under to pressure from wealthy and powerful users who just can’t take it, though, they should be abandoned. I emplore whomever actually wrote the @SarahPalinu5a account to continue writing those posts, but using some other site – Facebook seems an obvious second choice, though even Jaiku or would work. It isn’t about the network for you, @SarahPalinu5a, it’s about your content. That would be the draw.

Hell, I’d gladly start using my Plurk account if it meant I could read those posts again.

Podcast Player for Facebook Realized

After a series of unhelpful posts trying to find information on how to include podcasts in a Facebook page, we finally have success! See the Isagenix Podcast Tab on our Facebook Fan Page here!

Podcast Facebook

We are now able to share four of our podcasts on our Facebook Fan Page. While we have been sharing these on iTunes for a while, and the RSS feed is available for whatever reader people like to use, the majority of people who come to it are not web savvy enough to use either easily.

But because Facebook is so easy to use, it is the perfect platform for introducing them to our audience.

The key was in accessing Facebook’s default media player. With this we were able to plug in the podcast’s feed. Our Facebook designer is freakin’ brilliant for figuring this out. I understand the what, but don’t ask me about the how (I’m just an SEO and a marketer, you know.)

I’m glad we were able to get this running, though, as Facebook – despite it’s flaws – is the most mainstream platform for content today. Podcasts, while undoubtedly popular, still have a learning curve to them that makes them difficult for the uninitiated to jump into. With this, hopefully, we can start making converts.

I will let you know how it goes. If you get your podcast up and running on Facebook, let me know where so we can all come see it! And if you want the particulars of how this was achieved, let me know that too and I’ll see if our designer has some time to lay it out.

Social Media isn’t about “celebrity”

To me, social media is one of two things:

  1. The ability for anyone to be a publisher of content.
  2. A two-way street of sharing information between anyone.

The people who go with option #1 seem to come to Twitter and Facebook and blogging and everything else to become stars. And thanks to the ease of publishing with social, anyone can be. If you’ve got thousands of people following you to hear what you’re up to, and you are only interested in hearing from 20 or so, you must be a big deal.

Thing is, these people don’t do a lot of “interacting.” If someone is using social to make themselves feel popular, it just doesn’t seem like they’re seeing the big picture.

That’s what option #2 is: Using social to learn, and add to others’ knowledge. Here people don’t do what they can to filter out people so they can have more Twits following them then they follow back because that’s what the big shots do. Instead, these people will unfollow you for being uninteresting. On the other hand, if you have something to add, they’ll always respond to something worth hearing about.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot tonight, as I sifted through my all-important (to me) FriendFeed profile. Early on in my social media usage, I found that I used specific sites in specific ways – Facebook just for family and close friends, Twitter for everyone, this blog for shooting my mouth off (in an inescapably one-way way,) and FriendFeed for engaging in real information exchange.

So when I go through my subscriptions there, I kick off the people unwilling to listen to me or anyone else. But if there’s someone who’s so incredibly awesome they can’t possibly follow everyone (me included) back, I keep them on. If the quality of someone’s posts is just that good, they earn the right to have that kind of rockstar follower/following ratio.

The people who maneuver and connive to look like celebrities show their hand – they don’t have content that’s quality enough to gain a following, so they do everything else to make it look like they have a voice worth listening to.

In short, stop trying to game social to make yourself feel like you’re important, and just concentrate on the quality and creativity of what you have to say.