Monday, July 14, 2008

"Viral video" ads

I have discovered that the ways in which advertisers use of web video is a very large and nuanced topic of interest in the world of video content on the Internet. So, bear with me as I tackle one incident. To be sure there will be more posts on this topic as I attempt to chip away at this monolith as I continue to understand the mystical world of online video.

This past week I was watching CNN and they were talking about a "viral video." Now, before I continue, I find this term "viral video" to be very humorous because for me its original meaning connotes an authentic discovery of something that is passed along to friends out of a desire to share something curious, funny, or unique. However, in the hands of advertisers who produce it for the sole purpose of becoming viral, well, the authenticity is lost. Authentic here implies that the content producer/distributor of the viral video has no designs to create a "viral video." Perhaps I am nostalgic for 2005 and showing my age.

So, back to the report I saw on TV. They were discussing how advertisers are using techniques and aesthetic elements of amateur web videos to create a buzz around their own product. The funny thing about this report was that they noted how the video does not make it clear what the product is that is being advertised. Below is the video I am talking about.

It essentially makes the claim that when you put a bunch of cell phones together and make them ring, you can make popcorn pop. Umm... yeah, I don't get it either. How could anyone believe this? Well, evidently people did and Wired tackled the task of explaining the impossible physics behind the video. Perhaps I'm jilted, so, suspending my disbelief, I move forward. If these cell phones ARE able to do this, why then would I want to put that microwave producing, popcorn popping device up to my ear or in my pocket?! Seems more like a warning sign and not an advertisement. Well, as it turns out, that is just what the advertisers wanted me to think because this "viral video" was created for a company that makes bluetooth headsets! Tricky, tricky!

I digress, the point of this post is to see a snapshot of the "cleaver" and different ways in which Madison Avenue is getting in on the YouTube game and creating content specifically to convince the viewer that s/he is not watching a commercial.

Another good example of this is a BMW ad that was also reported on CNN - this time though, it was created to resemble a documentary film about a small town in Bavaria. The video is called Rampenfest and was directed by Jeff Schultz. At about 30 minutes in length, this was very difficult to watch and keep my attention. It looks beautiful though and has all the makings of a true indie documentary film. However, when I watched it I knew it was an extended ad for BMW. Yet, I would like to believe that I would not have fallen for the trick and thought it was a real documentary. The actors are so odd and there are three characters who I think are played by the same person. Either way, it seems as though BMW was attempting to create a smart, funny piece to appeal to a younger, web-savvy audience. I'm not sure that it accomplished this, but it did get some press coverage, which is usually a secondary goal of these so-called "viral videos."

The below video is essentially a trailer for this online video:

On the same report from CNN, there was another story about an video that features JCPenny's new "Today's the Day" ad campaign. In the clip the two teens (a boy and a girl) time themselves in their separate bedrooms as they practice putting their clothes back on. Not only are we seeing mostly naked teens, the video seems to promote and even demonstrate a way in which they can "get away with it." The clip ends with the boy arriving at the girl's home as the girl announces to her mom that the two of them are going downstairs to watch a movie. The clips ends with "today is the day to get away with it." The controversy erupted soon after it was put live and has since been taken down in most places JCPenny claims that it had nothing to do with the video while others remain skeptical. After all, we are talking about JCPenny as a result, aren't we?

As an aside, here is an interesting article (from 2007) on the cost of making viral videos. I would be curious to see what these figures look like today.

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