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How to Hack YouTube for Social Media Marketing Success [SXSW Panel]

If reading that title didn’t fill you with a healthy dose of skepticism, you’re either an eternal optimist or a newcomer to the field of social media marketing. Since the rise of YouTube, brands have tried to create viral videos for marketing success.

There are some big hits, including the famous Will it Blend series, but the difficulty of incorporating your brand (in a way that drives sales) in a video that’s able to go viral makes it a big risk.


180 million views; 11 million product sales

Despite the challenges, Prerna Gupta took on the topic this week at SXSW Interactive. Her credentials? Launching a series of videos that have garnered over 180 million views, leading to 11 million downloads of her music apps, including LaDiDa and Songify.

Gupta argues that viral video marketing is much more effective than other forms, including pay-per-view video placement, in part because it is significantly cheaper and in part because your one time investment continues to grow with more viewers over the years, long after you’ve stopped paying.

She also believes, and indicates that she has tracked, that those who have watched her videos are far better quality leads (meaning more likely to buy) than those who saw press coverage or other kinds marketing. She also saw her app jump to number one in the iTunes store just four days after one of the videos (below) was released.

The Six Viral Video Building Blocks

Gupta studied YouTube viral videos for quite some time before trying to replicate them. In doing so, she noticed a pattern. There are 6 building blocks for viral videos. All viral videos contain at least one of these and many contain all six.

  1. Music: Whether it’s original music, cover songs or funny parodies, music does well.
  2. Surprise: Some sort of surprise in a video is what gets people to share it.
  3. Cuteness: This is where puppies, kittens and children come into the mix. Long live cat videos.
  4. Boobs: She didn’t need to elaborate on this one, other than to say, “If you’re not shy, it works.”
  5. Humor: Parody, which is a constant source of potential content, and absurdity always amuse.
  6. Celebrity: It’s great if you can get an actual celebrity, but it’s unlikely. Referencing celebrities through parody is also effective.

Do’s and Don’ts of Marketing Your Product in a Viral Video

Product placement: Gupta noticed the tradeoff between how viral a video may become and how much product placement there is. But she also noticed that product placement without a demo or a description of your product is completely worthless for driving sales. At the same time, a video where you just talk about your product is also unlikely to work (unless you have a surprisingly cute, funny, musical boob app for celebrities, apparently).

Use the post roll: One of the secrets it seems is to focus the main portion of the video on straight virality. Then use 20-30 seconds of post roll to demonstrate the product. Ideally the product ties back to the video content in some interesting way.

Link to your product: You’ve gotten someone to watch your video and your post roll. Now is not the time to get shy. Annotated links within the video are one way to drive traffic, but also be sure to include links to the product in the written description.

Examples of Marketing Success Using Viral Videos

Here are examples that Gupta used to market LaDiDa and Songify along with their success rates, which you can see vary quite a bit. Given that the average YouTube video gets around 300-500 views, however, none of these have done badly.

Singing Badly in Public

This video plays on a fear we all have (singing badly in public), as a professor (and Gupta’s partner) sings badly in front of his class. Surprise! The app transforms his horrible singing into something, well, not quite so horrible. Success: About 200,000 views to date.

Husky Dog Sings with iPad

This one contains music, cuteness, surprise and humor and a touch of Internet celebrity (the dog Mishka has a bit of a following and Gupta did a collaboration). Success: About 8.7m views to date.

Annoying Orange Annoys Apple

The famous Annoying Orange is back, and this time it’s making fun of an Apple iPhone, at least until the iPhone shows how it transforms Orange into a singer. Yes, Gupta approached the “orange guy” about collaboration, while providing the concept, the iPhone and the app. Success: About 17.7m views to date.

Songify This: Can’t Hug Every Cat

Parody takes front and center here, with the famous eHarmony cat lady, remixed to music. Again, Gupta collaborated with an existing group of pretty popular humor video producers, the Gregory Brothers. She did pay to sponsor the video, but called the expense “just a few thousand dollars.” She hinted that rates may have gone up now. Success: About 15.6m views, but this newer video is still spreading quickly.

Eminem Parody: Love the Way You Lie

Starting to notice a theme here? Collaboration and sponsorship. If you can’t do parody, music, celebrity and humor yourself, find someone who can.  In this case, In the Key of Awesome provides the hilarity and the coveted post-roll inclusion. Success: About 48m views to date.

Legal Concerns for Brands and Viral Videos

I asked Gupta about legal concerns. Parody is certainly protected speech, but not when used for commercial purposes. My concern is that a large brand (like the ones we work with) would suddenly see a claim for damages if they included the eHarmony cat lady in one of their videos, for example.

Gupta indicated that in that example, the Gregory Brothers negotiated usage rights with the producer of the cat lady video (itself reportedly a parody) in which they share YouTube ad revenues from the video. That makes the new video good for everyone. She also noted that since her product is included in a completely different (at least in terms of tone) post-roll that she may have some protection (almost like a TV commercial being separate from the TV show).

I skipped all three years of law school, so I’m not in a position to give advice on this. If would make it a matter of course to run this sort of plan by legal counsel before implementing it for any large brand. You’ll probably get different answers from different lawyers, but that’s part of what we get in a young industry without all the case law established. (And I don’t think you want to be part of that case law, by the way.)

Does This Work for Brands that Aren’t Music Apps?

Gupta’s product clearly works well for the marketing strategy she decided to use. And it wouldn’t be quite as easy for many other products.

But her strategy around collaboration piqued my interest. Brands generally aren’t good at humor and don’t have their fan base because they produce humor. So she went to the content creators who are good at it, found a way to integrate her product a bit in the video and a lot in the post roll. It’s a clever strategy that I have to think can be applied by more than one brand.

Your Thoughts

What do you think? Do you have any favorite branded efforts around viral videos? Let me know in the comments or @message me on Twitter @jtobin.

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8 Comments
  • Rob Frankel
    Posted at 17:55h, 15 March

    Ummm….can we see the data that DIRECTLY links this stuff to generated revenue?  Awareness and views don’t pay the rent….

    Rob Frankel
    http://www.robfrankel.com

  • Rob Frankel
    Posted at 17:55h, 15 March

    Ummm….can we see the data that DIRECTLY links this stuff to generated revenue?  Awareness and views don’t pay the rent….

    Rob Frankel
    http://www.robfrankel.com

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 19:08h, 15 March

    She didn’t show that data, but did indicate that she tracked where views came from (I assume by using tracking data on the links she embedded) and told us that those drove the most traffic and they converted at the highest rate. 

  • Jim Tobin
    Posted at 19:08h, 15 March

    She didn’t show that data, but did indicate that she tracked where views came from (I assume by using tracking data on the links she embedded) and told us that those drove the most traffic and they converted at the highest rate. 

  • Nick Stamoulis
    Posted at 13:29h, 19 March

    When implementing a video marketing strategy, the goal shouldn’t be to create something viral.  The majority of videos will never get to that status.  You should just concentrate on creating something that your target audience will appreciate and find beneficial.  

  • Nick Stamoulis
    Posted at 13:29h, 19 March

    When implementing a video marketing strategy, the goal shouldn’t be to create something viral.  The majority of videos will never get to that status.  You should just concentrate on creating something that your target audience will appreciate and find beneficial.  

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