What the “Zen Masters” of Viral and Content Marketing Know That You Don’t

Content Marketing

Lots of people talk about “viral marketing” but apart from a (very) few, lighting-strikes-once exceptions, there’s very few who have built a business or even a soundly executed marketing strategy from it. One of those few is BuzzFeed

If anyone can honestly be said to have “cracked the code” on viral, it’s arguably got to be BuzzFeed, the social publishing/advertising company who recently passed 30 Million visitors per month in viewership, whose 2012 revenues tripled 2011s, and who has recently been featured in both the New York Times and The Atlantic

And what’s BuzzFeed’s secret?

Well, it would be a dramatic oversimplification to ascribe their massive success to just one “secret.” According to BuzzFeed’s founder and CEO, Jonah Peretti, it’s actually 7 things. But the real “secret” they know that you (likely) don’t, and that I guarantee will help you with your online video content marketing, is this:

The have absolutely zero shame in promoting their “viral” content.

They’ll pay for promotions in order to generate views on the content they want people to see and read. In fact, here’s a screenshot of a recent Facebook Ad for one of their articles:








So anytime that they’ve got solid content they want people to see, they’ll advertise and promote it. In fact, they never expect the viral aspect of their content to carry the load, only to provide a bonus over and above what’s brought in by advertising. To quote from a New York Magazine article on Buzzfeed 

“His standard is that for every ten views an advertiser pays for when it buys a viral ad, it should get two shares. (‘There is no free lunch,’ Watts likes to say, ‘but maybe you can have a cheap snack.’)”

In other words, the experts on viral sharing expect only 20% of their content views to come from sharing, with the rest coming from ads and other promotions.

When Did Marketers Become Ashamed of Their Profession?

Perhaps the real shocking thing about this “secret” is that it’s shocking at all.

Because the people who seem most reticent to extol the virtues of promoting and marketing online video are, ironically, online marketers. They’re the only ones who often disdain paid ads as somehow sullying the “purity” of a viral success — as a form of “astroturfing.”

So why are the very people who are professionals at advertising and marketing, so critical of the value of those activities when it comes to online video?  Why do they want to be recognized for achieving results by viral (e.g. dumb luck) instead of through the savvy application of their professional skills?

Video stats for a recent Viral Video Success, show that a solid majority of the views are ad-driven, despite marketers’ claims to the contrary.

It would be like meeting your new doctor who downplays the “authenticity” of diagnosing problems and proscribing treatments in favor of spontaneous remissions and psychic healing or something. Who’d trust a doctor like that?

Same thing with a lawyer who claimed to win his cases without actually filing briefs or motions or engaging in negotiations or appearing in court. Not a lawyer you’d want representing you, I’d suspect.

And yet, many online marketing executives do just that when it comes to video content marketing: they portray themselves as achieving success without having to actually DO any promotion or advertising.  

TV producers and film-makers — undoubtedly the masters of generating success and creating value from video and film content — know that the promotional and advertising budget will cost 50% to 100% of a movie’s or a TV episode’s production costs. Paramount Pictures would never dream of releasing Star Trek Into Darkness without advertising it with $90 to $150 million worth of TV spots, billboards, trailers, etc.  And BuzzFeed — the acknowledged masters of online content marketing — know that the more advertising they give a piece of content, the better chance a video will have of achieving success. 

So why do the marketing professionals avoid pay per view ads as “astroturfing” and cheating, instead of embracing it as the very methods of the masters?

I’m saying this almost as a rant, because I recently read an article with a prominent marketing expert (a CMO) stating with confidence that he would never promote a viral video. He claims that “it is all about the content” or something like that. And I seem to see statements like this again and again.

It never ceases to shock me that, as a film-maker filmmaker sitting in a boardroom full of my clients’ marketers, I’m often the only one in the room who actually believes in the need for and power of advertising, promotion and marketing.

The anti-promotional myth as it pertains to viral is really just that. In fact, whenever someone tells me of a viral video success — a supposedly “purely viral” spreading of a marketing video, I can reliably look at the amount of “promoted views” and find that they represent somewhere between a quarter to a third of the total. Even when the marketers behind the video deny spending money on advertising.

So now you’re plugged into the big secret. Yes, Virginia, even the very best — especially the very best, actually — in the fields of viral marketing, content marketing, and video marketing make heavy use of no-kidding paid promotion and advertisement.

And you should too. 

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