When we in the US think of YouTube, we think of the new digital space. We think of social media and all the promise that it holds but, really, what is the main driver of this engine? It is simply good ol' fashioned moving pictures, be it from the establishment or homemade.
And the biggest threat to YouTube? It is none other than ... (gasp) TV. The site that keeps the good folks at YouTube up at night is probably the success of Hulu. The point is simple: content is king.
At the risk of being obvious, YouTube is perfection in its simplicity. Where else can I go to witness Bo Diddley perform Road Runner in 1960, revel in sanctimonious politicians flubbing lines, watch Primus on Letterman wearing ridiculous bird costumes, relive the glory days of Magic versus Bird and be treated to the kid down the street mistakenly posting a video of himself and his drunken buddies throwing up in someone's pristine living room?
It is this randomness that makes the site so much fun. Let's be honest, by and large, this is a slippery slope for marketers. Can marketers crack the code and have success on this platform? Absolutely.
But, there can be no question, YouTube's biggest successes are serendipitous. They were made and chosen by the masses. YouTube, by its very nature, runs counter to all things advertising. It is a playground where people go to have fun and avoid corporate lectures.
A few weeks ago, there was a story in the US trade press about the success of a video where a kid gives a tutorial on how to crush a package of Smarties and make it look like you are smoking them. Are the folks at Smarties pleased with this representation? That is, in all likelihood, the wrong question. For if you are conducting market research on how to crack the code of a platform like YouTube, you've already lost.
I'm sure YouTube is under enormous pressure from its parent company, Google, to show how it can drive huge profits. It seems to me they are in a bit of a Catch 22 here because how do they deliver on that without destroying the essence of what made it appealing in the first place? Google would be wise to consider the ethos embedded in YouTube's tagline: "Broadcast Yourself."
But, alas, let's not lose all hope. It is my opinion that marketers should operate with two budgets. One that is quantifiable and testable, let's call it "traditional"; and then a subsequent budget that operates from "the gut" where we don't over-think things. Yes, where we take a chance in the hope that our message will be so entertaining that it is more likely than not to achieve that Holy Grail of advertising - becoming a viral success. That takes courage. But what are the alternatives? Because, in short, if it smells like an ad, it has no business being on YouTube.
- Eric Silver is an executive creative director at BBDO New York.