Elf Yourself: Textbook Media 2.0

Elf Yourself LogoAdvertising is content in Media 2.0. Here we have OfficeMax creating one of those creative holiday virals that people will use for the next month. It’s called “Elf Yourself,” a cute Flash application that allows you to put your face, the face of your dog, the face of your boss, or anybody’s face into the body of a dancing elf. Up to four are allowed, and they dance a stupid dance and wish holiday greetings.

Dumb, yes. Smart, hell yes. It’s a branding play that doesn’t require buying ad space next to somebody’s content, and that’s a small part of the problem for contemporary media. It’s participatory, interactive and fun, and it uses the energy of the users to pass the message.

It’s not the first, just one of the latest.

Everybody else uses YouTube, but do you?

So I was wandering through espn.com this morning and thinking about a post on the NFL game tonight and how most of the country won’t see it. I thought of embedding an ESPN video in the post, which caused me to pause and think about how many companies are catching onto the whole unbundled media thing. But then, I got sidetracked by an eTicket piece on Bo Jackson, only to find that this lenghty, magazine-style piece contained — are you ready? — an embedded YouTube video. That’s right.

ESPN.com article with YouTube link

And then I thought, “We really have come a long way.”

Ten Questions with Mike James

For nearly ten years, Mike James has been a burr in the saddle of television owners and managers through his daily “NewsBlues” website. Mike took some time out of his schedule to answer ten questions for me recently. Here’s one:

Regardless of your persona, you’ve been leaning back and observing television for many years. What are your thoughts about what’s happened to the business?

Someone needs to clean the kitchen, discard the spoiled meat and rancid vegetables, scour the cupboard, expel the vermin, hose down the joint, and chug a big jolt of reality. TV news has lost its way. Forget the excuses. No one cares that your bosses are asking you to fill more time with fewer resources. The business is contaminated. The content is fetid and foul, shallow and pointless. Get a job selling time share. Drive a bus in Reno. Do anything but continue foisting polluted, noxious news feces on the superficial American public.

Love him or hate him, the guy is provocative, to say the least. Here’s the rest. Enjoy.

Me and my classmates

So Classmates.com is planning an IPO to raise $144 million. I’m enjoying some of the spin, such as references to the site as “pioneering.”

I refuse to go near classmates, because they pursue a business model that turns me off — the relentless pursuit of my wallet. The information about my class and, yes, classmates is useless, because it’s all behind the pay wall. So while I’m one of its “50 million members,” I’m probably not alone in my disdain for the site. When I first entered my profile information, the site wasn’t nearly so obnoxious. If this is “pioneering,” then hand me a bow and arrow.

The company is trying to take advantage of all the buzz about social networking, and perhaps a successful IPO will help them remove the walls. Until that happens, though, don’t count on me to buy any of its stock.

Mark Cuban defends his investment

Mark CubanIf you’re a basketball fan in Dallas, the name Mark Cuban personifies the party that is a Dallas Mavericks game. He bought the team in 2000 with wealth acquired during the dot-com days — specifically, a company called Broadcast.com. A self-made guy from blue collar roots and a textbook entrepreneur, he worked his way up through the gold rush days of technology to where he is now — one of the richest people on the planet. His latest business venture is HDNet, the high definition cable and satellite network.

Cuban maintains an active blog and is quick to share his opinions about anything relative to his business interests, and that includes trends in media. He’s relevant and always gives good “soundbites.” He provides a consistent focus on traditional media business models from an executive’s seat, which makes the blog a fascinating and provocative view, although some would say similar to that of the captain of the Titanic. Time after time, he paints the media business disruption as one driven by thieves, shadowy denizens of the darknet out to rob him and his peers of what rightfully belongs to them. It’s astonishing that a man of Cuban’s history would take such a view, but HDNet needs the existing hegemony in place in order to fulfill its value proposition. So by way of investment, Mark Cuban, a swashbuckling maverick who sliced a path through the status quo to a lofty seat in society, now finds himself a defender of the very things that were his targets “back in the day.”.

His latest is an open letter to Comcast — and anybody else who owns the pipes in which the Internet functions — calling for them to block peer-to-peer (P2P) activity. The blog post comes off as ignorant and disingenuous, for Cuban’s objection to P2P is presented as that of a consumer, not the owner of a business potentially disrupted by P2P.

As a consumer, I want my internet experience to be as fast as possible. The last thing I want slowing my internet service down are P2P freeloaders. Thats right, P2P content distributors are nothing more than freeloaders. The only person/organization that benefits from P2P usage are those that are trying to distribute content and want to distribute it on someone else’s bandwidth dime.

Cuban is fully taken to task for this view in the comments to the post. I’ll just say that it appears on the surface to be simple ignorance, because P2P bears no resemblance whatsoever to the way it’s described here.

But Mark Cuban is a very smart fellow, and his presumption to speak on behalf of consumers is well-considered. He may go off half-cocked from time-to-time, but this “letter” is actually a defense of his investment in HDNet. It’s the same reason he writes so passionately about the disruption to the music industry, the uploading of “pirated” TV clips and the general unbundling of video. He has a pretty big dog in the fight, and instead of simply delineating how the disintermediation of media impacts his business model, his strategy is to rant and rave about how “wrong” it all is in the first place. He’s a charismatic fellow, and all of this makes him a great witness in Congressional hearings, for as HDNet’s chairman, he’s a great friend to the copyright industry’s efforts in Washington.

All of which is to say that we need to pay attention to what Mark Cuban writes but also bear in mind that it’s one side of a very two-sided story. What I appreciate most about Cuban is his willingness to give us the business side. I just wish he’d be a little more transparent about it.

UPDATE: Mark clarifies things in the comments.

When “viral” videos aren’t really viral

I’ve been following a fascinating discussion at TechCrunch over the holiday weekend, and it’s a worthwhile read for anybody who follows this stuff.

It began with a rare guest post (The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos) on the site Thanksgiving day by Dan Ackerman Greenberg, co-founder of the “viral marketing company, The Commotion Group.” It got my attention, because, well, who knew there were “viral marketing companies?” I mean, isn’t the whole idea of viral marketing that it’s, um, viral?

Well, it’s not. It’s “managed” by guys like this, and the post was a how-to list of their secret sauce. Fascinating. Provocative. And ethically questionable. Here’s an example on how to get a video to an important level on YouTube:

3. Core Strategy: Getting onto the “Most Viewed” page
Now that a video is ready to go, how the hell is it going to attract 100,000 viewers?

The core concept of video marketing on YouTube is to harness the power of the site’s traffic. Here’s the idea: something like 80 million videos are watched each day on YouTube, and a significant number of those views come from people clicking the “Videos” tab at the top. The goal is to get a video on that Videos page, which lists the Daily Most Viewed videos.

If we succeed, the video will no longer be a single needle in the haystack of 10,000 new videos per day. It will be one of the twenty videos on the Most Viewed page, which means that we can grab 1/20th of the clicks on that page! And the higher up on the page our video is, the more views we are going to get.

So how do we get the first 50,000 views we need to get our videos onto the Most Viewed list?

  • Blogs: We reach out to individuals who run relevant blogs and actually pay them to post our embedded videos. Sounds a little bit like cheating/PayPerPost, but it’s effective and it’s not against any rules.
  • Forums: We start new threads and embed our videos. Sometimes, this means kickstarting the conversations by setting up multiple accounts on each forum and posting back and forth between a few different users. Yes, it’s tedious and time-consuming, but if we get enough people working on it, it can have a tremendous effect.
  • MySpace: Plenty of users allow you to embed YouTube videos right in the comments section of their MySpace pages. We take advantage of this.
  • Facebook: Share, share, share. We’ve taken Dave McClure’s advice and built a sizeable presence on Facebook, so sharing a video with our entire friends list can have a real impact. Other ideas include creating an event that announces the video launch and inviting friends, writing a note and tagging friends, or posting the video on Facebook Video with a link back to the original YouTube video.
  • Email lists: Send the video to an email list. Depending on the size of the list (and the recipients’ willingness to receive links to YouTube videos), this can be a very effective strategy.
  • Friends: Make sure everyone we know watches the video and try to get them to email it out to their friends, or at least share it on Facebook.

Each video has a shelf life of 48 hours before it’s moved from the Daily Most Viewed list to the Weekly Most Viewed list, so it’s important that this happens quickly. As I mentioned before, when done right, this is a tremendously successful strategy.

The post infuriated TechCrunch readers, who left over 400 comments slamming what Greenberg does for a living. It apparently made him feel bad, so TechCrunch let him post another guest entry (Follow Up To The Viral Video Post: Dan Wants Another Word), in which he backtracked on much of what was stated in the original post. That, too, didn’t go over well with readers.

Trust me, it’s a good read. And the lesson is Umair’s “good beats evil” in the new world. We simply MUST accept that empowered consumers are in charge these days, and they’re using that power to escape the kind of manipulative crap that marketeurs have foisted upon them for decades. By pulling back the curtain on his own manipulative practices, Greenberg ran into the buzz saw that is angry consumers.

You may read this and come away thinking, “Gee, maybe we should be doing some of this stuff.” In fact, there are a lot of smart tactics listed, and perhaps that’s correct. If you choose this path, however, do so with extreme caution: caveat venditor, let the seller beware. Proceed at your own risk.