Agencies Are Watching as Ads Go Online
AMONG the teenage video diaries, pet tricks and rejected television pilots circulating on the online video site YouTube, there is another major category of clips: advertisements. But in this case, the companies advertised do not pay for the ads, and they cannot predict when they will appear, or in what form.
Some of the ads are delivered straight to the Web from television. These commercials are popular or clever enough to gain traction on YouTube, which allows its users to post and view hundreds of millions of videos.
Other ads are homemade and crude takeoffs on popular ads that can look like low-budget short films. Still others are combinations of real and fake ads, cobbled together by taking clips of real commercials and adding amateur video shot in the backyard, at work or in the basement laundry room.
It is the mock ads that are capturing the attention of ad agencies, which are slowly becoming used to having their work transformed from a slick, polished television spot into a mock ad reminiscent of a spoof from “Saturday Night Live.”
“I consider it the highest form of flattery to show up on YouTube,” said Matt Lindley, an executive creative director at Arnold Worldwide in Boston, an advertising agency that is owned by Havas.
•Arnold created a campaign for Vonage, the nation’s largest Internet phone provider, that has made its way to YouTube in relatively large numbers. The original campaign, titled “Stupid Things,” is a video homage to daredevil stunts like those seen on the MTV series “Jackass.”
Since then, the easily imitated ads have inspired knockoffs on YouTube. At least 100 mock Vonage videos are currently posted on the site, and many have been viewed at least 5,000 times.
Each original Vonage commercial featured a grainy clip of a stunt, which the agency culled from the Internet or “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” accompanied by the infectious song “Woo Hoo.” (After the video clip, white lettering over a bright orange background reads: “People do stupid things. Like pay too much for phone service. Switch to Vonage.”)
The homemade Vonage ads on YouTube show people falling off chairs and jumping out of moving vehicles, as well as on-camera gaffes by politicians and television anchors. One Vonage video that was posted to YouTube on Sunday opens with a teenage boy banging his head against a wall, then rubbing his forehead and grimacing. (A caption accompanying the video explains, “People do stupid things, and I did one just for the sake of the movie.”)
Adding to the virtual clearinghouse for popular advertising that YouTube has become, mock commercials for brands like Apple, Dr Pepper and Burger King have popped up on the site, along with relentless send-ups of the ubiquitous MasterCard “Priceless” campaign.
But sometimes a commercial spoof on YouTube can take on a harder edge. Some videos have pointed out supposed flaws in a company’s product, like a fake Apple ad on YouTube that runs more than three minutes, six times the length of a standard television spot.
“One of the coolest features of the Macintosh is it’s really easy to shut down,” the man in the video said sardonically. “All you have to do is be using a piece of software and then, poof! It goes away. It’s gone. It shut down. You didn’t push any buttons, you didn’t close, you didn’t even save. It’s just gone.”
A fake Volkswagen commercial that circulated on the Web last year showed a man detonate a car bomb in his Volkswagen in front of a busy sidewalk cafe — not exactly the image Volkswagen had in mind.
“To a degree, it’s like brand terrorism on the Internet,” said Jeff Benjamin, the interactive creative director for Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the advertising agency that holds the Volkswagen account. “You have absolutely no control over stuff like that.”
•If an agency does not like a video circulating on YouTube, there isn’t much that can be done to stop it, Mr. Benjamin conceded.
“It’s a tough situation because as a brand you don’t want to go out there and censor people,” he said. “You just have to let it happen sometimes and be brave enough with the brand to give room for the good stuff to happen.”
Still, ad agencies can’t resist trying to manipulate sites like YouTube and Google Video to their own advantage.
Many agencies post their newly created ads on the sites, hoping that visitors will view the videos and e-mail them around. Crispin made longer cuts of commercials for Burger King that the agency posted only on YouTube and Google Video.
Some of the ads on YouTube that parodied the Vonage commercials were good enough to make Mr. Lindley of Arnold consider his future employment prospects: “When they get better than the stuff I make, I’ll be out of a job.”