What We Can Learn From The Splendiferous Barfing Cup

Two of the questions most often asked by clients of their agencies within the field of social media are: Who are the influencers, and how can we create a viral video?

Recently my colleague Tracy Shea shared with me this video, delightfully titled, The Splendiferous Barfing Cup:

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As I write this, the video has just over 1,200,000 views. When I first saw it the last week it had just about 118,000 views. Clearly something happened recently to shoot this video into the pop culture. But before we get into that, here’s another piece of the puzzle. Take a look again at that video and you’ll see that it was originally uploaded more than four months ago. Now, this isn’t a branded video so it’s not as if there was a big marketing campaign behind it, but the quality of the content hasn’t changed. Would an agency have gotten it in front of the “right” people sooner? Hard to say.

So how did this video suddenly add about 1 million views in a week after lying relatively dormant for several months? It doesn’t appear to have been through the channels you would expect, at least not directly.

I did a little detective work and here’s what I found:

  • After four months, the video turns up on JimmyR.com, and bounces around to some other sites, picking up a couple of hundred views along the way.
  • The Hockey Stick moment comes when it gets on Reddit.com racking up 47,000 views
  • Reddit user Nabby posts a link under the title, “I can’t stop watching this.” It gets more than 1,300 votes
  • From Reddit, it also gets picked up on the DailyWhat
  • The video is then picked up by the Tosh.0 blog and airs on G4’s Attack of the Show

Now, if you are a Malcolm Gladwell ‘influencer’ disciple, this is troubling, and most agencies (and brand managers) are Gladwell disciples.  This video certainly was propelled by ‘influencers’ like Tosh.0 and AOTS, but who were they influenced by? Raise your hand if DailyWhat is on you “must engage” list. Step forward if Reddit user Nabby is at the top of your “must call” list.

At this point, the Duncan Watts disciples are smiling and nodding knowingly. They understand that yes, there are indeed influencers, but it’s virtually impossible to figure out who those influencers are going to be for a given idea or piece of content.

So, what should brand managers and agencies do? There has to be an understanding that throwing all your eggs (and by eggs I mean money) in one basket is risky and expensive. Clearly high production values are no guarantee, nor apparently needed, and spending on paid media won’t help crummy content. Better to spread your bets on many small pieces of content.


Freeconomics: Gladwell, Godin and Anderson on Free

Freeconomics 101

Freeconomics 101

Business models and the survival of entire industries are the stuff great debates are made of, and we’ve got one brewing here. Chris Anderson, Wired Magazine editor and author of The Long Tail, has a new book out, called Free, the future of a radical price. He puts forth arguments that look pretty compelling to anyone who has followed the demise of printed publications – both magazines and newspapers. You can check out his Wired story on this from Feb. 2008 here

You can listen to Chris Anderson on an Amazon Podcast here and buy his book, Free, from Amazon through the link below right.

But wait just a second, says Malcom Gladwell, celebrity author/intellectual, in his review of Anderson’s book in The New Yorker. And just as you would expect, Gladwell is able to deftly parry many of Anderson’s assertions, leaving us to wonder who is the better predictor of the future (ReadWriteWeb also challenged Anderson’s assertions back in Feb. ’08).  So, with King Kong and Godzilla thus facing off, here comes, well, here comes that scary monster from Cloverfield in the form of Seth Godin to shift the balance in the direction of… Chris Anderson. 

Godin believes, as does Anderson, that “free” is such a compelling paradigm shift that it is simply is too big to withstand. And I can’t say I disagree with him. And yet, Gladwell’s logic – that while the content may be free, the infrastructure to support it may not be. Gladwell also makes winning arguments when you move beyond the “idea” industries and look at pharma or energy. 

I think technology, upon which just about everthing now lies, has had a profound effect not necessarily in driving down prices to the point that they are free, but in creating a marketplace that allows for a wide range of pricing options, everything from free to exorbinant.  There are just too many factors to say that free is the irresistable force Anderson claims it to be.  We’ve reached an inflection point, or perhaps a singularity on the horizon line where all options are now equally possible. Where the paid subscription models like The Wall St. Journal can co-exist with The Huffington Post.

And it’s not just business models, take a look at pop music. Where once Rock & Roll was a response to big band, a punk was a reaction to disco (or was it vice-versa?), and grunge to boy bands… now, a musician like Girl Talk mashes them all up in one song – and offers the album on a “pay what you like” model to boot! It’s no longer possible for a genre to emerge in reaction to the bloated corporate sound before it because the reference points have folded in on themselves. Hugh MacLeod ruminates on the subject a bit here.

So, how do you decide on a business model (or sound for your band) when all possibilities are, well, possible? I think there are two keys:

1. Know your audience

You better have a very good understanding of your audience before you go to market. What’s their threshold and what other options do they have to receive a good or service that competes with yours. Until you can answer questions like that, pricing will be a guessing game.

2. Know your product

If you think your product is your music, or your written words, then the current market forces are working against you. There’s too much freely available music and other content out there that can be digitized and shared.  Yes, there’s a market for paid content at the highest level, but you’re not Radiohead or Malcolm Gladwell, are you?  But that’s ok because people are willing to pay for an experience. I’m guessing Seth Godin can make more from live speaking engagements than he can from his books.

Free isn’t always the answer, but understanding the dynamics and how free changes them is essential, regardless of your business model.