Tuesday, December 4, 2007

YouTube and CNN: Branding in the Age of 2.0

What the recent Presidential debates say about YouTube, CNN, and the nature of branding in a changing media world

As a consultant to many start-ups with limited budgets, I am often asked about how to stretch limited funds to make a big impact. Promotions, traditional and web advertising, “viral” marketing and other tactics are often considered, as are sponsorships .
Watching the CNN debates, sponsored by YouTube, I was struck by how much they got out of this deal, considering how little it cost them. For a new media company with an unconventional business model, YouTube sure followed a lot of basic rules about how to make a sponsorship work for you:

• Make sure the audience knows who the sponsor is: NASCAR has so many sponsors, even die-hard fans are hard-pressed to name all but a handful of them. Half of all viewers thought the 1996 Olympics were sponsored by Pepsi (Coke spent hundreds of millions as official sponsor). But no one watching the CNN debates could be similarly confused. The YouTube name was thoroughly integrated into every aspect of the debate, from the name to the format to the permanent screen presence throughout the program’s two hours. As a bonus, the limit of three commercial interruptions virtually guaranteed that no one would come away thinking that for example, Google Video sponsored the event.

• The sponsorship should reflect what your brand is all about: YouTube, as its name implies, is all about participation, democratization, and self expression. The 5000 video submissions, the direct contact between constituents and candidates, and the sometimes looney (and sometimes inspired) video creations from both debates reinforced those values in a way that a stadium sign or a corporate suite never could.

• Get more bang for your buck, especially compared to more traditional forms of advertising: The Democratic debate drew over 2.5 million users; the Republican debate drew over 4.5 million. But this doesn’t even count the millions of impressions on CNN leading up to the debates, or the mass coverage the following day in traditional media outlets such as the New York Times, and countless political blogs like the Huffington Post. It also happened to extend YouTube’s awareness beyond its core audience of young men to folks as far afield as my parents, septuagenarians that never heard of YouTube before the debates.

Finally, by integrating itself so deeply into a centuries old American ritual, YouTube subtly positioned itself as the undisputed leader in the increasingly crowded field of user generated video. Perhaps some of the Republicans jostling for position today could take a page from YouTube’s playbook.

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