Viral market has been a hot topic in the news recently. So has Youtube: both its popularity and the enduring mystery of just how the fuck does Google think it's going to make a profit off of it worth more than 1.6 billion dollars. Could they be connected? Perhaps! Let's try to connect the dots.
Lonelygirl. Miaarose. These are, apparently, two examples girls who paid a PR firm money to make them famous. The PR firms specialize in viral marketing. They use bots to make these girls' videos appear more popular than they are. They make fake myspace pages and fake supportive comments on the pages ("Love your show!"). They even try to make Wikipedia promotional pages. In miaaroses's case, "miaarose" is apparently the name of a popular porn star, so porn-hungry fellows searching for that name will find this girl's video instead.
The payoff, for the PR firms clients (the girls) is that they genuinely get name recognition. They get famous. Even if it's bad publicity. If you think about it, the image that PR firms manufacture for Britney Spears and other vapid celebrities is JUST as full of bullshit and liesâ€”but they go through traditional advertising and publicity channels (namely network TV).
For the PR firms, this seems like a great way to make a profit. Viral marketing may be the way of the future, after all. Looking back on the history of advertisement, isn't the traditional "30-second ad splitting up TV shows" pretty old fashioned? Who actually pays attention to those ads anyway? A lot of people have wised up. Worse, a lot of people have gotten Tivos and shit, which allow you to skip ads altogether. Same goes with newspapers and magazines (most of which you can read for free or cheap on the web). So it's very possible that, dollar for dollarâ€”traditional ads are expensiveâ€”viral marketing is significantly MORE profitable than traditional advertising.
HOWEVER, what is the great danger for PR firms? Well, for starters, the limits of technology. They apparently use a lot of bots. Both lonelygirl and miaarose used bots to make their videos way more popular than they were. What would happen if these bots were discovered and blocked? Google certainly has an interest in blocking the bots, because (1) they slow down their servers, and (2) they are quite simply dishonest, harming their site's credibility as a democratic guage of popularity and culture.
But now for the weird part ... why isn't Google doing more to prevent viral marketing on Youtube? A cursory examination leads me to the conclusion that it's pretty prevalent on Youtube. Why the slow feet, Google? Why aren't they doing more to prevent the bots and, more generally, deceptive, greedy marketing?
What if Google actually accepts money directly from viral marketing PR firms, in exchange for allowing them to do their dirty little tricks?
Youtube cost a million a month in bandwidth to operate. More than that now, probably, as it gets more popular. Yes, they make some money from banner ads. Yes, they make some money from Adsense (though Google just discontinued that, which seems awfully mysterious). Butâ€”Youtube made no profit. Google bought them for 1.65 BILLION dollars. How the fuck did Google think they were going to turn that around?
I think the answer must have something to do with viral marketing. I think Google, being wise and future-looking neophytes as they are, have predicted that viral marketing is going to replace traditional ad-based marketingâ€”or even decided that they will themselves engender the revolution for business purposes (brand new market!). I think they have already started to take kickbacks--or rather, the equivalent of "selling advertising space," to PR firms for people like Lonelygirl and miaarose. The PR firms pay Google moneyâ€”probably less than what it would cost for a traditional ad spot. In exchange, Google promises to tolerate their subterfuges, and maybe, to a certain extent, some of their bot technology and exploititive use of porn names (and underage girls dressing in skimpy clothes, acting innocent on camera, obviously appealing to the exact same marketing demographic that would search for porn names in the first placeâ€”also sketchy). Google promises to tolerate all this shit in exchange for kickbacks from PR firms. Google sacrifices their bandwidth in the same way that a TV channel sacrifices their air time. But in a way, this is almost fairerâ€”maybe not "fairier," but superficially more pleasantâ€”to the viewers (us) than traditional advertising. On TV, our program is interrupted every 7 minutes and we're bombarded by 3 minutes of advertising. On youtube, there are no intrusive ads, but instead their are deceptive media campaigns that draw our attention towards videos that we would not normally be drawn to.
Google wins by finally getting a new stream of revenue (from the PR firms). PR firms win by paying a small amount for advertising (kickback to Google, and viral marketing is very very cheap). PR firms clients win because they genuinely get popular. Lonelygirl was an internet phenomenon. Everyone wondered about it. Miaarose was mentioned in Rolling Stoneâ€”well, her cover being blown was. You might think the clients will just get disappointed because their popularity is based on fake or bad publicity, and when the cover is blown they become scorned. But do the kind of people who pay money to advertisers for self-promotion care? I certainly don't think so, they're selling their innocence and a fake image for getting a record deal or whatever, they know exactly what they're doing.
I think we are on the cusp of the future of advertising. For better, or for worse. Honestly, I'm not sure which one it is.