Want to reach millions? Oddcast CEO Gil Sideman says make it personal

At the end of each year, the creative team at Chicago-based digital marketing firm Closer Look gets to take a break from the video packages they create training healthcare professionals to implement new pharmaceutical products and cut loose with a project of their own.

“Around the holidays, we create videos to market ourselves,”  says Liz Mitchell, Closer Look’s Marketing Manager. “We send them to potential clients, family, and friends, and use them as a recruiting tool.”

The videos, which run the gamut from a fake commercial pitching holiday upper “Festivex” to a “Home Alone” spoof, generally garner hits in the low one thousands. But last year’s “Best Wrapper Alive,” a rap video take-off set primarily inside a holiday-papered elevator, quickly broke 10,000 hits, much to the surprise of its creators.

Gil Sideman is the CEO of Oddcast, a marketing and technology firm with a corral of Webby Awards to show for its viral marketing campaigns, among them Volkswagon’s Babymaker and Tide’s talking stains (which urge viewers to “Get famous at mytalkingstain.com.”) Sideman says that what the team at Closer Look experienced translates to clients as well: most often, the videos that continue to the further reaches of an audience begin as something special to individuals.

“It has to be personal. People are more likely to share content that they have personalized. Music that they created, an image that they customized, a message that they helped put together, a video with their face in it.”

So-called “viral videos,” content in the vein of “Gangnam Style” and “Charlie Bit My Finger” that  becomes wildly popular through sharing, are often viewed primarily as novelties or workday distractions. But Sideman says when positioned correctly, viral marketing campaigns create far more discernible results for companies than traditional advertising.

“A traditional commercial never leads to direct sales,” says Sideman, “where as a viral marketing campaign often does. Depending on the campaign, there can be specific commercial goals of leading the user to purchase directly from the campaign.”

Sideman uses the example of creating personalized M&M’s through a site designed as part of a marketing initiative. Users choose messages, flavors, and colors to design their own candies, and then purchase them through the online store in a process that’s extremely simple for the company to monitor.

“Even if the campaign is designed only to ‘raise awareness,'” says Sideman, “the online interactive campaign can do so measurably, whereas traditional media is harder to quantify. Sure, a commercial was aired on TV, so many times a day etc., but do you know how many people watched it, in this day and age of DVR, do you know how many people paid attention? Do you know how many people followed up and took action as a result?”

Sideman adds that viral campaigns are also measurable through multiple metrics that track indicators such as engagement and sharing, which are impossible to measure through traditional campaigns.

But while Oddcast and agencies like it have created an industry out of promising clients viral content, Sideman says there’s no foolproof fuse to be lit.

“There’s always a random unforeseeable element to it. It’s not possible to ‘engineer’ a viral hit. What we can do is to use our experience about what works and try to apply it to increase the odds.”

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