YouTube has become immensely popular among internet users and as such, has piqued the interest of advertisers and public relations professionals keen on tapping into new markets. YouTube does however present both interesting opportunities and unique challenges to those seeking to use new media for advertising and public relations.
In terms of new opportunities, the music industry demonstrates the ways in which YouTube can be used for promotions. While music television stations (MTV, VH1, CMT, etc) have been criticized for far more advertising and programs than actual music playing, YouTube enables the music industry to release music and music videos with no fear of commercial interruption or programming schedules. In fact, since Google, Inc. owns YouTube and uses its search engine to tag similar videos to the videos a user is already watching, Google assists companies in finding new consumers for their products. If a person searches for a music artist such as Britney Spears, the first search result is the Britney Spears YouTube channel, complete with a listing of every Spears music video. Also, if one searches for a specific song, one can often find results showing every music artist that has recorded a song and the accompanying music videos. The number of re-recorded songs demonstrates the power of such search results and the ability of companies to use the service to their advantage.
YouTube does present novel challenges for advertisers and public relations professionals. While a competitor may be able to run a counter ad to a campaign that a company launches, the expense and time required make traditional advertisements a much safer bet than advertisements in new media. An ad or video posted on YouTube can instantly be copied and manipulated to create a video that runs entirely counter to the original message intended. Additionally, given the nature of YouTube users and creators, the independently made individual response video may garner more views and support than the original video. Consider the video of John McCain following the last Democratic primaries. While his speech was available on YouTube, the green background that he spoke in front of enabled video creators to create various backgrounds and messages surrounding the senator. So popular were the YouTube videos that the Colbert Report invited watchers to create their own videos with Senator McCain and send them into the show. While McCain’s speech did not receive coverage on the show, multiple videos with differing backgrounds, many unflattering to the message of the campaign were aired during the program.
So, what does this mean to would be YouTube advertisers and promoters? Perhaps since new media enables audience responses, promoters should consider that unless their product /company is so popular as to garner enough support that conflicting videos would be overshadowed or their product/company is uncontroversial enough to avoid such responses, then the current state of YouTube may not be the best place for current advertisements and promotions. Another exception might also be, if the viewers of the videos will primarily be those already supporting the thing being promoted. For example, political campaigns that merely want to make videos and ads available to supporters are less likely to worry about counter videos made by individuals who are unlikely no change their minds about a candidate or issue.
As a last brief note, YouTube does change the nature of political campaigning in a number of ways, but an often ignored fact is that YouTube has made targeted advertising more complicated. While negative ads may play well in one area they may be dramatically harmful in another. YouTube means that any individual anywhere can be exposed to an advertisement. Campaigns can no longer run an ad in Idaho without voters in Mississippi having easy and instant access.