Vid-ploitation!

It’s been a very self-referencing week or so.

Watching television, I was greeted by a commercial for local NY/Long Island Honda dealers. I could have sworn I’d seen it before. Sure enough, I had. It was JibJab’s “Founding Fathers” rap video from about four years ago.

On another occasion, I was reading one of my favorite blogs. A link pointed to the music video from the Barenaked Ladies for their latest single, “Sound of Your Voice.” It features some of the most well-known YouTube celebrities lip-synching the words to the song (recognize Geriatric1927, Eepybird, Gary Brolsma, Brooke Brodack, and Barats and Bereta?).

Advertisers and marketers (I’ll lump Barenaked Ladies into the latter category) are starting to notice the instant nostalgia popular online videos can deliver. The fact that I can recall an online video I saw four years ago leads me to believe these videos can live in perpetuity and be somewhat evergreen. But does mainstream media’s co-opting of this content mean it’s getting less creative every day? Are mainstream media using the Internet as, essentially, creativity’s minor leagues before they bless it with broadcast treatment? Or is the Web now mainstream media?

Here’s another example. A few months ago, acclaimed director Michel Gondry posted a video of himself solving Rubik’s Cube with his feet on YouTube. This video has been seen over 360,000 times to date. A later video debunked his video (it was played in reverse, with the actual video being of him undoing a Rubik’s Cube with his feet). This stream was viewed nearly 120,000 times.

Some creative director must have had this video sent to him (as well as the flurry of other Rubik’s Cube-solving YouTube videos), because in a Hyundai spot I saw on TV they used this video to claim you don’t have to be a genius to get a good deal on a car.

I don’t think I even have to mention BMW’s use of this.

To someone who gets paid to watch lots of videos like these (among other things, of course) on the Internet, seeing these on TV feels like I’m watching a comedian steal another comedian’s jokes.

Advertisers, in a never-ending quest to align with what’s cool or hip, see these videos as a shortcut to either street cred, cheap laughs, or wonderment. The relatively small audiences who see these videos on YouTube (or by other means) pale in comparison to those who will see these spots on TV.

How long can this last?

As media consumption moves from television to the Internet and back on one of many hybrid setups (not to mention mobile devices), content is everywhere. As the days, weeks, and years roll on, we’ll be consuming a lot more of it. Though more content will always be available, good content will always find its way to the top, either editorially or democratically. Editorially, programmers are given incentives to provide audiences with the best content. Audiences democratically raise good content’s profiles (e.g., Digg, YouTube’s Most Viewed, etc.). Digital content delivery makes it easier to consume both professional and amateur content on demand. But as amateur content turns professional, lines are blurred, making good content simply good content.

That’s what audiences — and advertisers — want.

When people ask if all this user-generated content is a fad, I say the fact that we talk so much about it definitely is one. Sometime fairly soon, inclusion of and inspiration from the consumer will be something every advertiser must do to appeal to the audience and solicit any sort of emotional response.

One way to look at the exploitation of user-generated content is as a bit of giving in and the start of something special. Or it may just be a case of advertisers exploiting customers because there are no good ideas left. Either way, I suggest we all look at the explosion of new content as creative inspiration for advertising, not necessarily as advertising itself.

The irony is that most of the videos used by advertisers are only good for one viewing. They weren’t meant to be seen at the (too) high frequency television imposes.

We may very well look back on this period and realize the real fad was advertisers making commercials that look more like “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and less like something you won’t get sick of seeing 27 times.

By the way, the Barenaked Ladies music video is the only one that doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s why it works.

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