Weezer vs. Ben Stiller

The cameo is a long-running Hollywood ploy to goose box office returns and nightly ratings. Recent big-screen examples include the Brad Pitt-George Clooney-Matt Damon trifecta of “Ocean’s Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen” and anything with anybody from the Judd Apatow crew. And one need look no further than Britney Spears’s guest turn on “How I Met Your Mother” for a recent TV example. It was only a matter of time, then, before a culture-savvy artist/marketer saw the same opportunity in Internet video and seized it.

That moment has come in the form of the monster success of Weezer’s new song “Pork and Beans,” with more than 8 million views. The roughly shot video with a fighting-weight running time of 3:18 made its debut on The Interwebs on May 23, and since then it has been viewed over 8.5 million times, the bulk of which have been on YouTube.

Featuring a cornucopia of Internet video stars — from Gary Brolsma (Numa Numa, at 0:18) to the Mentos guys (at 0:34) to Tay Zonday (Cherry Chocolate Rain, at 1:31), with stops along the way for Chris “Leave Britney Alone” Cocker (1:01), Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Upton (1:12), and Judson Laiply’s “Evolution of Dance” (1:27) — the video is a quirky lovefest of all things geeky and random that have found a video audience. And as opposed to revisiting the shame of those “stars,” whose acts had somehow embarrassed them, the video gives them a shot at redemption. (Upton gets to put a map in a blender — a very conscious nod to Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?”)

The joyous energy of the video rapidly found a wide Internet audience, bringing adoration and attention to a new release from a small but much loved band (its total album sales of 7 million during its entire career are less than the number of views for this one video). It didn’t hurt that it launched on YouTube’s home page as well as allowed embedding of the video (now turned off) anywhere and everywhere. And did the meme-riddled video do the trick? Yes! The band is on the charts with the fourth best selling record of the week.

Contrast this upbeat piece with the cynically viral video created by Ben Stiller and crew that first aired during the MTV Movie Awards. Ben Stiller is a creatively bankrupt studio executive who needs to make an ad for his new movie, “Tropic Thunder.” The video goes beyond the lowest common denominator. Stiller believes that by vetting all things through his pimply nephew, he will achieve maximum contagiousness for their viral video.

What starts as a lark with Jack Black donning a “Kung Fu Panda” head and Robert Downey Jr. placing an “Iron Man” mask over his mug descends into a Jackass-esque bit of sadomasochism that finally results in the death of the effusive Black. The video received 237,977 views on MTV.com, and 199,250 (illegal) views on YouTube. Combined, that’s less than a million. Even if you add the official “Tropic Thunder” trailer (the viral video is but one piece of a marketing campaign), you only get about another million views, for a total of about 2.5 million views — if you round up. Which is significantly less than 8 million.

Some may say that’s comparing apples to oranges, a movie to an album. Truth is, it’s all marketing. And if you’re going to take the time and energy to maximize what the Internet does well, then play by the loose but fairly well outlined rules of it. Whereas Weezer and video director Matthew Cullen hit one out of the park, Ben Stiller (who is a deeply funny person) just did what he always does. And he met with fair to middling results.

In the Weezer video, Internet memes are cohabitating, something which had already worked with the Meth Minute 39’s “Internet People” — another multimillion-view piece of video. In the “Tropic Thunder” video, movie stars are pretending to be interested in the Internet. That’s strike one — a lack of authenticity.

Follow that with a kind of mocking disdain for the audience, exemplified by Stiller’s nephew for whom no act of violence is graphic enough, and you have strike two. Pile on a cable network launch that subsequently didn’t allow for embeds throughout the blogosphere, and you have strike three.

Takeaways

What plays on the Internet? The Internet!

If you want to have viral success, let it circulate.

Optimism plays. So spread joy and don’t be a hater.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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