Classic Jack: 2008 -- When the “Mad Men” Era and YouTube’s First Online Stars Intersected

By Jack Myers ThinkTank Archives
Cover image for  article: Classic Jack: 2008 -- When the “Mad Men” Era and YouTube’s First Online Stars Intersected

A note from Jack Myers: After we published in our members-only report, in November 2008, the first industry commentary urging the ad community to pay attention to YouTube online video stars, marketers began to pay attention. After the article was published, Walter Sabo’s HitViews, which was the focus of our commentary, connected Fox to online stars for 32 videos to promote the drama series “Lie to Me” and “Fringe,” which became that season’s only Fox premieres to be renewed. HitViews signed Pepsi, Logitech, Microsoft, Reader’s Digest, MTV, CBS Television Network, Weinstein Films, Sony, Timberland and the US Government, generating more than 60 million organic views. Today Walter Sabo consults companies on maximizing online video exposure and keeps them up to date on the next trends. He can be reached at walter@sabomedia.com

Originally published November, 2008

User generated content represents a critically important new digital marketing tool but it has yet to be packaged as a marketing opportunity. Radio industry veteran Walter Sabo believes he has discovered the future. That future is HitViews and it is personified by its Chief Creative Officer Caitlin Hill, who at only 20-years old is one of the best known and most popular video stars on YouTube with a cumulative view count of over 17 million producing under the name TheHill88. (Go here and here to see samples of her videos.) Caitlin was dubbed "the goofy princess of cyberspace" by Australia's 60 Minutes, but now she's putting her talent to work for marketers in a business that is anything but goofy.

"It's a proven axiom of show business and entertainment that each medium creates its own stars," Sabo told me in an exclusive interview. "That phenomenon remains true for online. Jay Leno's monologues might generate big numbers online, but online video stars get a quarter million views in 48 hours." Sabo is not referring to “cats peeing in a toilet” videos but to a new generation of talent, like Hill, who have an extensive base of fans who subscribe to their videos and sign up for notification when new videos are posted.

Sabo, with the active guidance of Hill, has gathered 20 of these stars as members of the HitViews network and has successfully tested a new approach to integrating marketing messages into the video programming they create. The company has been operating in stealth mode and is officially launching today and with an industry event on December 16.

"These video stars are creating content regularly," comments Sabo. "It's not just user-generated videos. These are video performers who have a large following and who understand how to get people engaged and to respond. Rather than attaching pre-roll, billboards, product placement and interruptive commercials, our video stars organically build videos around a marketer's message. Products are presented in ways that are organic -- part of the video."

Caitlin is responsible for working with marketers to understand and then interpret their goals to the most appropriate of HitViews' video performers, who then integrate the marketers' messages and products into videos that are produced exclusively for HitViews. Hill, Sabo and their team provide feedback and submit finished videos to marketers for approval before they are uploaded virally to YouTube and other video sites. "This is a group of people so intuitively involved with the online video medium they can simultaneously engage with their audiences and effectively deliver a marketer's message," says Sabo. "They attract millions and millions of views and they get their audiences to listen, watch and often respond."

"These are gifted and talented creators who are dedicated to attracting large crowds on the internet," Caitlin points out. "They are not producing sensationalistic or scandalous videos. We have identified the online video stars who have been on the net as early as 2005 and who have passionate fans and are still generating bigger numbers." She says there are 30 more "stars" waiting in the wings to become involved.

"When Walter [Sabo] approached me with the idea," Caitlin explains, "I thought it was a great opportunity for both me and my friends. I can help protect others from bad deals and also they can make an income from their work." In response to a challenge about talent producing commercially-funded videos, Caitlin responded, "everyone is making money off the medium. There are online video stars with 150,000 subscribers who are already earning Google AdSense money and everyone is trying to get a piece of the Google enterprise. People don't use the term 'sell out' as much as they did before YouTube. We are doing bigger deals now and we will also learn, watch trends, and watch who's coming up and down. This is a journey and I'm excited about learning the marketing business and learning to be creative and professional. It's not every day a 20-year old gets to meet people like Bob Weinstein, Reese and Walter. I get to learn from them and they help make me and my friends a lot of money and show that [online user generated video] is a real medium and it works for marketers."

HitViews offers marketers and agencies one stop shopping, handling creative, video production, editing, music scoring, rights management and distribution wherever the brand wants. But, Sabo adds, the brand has full control and approval before videos are distributed. HitViews' talent Nalts generated more than 680,000 views for videos produced for Reader’s Digest and distributed on YouTube and Yahoo! (See examples of them here and here.) HitViews' talent Mr. Safety produced videos for TiVo (see two of them here and here) that have generated more than 140,000 views to date plus 3,000 viewer comments.

HitViews' investor Bob Weinstein comments "rather than guessing how web video works, these entertainers have figured it out. A brand that has an urgent message to present on the Internet should cut the risk and let these entertainers become the messengers."

Gary Slaight, HitViews' largest investor, adds, "HitViews has created a unique model that makes it easy for brands to put their message and product in videos made by proven entertainers who intuitively understand the Internet. This cuts risk and response is instantaneous."

Allen Shaw suggests, "HitViews reminds me of what FM rock radio did to help establish brands like Toyota and Sony among young consumers in the 1970s."

On December 8, Caitlin will be the youngest person ever to receive the National Arts Club's Medal of Honor at an event in New York City. "I kind of like the attention," says Caitlin, "but it's overwhelming. I feel like a fish out of water." Perhaps she's just introducing the traditional arts world to a whole new pond.

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