Monday, January 24, 2011

The Hits Keep Coming

Commentary: Social-media stars are advertising’s new darlings

From Larry Kramer, Marketwatch.comRead more here.

It’s a time-honored tradition for companies to hire stars and celebrities as spokespersons for their products.

General Electric Co. had Ronald Reagan host the GE Theater on TV. Hanesbrands Inc. featured Joe Namath trying on a pair of panty hose; Chrysler had Ricardo Montalban talk about “Corinthian leather.”

Brooke Shields put Calvin Klein jeans on the map, and James Earl Jones announced the call letters for CNN. Nike Inc. used Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods to endorse shoes and clothing. Nestle SA’s  Nespresso shows George Clooney drinking its coffee.

But today the world is changing. While actors and athletes are still being hired, many companies are going after a new breed of endorser. The rise of the Internet and particularly YouTube has resulted in a new breed of star, the unknown talent that captures our imagination with a short but clever, funny or poignant video.
Meet the new faces of advertising.

These are our people. They aren’t rich or famous, but they captivate us with their ability to tell a story in short-form clips. They call themselves names like “Smosh,” “Katers17” and “MysteryGuitarMan,”(pictured) and are often the people who make social media interesting and fun. Between just those three, they probably have accounted for almost 1 billion video viewings over the past few years. They can garner a million page views a day.

Many of them work with an interesting, small but bicoastal company called Hitviews, which serves as both a talent agency for dozens of online stars and talent “finder” for traditional brands and their ad agencies. Hitviews is a great example of a business that couldn’t have existed until the last few years, but could grow rapidly as brand advertisers begin to understand the growing power of the medium.

The company was founded in 2007 by media consultant Walter Sabo — a former radio executive who has run radio networks and stations for ABC and NBC, as well as worked for Sirius XM Radio Inc.  and Clear Channel — along with his partner, Caitlin Hill, an Australian woman who created Web videos under the name “Thehill88.” They got funding from some of Sabo’s friends from his long broadcasting career, including network-TV executives Fred Silverman and Ed Hersh, advertising guru Jack Myers and others.

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