A Q&A with a ‘Viral Video Agency’ Competing on AMC’s ‘The Pitch’

/ Aug 29, 2013

ChristianoCovino

AMC’s “The Pitch” is a docu-reality series that features two ad agencies competing with each other in each episode to win the business of a new client. The show can offer an interesting look into what goes on behind the scenes when an agency is developing and pitching a campaign to a new brand. Tonight’s episode, which will air at 11pm ET, could be a special one: It will feature Mischievious Studios, an agency that describes itself as a “team of YouTube creators” who favor social media over paid media (naturally).

Mischievious, which started out with a YouTube channel called MischiefTube, has worked with a lot of brands you recognize, including AllState, AT&T, and Pizza Hut. The agency is steadfast in promoting a content distribution model that forgoes the traditional practice of media-buying. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in tonight’s episode, but in the meantime, check out the following interview I did with the agency’s founder Christiano Covino. Fair warning: It’s a bit long, but it’s well worth your time if you’re interested in branded entertainment.

How did the AMC/”The Pitch” opportunity come together?
The producers over at All3 Media were looking for an LA-based agency for their second season. They presented us to AMC and they liked the unique angle we brought to the changing ad world, so we got the gig.

As a branded content creator, what are some major pain points that you currently deal with?
We’re in a constant tug of war with new brands that we work with. They want us to include every bit of information about their product, all the benefits, say its name 10 times, and somehow make sure it spreads.

I created a model called the Branded Content Continuum. It looks like this:

Entertaining |———————-|———————-| Informational

Many brands try to pull us all the way to the right, but that’s not what they hired us for.

Our job is to walk the line between the two, including as much of the information as possible without being pulled away from entertaining, our main goal in ensuring sharable content.

The greatest and most successful brand managers we’ve worked with have been the ones who trust us to find the perfect balance, and their trust has paid off in huge ways.

Is there still a lot of hesitancy among brands due to issues with online video measurement and ROI?
It’s funny, there is this stigma attached to online video that it “can’t be measured.” It’s completely ironic because after over 60 years, there is still no completely accurate way to measure impressions for ads on TV, radio, billboards, print, banner, experiential, mobile, or countless others. Yet with online video we give you detailed analytics for every view including, age, sex, demographic, location, device, and content-specific analytics like how long they watched, which parts they re-watched, when they clicked away, if they liked if, it they shared it, and whether or not they engaged with the call-to-action.

We can tell you all that, and yet online video is still seen as “unmeasurable”? I call BS on that one. Probably just old school ad guys trying to hold onto their old school ad dollars.

What is the common budget for a piece of branded entertainment?
Definitely not enough! As the industry comes around to branded content online, our budgets have started becoming more sustainable. That being said, the fact that a TV commercial can cost $500,000 while an online video can cost $50,000 is ludicrous. We shoot on the same cameras, hire the same crew, and put in the same amount of effort and expertise as a commercial production. Yet we get paid pennies on the dollar compared to them. There’s a definite glass ceiling that stops us from being seen as equals.

The weird part is that on TV, after you pay for the content, you still have to spend thousands more on a media buy to get it seen by a million eyes for a month, and then it goes off the air unless you spend thousands more to re-run it. Whereas with branded content and viral videos, you only need to pay for the content once, and you will consistently reach millions of eyeballs in perpetuity, as online video stays live forever. The latter seems way more valuable, as you get more use out of the content. Yet the former is the one on which millions are spent. Definitely a little backwards.

What would be your advice to online creators when working on a piece of branded entertainment?
Story doesn’t cost extra. Take your time really understanding your demographic and then craft a story they will truly care about, with characters that are dynamic and fun to watch.

And don’t be afraid to break the rules. Modern audiences have seen everything at this point. It’s very rare that you will surprise or delight them through sticking to the rulebook. Sometimes you need to acknowledge clichés and archetypes so you can then flip them on their head. It’s refreshing, and will give audiences something unique to like about your content.

Don’t be scared of product placement. When integrated in a natural, holistic way, product placements can become an inseparable part of a story’s DNA and build huge love with the audience. I mean, look at the Transformers series, AKA the worlds longest Chevy commercials. People are buying Camaros again because they actually managed to make the Camaro into a main character, in the form of Bumblebee. Find a way for the brand or product to save the day and your product placement will feel like a plot device instead.

Part 2: Covino’s thoughts on making stuff go viral.

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