When Freshpet in September decided it wanted branded content, the pet food purveyor hired ShareAbility, a production house focused solely on producing YouTube videos, instead of going the traditional route of calling an agency.
At the time, a clip of an adorable 5-year-old, dubbed by the Internet as the Apparently Kid, was going viral and ShareAbility quickly snagged him for a one-off Freshpet video. The promo, which was released in mid-September, has been viewed 3.5 million times and shared more than 35,000 times on social media, while daily traffic to Freshpet has increased 416 percent.
ShareAbility and Freshpet now are expanding their relationship with a longer-term video strategy, including a Dec. 15 holiday-themed clip.
Increasingly, marketers like Freshpet are going directly to online production houses to produce Web video content. ShareAbility estimates that about 70 percent of its work comes directly from marketers and projects up to 90 percent next year.
"The Internet has changed everything in terms of how consumers find, curate and watch branded content, and this is putting tremendous pressure on traditional ad agencies," noted ShareAbility CEO Tim Staples. "Succeeding at YouTube requires an expertise that most general ad agencies don’t have, and the smart ones are not willing to risk a $50 million account for a $500,000 piece of content."
Erika Trautman, CEO of Rapt Media, a technology platform that creates interactive Web videos, agreed, saying many of the production companies it works with have seen a marked increase in direct brand projects.
Typically, these simple concept ideas are not related to a broader campaign, meaning they don’t need the full strategy and cost of hiring a traditional agency, explained Altimeter analyst Rebecca Lieb. As an added bonus, digital studios are adept in turning things around quickly and know what’s viral. "It's about hiring execution," she said. "Agencies do a lot of strategy and ideation, which is sometimes not what you need. Sometimes, you just need to get stuff done."
But, while digital production house Content and Co. is confident they have the finger on what’s hot online and can produce more effective content, it does acknowledge that agencies are necessary when it comes to executing a full campaign.
For instance, Content and Co. came up with a five-episode scripted Web comedy for Subway featuring YouTube a cappella group Cimorelli called Summer With Cimorelli. While Content and Co. handled the production, it relied on Subway’s agencies for in-store activations, broadcast spots and other means. Each episode’s views ranged from 650,000 to 1.3 million, and sources say the series is in development for a second season.
"Where the production companies can fall short is if the brand is in need of a greater strategic vision, including distribution and how you’re going to get in front of your target audience," said Rapt Media’s Trautman. "I have seen production companies lose business because they can't compete at that level."