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Viral Video Hits Blur the Authenticity Line

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"If you're not provoking conversation or giving people a reason to forward it," said Renny Gleeson, global director of digital strategies at Wieden + Kennedy, "what's the point?"

"Bike Hero" certainly ignited discussion. Several top gaming blogs and sites picked up on the video, which has drawn over 7,500 comments. All that conversation and exposure came without media spending. "The economics present themselves and they're very appealing," Activision's Jakeman said.

Those savings have encouraged many brands to try their hand at creating viral hits. Of course, the influx of advertiser videos on YouTube has led even legitimate videos to gain legions of doubters. A recent video of a British man named Stuart Tanner embarrassing Nets star Devin Harris in a pick-up basketball game drew over 4.3 million views on YouTube -- and a chorus of accusations that it's a viral marketing scheme for Adidas.

Dennis Ryan, chief creative officer at Element 79, the Chicago shop, predicts the trend toward playfully hiding the origin of the video will go in the wrong direction. Already brands pay seeding firms to goose video views, even to the point of adding comments, said Ryan. "You're not disclosing how hard you're advocating for something," he said. "That can get a bit weird."

The approach is unlikely to end soon as advertisers such as Activision see major brand benefits from the videos. The old push model is passé, particularly among young consumer bases.

In order to compete with all the entertainment offerings out there, advertisers need to use all the tools at their disposal. The power of the Web is its discovery function rather than simple passive content consumption. This rings true especially for Activision's core demographic of males in their teens and early 20s, Jakeman said.

"If you look at how people responded to it and the numbers, you're starting to see that our brand is becoming well-immersed in popular culture," he said.