Behind the Viral Video: What's Fake, What's Real Making a video go viral is not only harder than it looks, it's also become a popular way for companies to market their products. The question is, does anyone care if it's not authentic, as long as it's funny?
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Behind the Viral Video: What's Fake, What's Real

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. These days, the most contagious thing on the Internet is video, and while the term "viral video" is rapidly approaching so thirty-seconds-ago, using video to market products, whether it's soda or just yourself, is so right-now.

Last weekend, your email probably delivered the hypnotic gyrations of the "Wii Fit Girl." This week we're all watching an incredible catch by a ball girl in Fresno, California. Both videos have an air of authenticity about them. One is definitely an advertisement, and if the other one isn't, it might as well be.

These days, it's not easy to make your video stand out amongst the tens of thousands that are uploaded to YouTube everyday, and marketers earn a great deal of money to make things go viral.

This hour, what's real, what's fake, and how videos go viral. Later on, we'll talk with journalist Heidi Holland about Robert Mugabe, reelected president of Zimbabwe in a widely criticized election on Friday.

But first, it's the infection you try to catch, "viral video." If you're in the business, how do you get millions to watch, and if you're a viewer, do you care if they're commercials? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Our first guest was once called a "viral marketing hot dog" by no less than The New York Times. Jonah Peretti is the founder and CEO of buzzfeed.com, a site for finding and launching viral media. He's also a founder of "The Huffington Post," "Contagious Media Showdown," "Rejection Line," and more than a few others. He joins us today from our bureau in New York, and thanks very much for joining us on Talk of the Nation.

Mr.JONAH PERETTI (Internet Entrepreneur; Founder and CEO, buzzfeed.com): Thanks so much for having me.

CONAN: And what viral video are you watching? What's caught your attention?

Mr. PERETTI: Well, you know, we obsessively track everything that's viral on the web at buzzfeed.com, and so, you know, we just try to find the thing that hasn't quite tipped yet and hasn't gotten totally viral yet. So there's always - every single day there's five or ten things that have a chance of being the next big thing.

CONAN: Have a chance of being the next big thing. But if you go on to YouTube and look at most watched videos that day, is it coincidence that those particular items are up there?

Mr. PERETTI: Well, there's an interesting concept called hindsight bias, which is that after something is really successful and viral, everyone looks at it and they think, oh, it's because of this and because of this and because of this, but if you actually show people a bunch of different videos in advance, before they're released, and you say, predict which one's going to be viral, people have a lot of trouble doing it. So there's a lot of kind of random processes that happen and sometimes it's very difficult to predict what's going to be viral until it already is viral.

CONAN: But it doesn't get viral by accident. People work hard to make it viral.

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah, people work hard to make things that don't become viral, too.

CONAN: That's true.

Mr. PERETTI: You just never see them. So that Gatorade girl climbing up the wall and making that amazing catch is hugely viral, but how many things did Gatorade make that didn't get viral? And then they went back to the drawing board and they kept trying and eventually they got something that was a big sensation. But the nice thing about viral is that you can try to make a bunch of things viral and if they fail, nobody ever sees them.

CONAN: And so your mistakes vanish very quickly.

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah. People only see your best work.

CONAN: And then again, you don't have to buy airtime on television or radio to air these products. Once you get it on YouTube, well, the distribution's free.

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah. The distribution's free so marketers love that, and just random people in their basements that want to be famous love that. The problem, though, with the free part is that you also give up a lot of control. And so if you buy, you know, a Super Bowl ad, you can have millions of people see it and you kind of guarantee that they're going to see it. With viral video, you need to make something that people pass around and they get excited about and so you have a lot less control over your message. You need to make a message that is a little shocking, a little amazing, that kind of thing that people want to talk to about to each other, the kind of thing that people want to discuss around the water cooler, or else your message won't spread.

CONAN: Does it work if it hit you across the forehead with a two by four, buy Gatorade?

Mr. PERETTI: That won't be viral, so - but you could do that on a television commercial because you're paying for it.

CONAN: Yeah. And again, does length matter on a viral video? Is shorter better?

Mr. PERETTI: People have very short attention spans. If you think from - the behavior of someone online, I mean, we all are online a lot. There's something I like to call the bored-at-work network, which is the millions of bored office workers who are connected to high speed Internet who are sitting, taking a little break between meetings, taking a little break between their emails to look at something funny on the Internet. They don't have that much time. They want to see something funny and if they like it, they'll send it to a bunch of people but they're not going to watch half an hour.

CONAN: They're not going to watch half an hour. And again, there's the question of authenticity, that Gatorade girl making that great catch in the outfield. It looks like a genuine minor league broadcast until - well, if you've ever watched a minor league broadcast, they don't have that many cameras and they don't look that good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I think consumers have to be smarter, you know, because the Internet, you're never sure what you're getting. You look at it and you have to think, you know. I watched that video and I said, look at the way she, you know, did this crazy catch, the chances of that are one in a million, and you have to kind of give it a smell test.

And I think, actually, in a way that's a good thing. We have to get smarter about what we're looking at online and try to decide, is this real, is it a hoax, an ad, some footage that was clipped? You got to think a little more when you look at stuff online.

CONAN: But part of the charm of these viral videos is this was just some guy putting out a little film, or a woman, but just putting out this little film and everybody seemed to like it and they passed it around and it had this sort of grassroots quality to it. Is it the same when you're being manipulated, when companies are being paid a lot of money to see if they can make that go viral?

Mr. PERETTI: Well, companies with a lot of money can't make something go viral, and so that does give us some - or at least it gives me a feeling that OK, we still have some power because if the bored-at-work network doesn't like it, and if the bored-at-work network doesn't forward it, nobody's going to see it. So the companies still have to cater to what we want if they're going to make something that spreads.

I guess the other thing is that the thing that worries me more is when companies call something viral but really, they're buying lots of advertising. And people aren't actually passing it around but it looks like it has two million views on YouTube. But really, all those views were paid for through traditional advertising and then you - they present it as a viral video but it's actually not. And that worries me more than a company that makes a really interesting, engaging piece of content that people pass around and it also has a latent message.

CONAN: Or there's a big argument about it, a lot of controversy in the comments line, which turns out to be between two guys sitting next to each other at the same advertising agency.

Mr. PERETTI: Right. That's another thing that is troubling. When there's inauthentic comments, when people are pretending to be a commenter when they're actually an ad rep. And I think that kind of stuff also comes back to hurt companies when it's revealed that that's what happened.

CONAN: Well, we want to hear from you. If you're in the business, how do you try to get millions to watch your viral video? And if you're a viewer, do you care if they actually turn out to be commercials? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can go to Steve, Steve's with us from St. Joseph in Missouri.

STEVE: (Caller) Good afternoon. The Honda Accord commercial with Garrison Keillor at the end - a little NPR plug there, too - certainly you talked about being short, that's two minutes and a little bit, I think, and even though it's pretty old, certainly that's had to have achieved viral status by now. And talk about creativity! That was a mammoth production in so many ways.

CONAN: Jonah Peretti, do you think that qualifies?

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah, I think that when you have a celebrity who appears in these videos, which you're seeing more and more now, it does tip you off that it wasn't a homemade thing, you know. But it's also exciting to see a celebrity in a cheap, short Web video because you didn't used to see that as much. So I think it's a little titillating to see celebrities in that format and that will start to wear off with time as more and more celebrities come online and do short format video online.

CONAN: But that's an open advertisement, is it not? And some Sony ads, too, people love them and they actually collect them and share them with their friends.

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah, definitely. I mean, people watch the Super Bowl because they love the ads and that's been that way for a long time, so I think it's more the issue of when you're not sure if it's an ad or not. That's where it gets a little more ambiguous.

CONAN: Steve, thanks very much for the call. We mentioned the "Wii Fit Girl." Well, she has a name. It's Lauren Bernat. She works for the Tinsley Advertising Agency in Florida and joins us now by phone from her office there. Welcome, Lauren.

Ms. LAUREN BERNAT ("Wii Fit Girl"): Thank you.

CONAN: And if you haven't yet seen Lauren do the hula-hoop with her Wii Fit, there's a link on our blog that's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And let's go back, Lauren, to the moment after the video was made that you walked by your office and heard the Wii Fit music coming out from your boss' computer.

Ms. BERNAT: Yes, I did. I actually came back from a client meeting, walked in the office and I heard the Wii Fit music playing in the background and I'm thinking to myself, you know, I know this very clearly. Who's playing the Wii Fit in the office? And I'm searching everybody's office. I end up in the president's office and I said, hey, Jim, you playing the Wii Fit these days? And he turns around to look at me because I didn't know what he was looking at. And he turns around to look at me and there I am on his computer screen doing the hula-hoop in my underwear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, which could be a little embarrassing. It's not a salacious video but nevertheless. Your boyfriend made this video. Did you know what he was doing?

Ms. BERNAT: I had no idea. I had no idea. We had just purchased a Wii, I was at home. You know, I've got my glasses on and I'm in my underwear and I'm doing my thing and I guess he was recording behind me and ends up putting it on YouTube.

CONAN: And there's a little skepticism about this, which I think you can understand since you both work in advertising.

Ms. BERNAT: I can completely understand. Completely understand. You know, people have asked us, I don't how many people have asked us, you guys work for Nintendo and you're an ad agency? It was just complete coincidence. He happened to put it up there, his user ID on YouTube is Tinsley Advertising, which kind of sparked...

CONAN: I can't imagine why people were skeptical.

Ms. BERNAT: Yes, exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: How does it feel to be viral?

Ms. BERNAT: You know, it's just so incredible. It's almost unreal. It's as it if didn't even happen now because it has kind of winded down. It's incredible how these things just take off and are huge for a couple of weeks and now it's kind of winding down. And I was just explaining at lunch how, you know, it's as if it didn't happen. It just kind of came and went. It was an incredible experience. I mean, I was angry at first but now I can just kind of look back and laugh at the whole thing.

CONAN: So Andy Warhol said, everybody will - in the future will have their 15 minutes of fame and in your case, what, two and a half minutes?

Ms. BERNAT: Yes, two and a half minutes. Two and a half minutes of fame.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Does your boyfriend plan on making any other videos that are designed to go viral?

Ms. BERNAT: You know, we also get that question a lot. I think - this is my theory. I just think that the innocence of it was what made it so great. You know, I had no idea that I was being recorded so we don't have anything - I mean, maybe he does, because he's just deviant in that way. But I don't have anything in the works.

CONAN: Well, Lauren Bernat, thanks very much for sharing a little bit of your two and a half minutes of fame with us.

Ms. BERNAT: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Lauren Bernat is the "Wii Fit Girl." I guess her video is still on Google. And Jonah Peretti, did you see it? Did you enjoy it?

Mr. PERITTI: Oh, yeah, I saw it. And you know, I've met a lot of people who have had that exact experience. They make something, they accidentally become Internet famous for a brief period of time and it's interesting. You know, some people just enjoy it and they don't want to continue and other people try to get back in the limelight and try to make the next viral thing.

CONAN: Very quickly. Did you think it was authentic?

Mr. PERITTI: You know, it's hard. It was a hard one to tell but it didn't seem like Nintendo would do an ad like that. It was a little too racy for Nintendo so that made me think it was probably authentic.

CONAN: Coming up, video is viral but who's creating the virus and do you care? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Videos are the hottest thing on the Web right now. And if your video goes viral, well, you may enjoy a bit of meteoric fame. Savvy marketers have figured this out and many of the videos you think you've discovered on your own were, in fact, carefully placed as part of a marketing strategy.

So how do you try to get millions to watch, and if you're watching a viral video, do you care if it's just an advertisement? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Our guest is viral guru Jonah Peretti. He's the CEO and founder of buzzfeed.com and let's get another caller on the line. This is Audrey, Audrey with us from Berkeley in California.

AUDREY (Caller): Hi. My comment is just that I know that the videos I like, I don't like it if they're advertisements. If I know they are advertisements I don't like that. If they feel like they're ambiguous and I can't tell and I need to figure it out, that's when I send them on. I'll send them on, you know, to friends to say, is this viral, you know, is this an advertisement or have I been tricked? What's going on here?

CONAN: So you enjoy the puzzle part of it?

AUDREY: Yes, and I found that even with political ones. I just watched the video today that had - it was an anti-gun video and it had bullets shooting through various kinds of fruit, foods, eggs, water bottles, and then they show a kid's head and you - so the bullet is coming and you're supposed to think that the bullet's going to shoot the kid in the head and think how awful that is.

CONAN: And this presumably...

AUDREY: I don't know if I like it or not. That's the thing. I approve of the message but I don't know if I like the technique. So that's why I forwarded that one on to friends.

CONAN: And that would have presumably followed on from the Supreme Court decision last Thursday.

AUDREY: Yes.

CONAN: So these things, Jonah, arrive very quickly.

Mr. PERETTI: Definitely. And it's interesting that the stuff she's not sure she likes is the stuff that she forwards on to other people. Because it almost encourages people trying to make something viral to make more stuff like that if they want their stuff to spread.

CONAN: Audrey, thanks very much for the call.

AUDREY: Thank you.

CONAN: With all the buzz over authenticity, one writer wondered, why do we care if it's good? Daisy Whitney wrote an op-ed in TV Week about it. She's a contributor there and joins us now from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. DAISY WHITNEY (Writer, TV Week): Thanks, Neal, for having me.

CONAN: And you're writing on exactly the point that that phone call was about.

Ms. WHITNEY: Exactly, and I think she brings up an interesting point. I think that's what viewers enjoy. I think that's one of the reasons we're watching 10 billion videos a month across the Internet because people like being able to figure it out. They want to know if they can be the first one to discern if this is a joke or something real.

CONAN: And then, of course, they would be in on the joke.

Ms. WHITNEY: Exactly. Earlier this month there was a video on break.com that had more than four million views, and it was of an office worker who was throwing office supplies and having this complete meltdown, and if you watch the comments on break.com, you would see that there was such energy around people trying to figure out if this could possibly be real. And it turned out, as I wrote, that it was a production by the director of the movie "Wanted" that's out right now with James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie. And he was doing what a lot of other people were doing, just trying to build up a little buzz around his name.

CONAN: And so that's a lot of high-price talent.

Ms. WHITNEY: Yes, exactly. I think the actors in it were - I don't know if they were actual actors or what, but yeah, to have a major film director getting involved in this, too, and it had nothing to do with his movie. The content was not related to "Wanted" at all. But nevertheless, I mean, to have that number of views and that degree of interest, who knows? Maybe it helped the film at the box office a little bit this weekend.

CONAN: We're also seeing manifestations of this outside of video. There are some complaints about advertisements that are - well, in fact, they are graffiti sprayed on walls in Philadelphia that shows graffiti-like characters and then there is a little Cult 45 message there at the bottom of the picture.

Ms. WHITNEY: Well, you know, what I think this speaks to is that it just shows how challenging it is today for marketers to reach their consumers wherever those consumers are. If you're a marketer and you're trying to reach someone on TV, that is becoming increasingly challenging because there aren't as many people watching and certainly because many people who are watching are doing so on DVRs or on TiVo's and marketers need to be creative. They need to get - I mean, think about the free marketing that Nintendo just got through the Wii Fit girl.

These are just wonderful examples that are happening right now, but I think that marketers increasingly are looking for more creative and interesting ways because we, as consumers, are tuning out more and more and choosing what specifically we want to watch or listen to.

CONAN: Well, let me ask you, and Jonah Peretti, if I could hear you on this, as well. Eventually, aren't we going to tune out from this as well, once we realize we're being manipulated?

Mr. PERETTI: Well, I think as long as there's real stuff that is authentic that is still spreading on the Web, you're never going to be sure whether what you've seen is actually someone freaking out at their office or is making a viral video as a project.

CONAN: Daisy Whitney, as long as there are people out there actually trying to drop menthols into Pepsi bottles, people will watch?

Ms. WHITNEY: Well, I think so, and I think the key for marketers is that they have to fess up to it when they do it. Because authenticity still is something that's important for marketers to do. Once they're found out, they need to admit it. And I think you'll find that when companies do admit it, when they come clean - there was earlier this month or it might have been in May, there was a Lego viral video where some guys in San Francisco had supposedly created a gigantic Lego bolder and they rolled it down a hill and one of the group who was wearing a Fedora, dressed like Indiana Jones - obviously, they were recreating the famous scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

So that was a very short, one-minute-long viral video called Lego Bolder, and it turned out to have been the creation of the ad agency behind the Indiana Jones Lego game. And as soon as they were found out the company admitted to it. I think that's really the key that consumers seem for now, as Audrey said, to enjoy this and to like the puzzle. But the key is you really have to admit it if you are the brand or the agency right away. Because if you don't, that's when you risk your relationship with the consumer.

CONAN: How did I miss the Indiana Jones Lego set? Anyway, let's get a caller on the line. This is Michael, Michael with us from Toussaint, Arizona.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, Neal. I work for a company called Comprehensive Innovations. We do negative PR, which is basically, less plainly put, smear campaigns.

CINAN: Attack ads.

MICHAEL: Yeah, basically. My concern is we've been kind of having some discussions about the idea of viral videos involved in that. And my question kind of was what do you guys see as kind of - how do you think that's going to affect consumers and the whole idea of viral videos, in general?

CONAN: Jonah Peritti.

Mr. PERETTI: I'm not sure I get the question.

CONAN: Well, say it again, Michael. You do negative smears against - is this against products or politicians or what?

MICHAEL: Little of both.

CONAN: Little or both. So you're doing negative ads, viral videos, and do you think that's going to work?

Mr. PERETTI: I mean, back in 2001, I went to Nike's web site and they had just launched this thing were you could customize your shoes with a word or a phrase, and kind of as a challenge to Nike, I customized a pair of shoes with the word "sweatshop," just because I was curious, would they send me Nikes that said "sweatshop" on the side of them?

And they wouldn't send them and we had this humorous back and forth, and the email back and forth became a viral thing that spread around and I ended up on the "Today Show" with the Nike executive debating sweatshop labor, even though I didn't know anything about sweatshop labor but this email had spread to millions of people. And it was this crisis, you know, for Nike.

And there's been a lot of other things like that, too. And again, sometimes those things are done by an individual and other times those things are done by a company, like the caller's company that is intentionally trying to attack a company or a candidate. Like the Hillary 1984 video is a good example of that, of somebody who just wanted to make an ad that would be viral that would attack Hillary Clinton, and it was very successful.

CONAN: Yeah. Michael, so you are doing the equivalent of swift voting people?

MICHAEL: Yeah, basically. My concern was, do you think that's going to affect consumers' perception of viral videos? Is that going to turn them off in the long run?

CONAN: Daisy Whitney, what do you think?

Ms. WHITNEY: Well, personally, I'm not a fan of negative ads or of that tactic in general. I think that's risky and I think that could backfire and I think that your clients should probably be prepared for their enemies to launch counter attacks, if that's what they're going to do.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Michael, and I'm not sure whether to wish you good luck or not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Oak Park, Michigan, and this is Dana(ph).

DANA (Caller): Hi, good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

DANA: I just started recently working with videos on YouTube and I have tried to kind of gain a notoriety, I guess, with sort of my own viral channel on there. And I've been researching a little bit more. I just recently graduated from University of (unintelligible) with a communications degree and trying to, I guess, understand why people view and looking at the way others had items and promote their videos to see where it goes and how do they get their - how do they get their hits on there?

So it's just been kind of interesting to see which tags are more susceptible to getting hits on YouTube, and I got like 176. I just started off for one that I did about the California gay marriage change, and recently I just started doing smaller snippets and have gained a little bit, but I was wondering and curious from your guests if they noticed any that were more susceptible to getting views or ...

CONAN: Spill all of their successful secrets. Jonah Peretti, first of all, tell us, what is a tag and how do you get a good one?

Mr. PERETTI: Sure. So I mean, what he's talking about is optimizing your video on YouTube, and there's a whole bunch of ways to do that. Some of them are a little sketchy and some of them are legit, but basically, people go to YouTube and they search for various topics. And if you tag your video with a thing that people often search for, it's more likely to come up in a search, which means you get more traffic.

Another trick that people do is YouTube pulls a frame from the exact middle of the video, and so people will have a video about one topic, but then in the exact middle they'll put a picture of like a girl's breasts or a sexy clip from a porn movie that doesn't show anything except, you know, a provocative facial expression. And then when you're on a YouTube page watching another video, the thumbnail attracts more clicks because it's really salacious.

CONAN: The thumbnail is like a preview?

Mr. PERETTI: Yeah, the thumbnail is like a preview. So there's actually a video on YouTube that has 67 million views just because it has a fake sexy name and a fake thumbnail and it's actually some, you know, video about Libertarianism with tax and it doesn't even make any sense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PERETTI: But it has more views than almost any other video on YouTube, and YouTube doesn't put it in their top videos because I don't think they're very proud of it, but they also haven't removed it. And it's all basically optimization. There's nothing real there. Nobody's passing the video along. It's just - it has a really sexy thumbnail and it's titled, you know, Finally Porn on YouTube, or something like that. And it was all just designed to gain people who are trying to click and people who are, you know, getting distracted and saying, oh, what's that, and clicking on it.

So there's all kinds of games people play to make their videos go viral and that is an extreme example of how it can lead to millions of views but it's not exactly good for YouTube or good for consumers.

CONAN: By the way, we should mention, every time we do a show like this there's a lot of people who log onto the Internet and find themselves at plumbing supply stores. YouTube is Y-O-U-T-U-B-E. And thanks very much for the call, Dana, appreciate it.

DANA: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Jonah Peretti, an Internet entrepreneur and founder of BuzzFeed and Huffington Post and he's with us. Also, Daisy Whitney, a TV Week contributing editor who wrote that why should we care whether it's a commercial or not, as long as it's funny? If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And this is Talk of the Nation coming to you from NPR News.

Peg is with us, Peg calling from Tucson, Arizona.

PEG (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say that, you know, I watch the videos all the time. I love to be entertained but I always take everything with a grain of salt because everybody's so good and I don't know how they do it, Photoshop or whatever, putting anything in. So I don't really care whether it's a commercial or whether it's real or not, just if it's funny.

But I do find that in the long run, even if it is in the ad, nine times out of 10 I don't remember who the ad was for anyway. I just remember I laughed, and if I laughed I send it on and if I thought it was stupid or too hokey I just delete it.

CONAN: Yeah. Daisy Whitney, that raises another point. The advertisement thing is so subtle that we don't remember who it's for.

Ms. WHITNEY: Well, it's true. It just shows how in any ad medium - I mean, there's a saying, you have to transmit the message probably at least three times. And if you think about how long it really takes, you know, I read Glamour Magazine every single month religiously and you know, finally last month I said, oh, I'm going to actually try this perfume that I've seen in here several times, so it takes a long time for any type of message in any type of medium to get through.

And just the other thing that I wanted to bring up about Internet video is that this is happening a lot now, but some of the foundation of Internet video was really built on this whole idea of is it real versus is it fake? Back in 2006, that's when the "Lonely Girl" video diaries first appeared on the Web on YouTube, and there was a lot of questioning a few weeks into that.

I mean, it was basically, for those who don't know, there was a video of this 16-year-old girl and she was just talking about her life and her parents and her friend Daniel and it was just very intriguing and she was very beautiful. And it turned out three months later to have been the creation of some Hollywood filmmakers that were backed by the talent agency CAA. And actually, two years later, that video and its spin-offs have been viewed more than 75 million times.

So I think whether it's a viral video that's an advertisement or whether it's a Web series like "Lonely Girl" and its spin-offs, at the end of the day we just want to be entertained.

CONAN: Jonah?

Mr. PERETTI: Well, I think for marketers, they have to think what actually is viral. So the Gatorade video of the girl catching a ball, Gatorade wasn't really a part of that message. It was more just an amazing catch by the ball girl and you know, maybe there's a little bit of an association with Gatorade.

If you look at a company that's been very good about making their product itself viral, I would Apple is an amazing example, where it's actually the iPhone or the iPod or the object itself is what people are passing around and sharing and the ads feature the product itself. And so if you can make your product viral as opposed to a funny video that kind of mentions your product, you're probably getting better return on your advertising investment.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Peg.

PEG: Thank you. Your show is great. I like it.

CONAN: Thanks very much for that. Appreciate it. Let's go to Ian. And Ian's with us from Phoenix in Arizona.

IAN (Caller): Hi. I had a quick comment and then a question. First off, I have to say I take a little bit of apprehension to the previous comment about marketers being more creative. More times than not lately, I've seen them hijacking popular culture. For instance, you've got all these light (unintelligible) ads by HP, and you've got, you know, people doing graffiti and making it look like a street art where it's corporations, so I don't think it's as much creativity as, you know, thinking they feed into popular culture.

CONAN: But if you want to get a question in before the break, you'd best hurry.

IAN: Absolutely. My question is that companies like Sony, with their All I want for Christmas is a PSP ad, and even if you want to turn to Turner Network with the Aqua Teen LED bomb scare thing, have a lot of these companies seen negative repercussions from these ads? Are they avoiding them now or are they still attacking them, you know, head on?

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a quick answer from Jonah Peretti.

Mr. PERETTI: You definitely see a lot of negative reactions, particularly when the whole point of the campaign is to make it seem authentic. But the fact you're doing the campaign means it's inauthentic, which is very different than, say, the Gatorade ad, where it's an entertaining piece of video. If you're saying, oh, we're really street, and you're paying people to paint the graffiti or you're paying people to do it, it ends up coming back and biting you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Ian.

IAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Jonah Peretti, thank you so much for your time today.

Mr. PERETTI: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Jonah Peretti is an Internet entrepreneur and a founder of BuzzFeed and Huffington Post. He was with us today from our bureau in New York. We'd also like to thank Daisy Whitney. Appreciate your time.

Ms. WHITNEY: Thank you,Neal.

CONAN: Daisy Whitney is a contributing writer to TV Week and you can find a link to her piece on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. She was with us today from member station KQED in San Francisco.

Coming up, we'll talk with Heidi Holland about Robert Mugabe. She spent a bit of the time with the newly reelected Zimbabwean president. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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