5. July 2008

Elvis and the Opposite

A 14-year old video blogger named Fred somehow managed to get a fan base of almost 45 Million users. Now instead of asking how that’s possible, Seth Godin and Robert Scoble trivialize his success. Did they forget what Elvis said?

Just to be clear: Fred is no Elvis. Fred is the most annoying little nag I have ever seen. I had to force myself through one of his painful videos this morning, and I can still feel the agony. Yet I am fascinated by the mathematical possibility of his success.

45 Million users! In our business basically this means you’ve made it into Nirvana. 45 Million spectators is more than any blogger could possibly dream of. Fred beats the New York Times.

Scoble’s in a Huff

Robert Scoble is always the first to run after any new web hype; but not this time; instead of trying to understand what makes that kid so successful he tries to play it down:

This is what happens when you try to simply be entertaining. If traffic is your goal, here’s the formula. Do something really stupid that’ll make people laugh.

Dear Robert, how can you possibly claim that the 45 Million kid is “just” acting stupid? Pretty much 99.9% of all YouTube-users are “just” acting stupid but they don’t get any attention whatsoever.

Me? I’ll stick with having a few thousand people passionate about learning more from innovative technologists and other leaders. Why not get into the traffic race? Because I’d rather be in the race for a smart, focused audience. That’s where the real action is.

And, dear Scoble, no disrespect, but tech bloggers talk a lot of shit as well, and a big part of our dear tech blog readers belong to the most obnoxious smart ass audience there is. Really, we have no reason to be to strike a pose.

The question is not whether you’re more important, smarter or cooler than Fred. The question is: How does Fred do it? Why does a teenage boy acting like a hysterical girl get this much attention? 45 Million, Robert. Forty-five surreal Million.

Seth Godin’s Take

Seth Godin who is never short of good insight into the secrets of someone’s success doesn’t explain it either. Actually, Seth teams up with Robert:

since you realize that ‘how many’ is not nearly as valuable as ‘who’, why not put that into practice? Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it’s important.

If mere exposure were really that irrelevant, then what about Fox News and the Millions of morons watching it? The media business is all about exposure, and whoever gets 50 Million fans just can’t be wrong or random. But I give you that: If you can’t monetize a targeted audience of 50 Million, then you are stupid.

Fred has a very attractive targeted audience: teenagers (they buy lots of expensive goods). For Fred it’s just a matter of monetizing (he already has a contract with ZipIt!). If Fred does the right thing, he can become rich over night.

The Trick

So, seriously, why is this kid so successful? I don’t know either. But here is what I think: He is doing the contrary of what teenage boys usually aim at. He’s ridiculously girlish, straight out dumb, clueless, embarrassing himself to the point where it becomes an actual torture to watch him. And that’s the point. He is not just stupid, he is consciously embarrassing himself to a point where he appears ruthless. In other words: He does the opposite. Here is how “The Opposite” works:

Watch more YouTube videos on AOL Video

“The Opposite” is a strategy that annihilates fear by walking right into it. Fred lives and reenacts the worst fear of a teenager and helps them laughing their own fears off. Grown ups cannot relate to Fred—as we have hopefully lost those fears after we left high school—, but kids are said to be rolling on the floor with laughter when watching Fred.

If you have a better explanation, especially if you belong to Fred’s fan base, I can’t wait to hear it.

UPDATE: I thought ZipIt was the compression software ZipIt, but it turns out it’s not. Nevertheless, Fred was a phenomenon before they started the campaign:

“As it turns out, Fred—whose real name is Lucas Cruikshank—has been making amateur videos for some time, many of them with his two cousins. Cruikshank was scouted by an L.A.-based ad firm looking for the next tween thing to anchor the launch of the Zipit product. “Fred’s huge online following among teens and tweens, and their passion for the character, was just the magic bullet we were looking for in creating a new campaign for Zipit,” said David Abehsera, the President of WOO Agency, in a statement.”

Which proves that his success is not random or just calculated corporate YouTube manipulation. Teens and tweens do really think he’s awesome. More details on LATimes.com

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