American video game publisher Activision is ranked seventh on YouTube in terms of brand performance, and viewer engagement. YouTube recently interviewed Jonathan Anastas (below), Activision’s Vice President of Global Brand Marketing, about the company’s digital marketing strategy, and how it works with earned media via fan-created videos on the platform.

Activision has more than 2.3 million YouTube subscribers on its biggest YouTube channel for Call of Duty, the video hub of its biggest game. According to our recent Octoly study “YouTube and Video Games”, Activision’s ‘Call of Duty’ channel has more than 500 million all-time views, more than any other game except ‘Angry Birds’ and ‘League of Legends’. If those numbers weren’t enough to confirm its popularity, ‘Call of Duty’ has a 9.4% share of voice among the top 50 games.

Call of Duty and Earned Media: Influencers and YouTube

‘Call of Duty’ is third when it comes to the top games ranked by earned media, AKA views of fan videos. ‘Call of Duty’ influencer videos were viewed 9.7 billion times, almost 20x the number that viewed the brand’s videos on its own site. The brand knows that fan buzz is essential to visibility, as Anastas confirms in the interview:

When we made a conscious decision to lean in to YouTube influencers, and in essence, put our brand in their hands, that was viewed as a huge risk. And now our influencer program delivers literally hundreds of millions of views for our key franchises every year, with high positive sentiment. We see that it drives purchase intent, and that came from turning the keys of perfection over to people who have build audiences on YouTube even larger than ours.

Activision and Purchase Intent: Tracking the Metrics

But how can Activision see that YouTube fans drive purchase intent? They’re tracking it. Activision can follow the clickstream from a video view through to an online sale. Now they’re continuing to refine the formula.

Activision clickstream

Activision tracks the clickstream from video view, to engagement, to website visit, to purchase.

Activision’s formula for paid, earned and owned promotion is sometimes referred to in the industry as ‘piloting a brand’s investment.’ YouTube is best thought of as an ecosystem with three main forces, each working together to create an overall reach, engagement, and impression of that brand.

For video game publishers on YouTube, paid, earned and owned can be described this way:

    • Paid Media: Video views on a game publisher’s YouTube channel that the publisher pays for viewers to see via pre-rolls or in search or related videos.
    • Owned Media: Video views on a game publisher’s YouTube channel that were not driven by a paid campaign.
    • Earned Media: Views of fan/influencer channels.

Activision confirms that it’s essential for brand’s to create their own formula for paid, earned and owned promotion. Anastas states that, “We started with how many views can you get and, and now we’re looking at how much talk value can you get, and ultimately how much sales can you get”.

Post-Launch YouTube Views Driven by Earned Media

At Octoly, we endorse this balanced approach for our clients. For video game publishers, the majority of their views come during the period leading up to the launch. After launch, the views are almost all from fans. The publishers start the conversation with paid media, but then the fans take over and have a much greater share of voice than the brands. But each component is key in the overall strategy.

Our latest estimates for Call of Duty’s media mix is:

  • 96.8% earned views
  • 0.3% owned views
  • 2.9% paid views

So while gaining views on your company’s YouTube channel is helpful and sometimes important, those views are often just a small minority of the public’s overall impression of your brand. In terms of it’s earned media strategy, Activision has confirmed that:

It’s incredibly important for us to deeply engage our incredibly large Call of Duty community on YouTube, where we can have a direct relationship with our most passionate fans. Empowering our fans to share their brand expertise with the community, digital video is central to our marketing strategy.

How Activision Reached > 2 Million Subscribers

Here’s the interview with Activision talking about their digital strategy when it comes to video:

So overall, influencers are essential to Activision’s marketing strategy, as they might be for yours. How will you pilot your brand’s YouTube investment?