Video Marketing is a part of our everyday life, whether we are creators, brands, or consumers. But the roots of the industry stretch way back, further back than many may realize, with the many developments and innovations in the field defining the discipline as we know it today.

This post will focus on the history of video marketing on - where else - YouTube, but it's important to acknowledge what came before. Legendary Vlogbrother Hank Greens sums up the pre-history of online video very succinctly in the video below:

Matt Stone and Trey Parker: Creators of First Viral Video

Although video marketing has a long and rich history, many argue that it was a short film, released in 1995, that paved the way for today's industry. The short, “Jesus vs. Santa”, was commissioned by Fox Studios Executive Brian Graden as a video Christmas card after he saw their first online video “The Spirit of Christmas”. Their videos were passed around on VHS until they were posted online and caught the attention of Comedy Central, launching the careers of South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Video Marketing has gone through quite the transition since it first hit the internet. In the past 20 years It has gone from personal marketing, to viral video marketing and progressed to what is currently the age of social video marketing. In this post, we'll focus exclusively on YouTube and the way it changed the industry forever.

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The Creation of YouTube and the Birth of YouTube Marketing

The most important piece to video marketing was the creation of YouTube In 2005, ushering in the era of viral videos. This would mark the first major stepping stone for video marketing and began the online video revolution. The earliest forms of video marketing were actually the overlay and display ads placed next to popular YouTube videos generated mainly by creators accepted into the YouTube Partner Program. These revenue streams allowed creators who were previously making content for free, to potentially make a living from their work.

Few businesses at this time were utilizing YouTube in a meaningful way, but one standout was definitely Tom Dickson, Founder of Blentec, who had started making weekly funny videos for a show they called “Will it Blend?”. This series became a hallmark of early YouTube and helped the Blendtec blender garner plenty of attention.

An Illustrated History of Video Marketing: The Early Years of Viral

Viral videos like some of the ones featured in the 2014 ReelSummit promo video, “The History of Video Marketing Part 1: THE REVOLUTION,” were the cornerstone of the viral marketing era. Creators trying to replicate the success of other viral video were working to get views on their videos by any means necessary, including misleading titles, thumbnails and even purchased views.

This generated a lot of traffic for the videos and the ads that accompanied them, but did not generate the quality conversions that advertisers had grown accustomed to through traditional television ads. This proved to be one of the major hurdles for early video marketing success on YouTube.

It was around this time that video marketers then began to realize the untapped potential that these audiences could deliver. They began to utilize the medium to produce videos solely for the purpose of marketing.

Perhaps one of the earliest creators to partner on some of these deals were the popular comedy duo Rhett and Link. They partnered with Sanyo for the release of their Xacti camera line in a massive collaboration of YouTube creators that generated nearly a million views in 2009. In 2010 the duo would collaborate with Joe Penna (aka MysteryGuitarMan) on a T-Shirt War video that, through it’s over 10 million views, would catch the attention of McDonalds. This relationship proved to be a good one, producing a sequel to the T-Shirt War video for the group and another video in 2011 that were used as television commercials.

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On the flip side companies like Ford had invested in full blown campaigns such as their Fiesta Movement. This advertising campaign was first run in 2009 when Ford allowed a group of YouTubers to have the use of a Ford Fiesta in exchange for video coverage about that use in their videos. It succeeded well enough that Ford would run the campaign again for their 2014 models.

As competition for views continued to increase on YouTube, creators who were able to partner with marketers like Ford for continued success were able to rise to the top of the pack. These collaborative efforts proved to be key to continued online success for both the creators and the marketers.

Perhaps the turning point for video marketing was the “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign from Old Spice. It demonstrated the value created when an engaged audience interacts with your content online. It spawned a multitude of other videos on the Web that parodied or spoofed their original video, spreading their message along the web free of charge.

Video Marketing and Multi-channel Networks

A major part of this transition from the creator side was the rise of the multi-channel networks on YouTube. For many creators in the YouTube community, the thought of using their videos as marketing tools was perceived as “selling out” and creators who were using their content for marketing often kept it a secret from their audience for fear of backlash.

In 2009 a group of creators founded Maker Studios, which would become the first major YouTube multi-channel network. These networks would help secure advertising deals for their partners which would include a number of different formats. As other MCNs joined the scene and invited creators to join their ranks, a new era was ushered in of collaborative guerilla ads. Networks like Fullscreen would pay a premium to their partners to run an ad disguised as a video to their audiences, such as a campaign in 2011 they ran for Fandango and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This form of video marketing would prime audiences for what was to come.

What began as a taboo word in online video has now become the accepted norm for creators and audiences as a way to sustain their craft.

The Evolution of Video Marketing

Over the last few years there has been a shift in marketing content from viral marketing, like “The Epic Split” for Volvo Trucks to the more focused social video marketing campaigns like those created by GoPro. While these videos will often receive less attention and views compared to their viral marketing counterparts, they focus more directly on the core audience for their products and generate a more meaningful social discussion that has proved to be a better indicator for increased sales from video marketing.

As Greg Jarboe said leading up to the Reel Summit this year:

"...online video has grown, matured, and become mainstream. So has its audience. What was once the domain of the cutting-edge few has now become so common that it’s transformed how the world interacts with the web. Companies that never thought of using video now realize it’s the best way to communicate with their customers, build their brands, and educate and inform stakeholders both inside and outside of their organizations."

As other marketers join the likes of Red Bull in taking the leap into video marketing there is no telling where the future of video marketing will go. Rest assured that any company not a part of this future will be history.

We'll leave you for now with our ReelSummit intro video, “The History of Video Marketing Part 2: EVOLUTION:," proudly produced by our friends at Bonfire Labs, for the 2014 Video Marketing Summit.  We worked directly with Bonfire Labs to identify branded video marketing campaigns of recent that help to illustrate this evolution in the history of video marketing: