Here’s what we know for sure: actor Will Ferrell was recently in Davenport, Iowa to film some commercials for Old Milwaukee beer. We know this because there were numerous local news stories about citizens bumping into Will at a local bar. We also know it because at least three of these Old Milwaukee commercials have hit YouTube over the last two weeks. What we don’t know is how or why, because Old Milwaukee clearly isn’t behind it, and I think that’s a darn shame.

Old Milwaukee & Will Ferrell – An Online Video Marketing Case Study

Let me back up a minute. Old Milwaukee is clearly a brand that “gets it.” I remember their beer commercials from when I was a kid, and they were always as funny or outrageous as the rest of the companies’ ads were. But then they went away–I haven’t seen an Old Milwaukee commercial in decades. For some reason… they’d decided to go in a different direction with their advertising.

Now flash forward to 2011, when the company is again ready to embrace video advertising–it’s the perfect time to do so, as you might know, due to the fact that online video is roughly 1000 times more popular than Beiber himself.

And the’ve done everything right… almost. They hired Will Ferrell, which is a big move. And while Ferrell might have worn out his welcome with some fans, the majority of audiences still find him a funny a likable star. A solid, reliable pitch man.

Then they had the genius idea to let Ferrell just do his thing… no leash and apparently no script. And it’s perfect. Will being Will is the only Will Ferrell any brand should ever want as a spokesperson. Let’s take a look at the three ads that have been filmed off the TV and uploaded by fans so far:

Stopping Within Sight Of The Finish Line

Pretty fun little campaign, right? But then… sometime after hiring Will, shooting the commercials, and airing them in select markets… Old Milwaukee forget a key step: YouTube. They don’t have a channel, and did not upload any of these fairly charming and funny beer commercials, which means they’re making this a television-only campaign. Am I the only one who finds that strange?

Look, the company is clearly very hip, okay? I’m not bashing Old Milwaukee… they’re savvy folks up there. Their brand new website is pretty awesome and not at all as archaic as I expected it to be. It’s modern, sleek, and cool.

And they even “get” social media… listing links and icons for their Facebook & Twitter accounts right on the home page (and activity happening on both). But no YouTube. Bummer.

Strangely enough, though, the new Old Milwaukee website actually has a page called Videos–there are only four pages in the main navigation, and one of them is Videos. But they’re only putting old 1980’s and 1990’s Old Milwaukee commercials on there, with none of them actually residing on an official Old Milwaukee channel (one even lives on a channel called “Crotchrot,” no joke). Just a total head-scratcher here.

So instead of 1080p high quality versions of these awesome new Will Ferrell commercials that certainly exist somewhere, the world is watching a version someone recorded off a television using their cell phone video camera. Yuck. I mean, the commercials are funny, but the presentation is… yuck.

Now, you skeptics might come at me suggesting that Old Milwaukee maybe has plans to create a YouTube channel and upload these videos. Fine… fair enough… maybe they do. But then they never should have run these ads on television until they were ready to go with YouTube. If they’re savvy enough to have booked Will Ferrell, then I would have guessed they’d be savvy enough to know to set up a YouTube channel and upload the videos before the public has a chance to do it for them. Or at least react and post them yourself once the cat’s out of the bag–as of this point, two of these clips have been online for two weeks already.

As a result, even if the company turns and puts their videos online now on a branded YouTube channel, they’ll have a much harder time finding viewers because the core audience that would have served as the seed viewing pool has already seen it (and the version they saw was low-def and crappy audio, so they probably didn’t share it as liberally). Heck, it’s already been parodied by a Davenport citizen who went out and found the filming location (and prefers another brand of beer, sadly).

Do you begin to see how easily a couple of small, seemingly-insignificant decisions can have massive impact on branded marketing campaigns over time? Whatever impact these videos might have had with online audiences is possibly gone. We may never know it if would have fizzled out or become more popular than Old Spice Man. That’s not to say the company shouldn’t try… shouldn’t upload high-quality versions of these spots to a branded channel and try to squeeze out of them whatever viral life may remain. Who knows… they could still take off… the video landscape is unpredictable like that. And if there are more videos in the series, then it’s a whole new ballgame, because they could own the initial views of that content moving forward.

YouTube is not just for companies that want to create new videos for online distribution. Instead, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re a company that has created a TV commercial at all… ever… in the history of your company… for the love of all things holy go create a YouTube channel and put that content on it. It costs you NOTHING, and could stand to gain you everything.

If you think about it, Old Milwaukee actually did most of the work toward a good online video campaign. They created great content, with a known star that has good viral potential… heck, they even got the ending of the campaign right–on accident–when these clips started getting featured on curating sites like Buzzfeed. The only part of the online video campaign they didn’t technically do was put the video online themselves. Of course, it got there anyway… they just lost the home field advantage by allowing it to get there via someone else.

So call me Old Milwaukee… we’ll talk. I’d love to tell you why I think you need a little YouTube icon on your website too, and how it could have been the missing link to a home run video marketing campaign.