We’ve cracked the code.  We’ve been studying Ray William Johnson, "an alcoholic garden gnome with a taste for comic books and hip-hop music," and have discovered his secret formula for success.

Who is "we"?

I’m not using the royal "we".  Queen Victoria may have said, "We are not amused."  But, that’s not what my students were saying last Wednesday.  It was more like, "We are not rolling on the floor laughing."

Let me explain.

I teach a course called "YouTube Marketing Strategies and Secrets" in the Mini-MBA: Digital Marketing program at the Rutgers Center for Management Development (CMD).  And last Wednesday evening, we were studying Ray William Johnson, an American actor and comedian best known for his YouTube series Equals Three, in which he provides commentary on viral videos.  The Ray William Johnson channel has more than 1.7 billion video views and is the most subscribed channel on YouTube, with over 5.4 million subscribers.

On Feb. 2, 2012, Emily Glazer of The Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled, "Who is RayWJ? YouTube’s Top Star."  Glazer said, "Mr. Johnson, who spikes his dark-brown hair two inches high, is the poster child for how some performers can harness the viral power of the Web to build a career, bypassing traditional media. The Oklahoma native earns an estimated annual income of around $1 million, say two people familiar with the situation, partly by participating in YouTube’s Partner Program, which gives him a cut of the ad revenue generated by his video commentaries."

That’s right.  RayWJ is earning an estimated "1 million dollars" a year.

That caught the attention of my class of executives working in marketing, advertising, communications, and sales.  Could we crack the code of RayWJ’s YouTube marketing strategy?  Could we discover this YouTube Partner’s secret formula of success?

If the executives had looked out the window, they would have seen "The 39 Steps" was playing at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ.  The Tony Award-winning comedy thriller is based on Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film which popularized the term "MacGuffin," a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so desirable.

Well, cracking the code and discovering the secret formula of success became our MacGuffin.

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Ray William Johnson's Secret Formula for YouTube Success

We found RayWJ’s YouTube marketing strategy hidden in plain sight in his channel banner.  It read: "New episode every TUES & FRI."

We’d already perused the YouTube Creator Playbook, so we knew that "Regular Schedule & Frequency" was one of the important tips, best practices, and strategies to build greater audiences on YouTube.  As the second edition said, "Publishing content regularly and often will improve your ranking in the algorithm and help you build viewership."

So, cracking the code was the relatively easy part of our search for the MacGuffin.  However, discovering the secret formula of success drove us to do the unexplainable and sacrifice almost six minutes to pursue.  We watched "CHEESEBURGER! - Ray William Johnson."

As we watched, a TrueView in-steam ad from McDonald’s appeared before the episode and a TrueView in-display ad from McDonald’s appeared alongside the video.  Now, RayWJ has been known to produce "a few good shows."  But "CHEESEBURGER! - Ray William Johnson" left my class baffled.

As one student put it, "I’m amused, but I’m not rolling on the floor laughing."

So, I asked a couple of rhetorical questions: "How can YouTube Partners earn more money?  And what new ways might RayWJ have discovered to monetize his content?"

Since my class hadn’t read the YouTube Advertiser Playbook yet, I can’t blame them for not knowing that YouTube Partners make nothing at all when people watch their videos.  Partners only earn money when a viewer has chosen to watch a TrueView video ad, not when an impression is served.

Since Partners only monetize their content when viewers watch a TrueView video ad, RayWJ may have discovered that he can increase how much he makes if his audience is amused, but not rolling on the floor laughing.  At 1:22 into the episode, he looks at Middle Eastern Pizza Hut commercials about cheeseburgers on pizza.  And I looked at the McDonald’s TrueView in-display ad alongside the video.

So, we not only cracked the code of RayWJ’s YouTube marketing strategy, we may have also discovered this YouTube Partner’s secret formula of success!  You might be able to earn more money by incorporating a few "cold" spots in your videos.  And while other comedians are trying to make funny videos, RayWJ is laughing all the way to the bank.