I sat down recently with Josh Warner, president and founder of Feed Company, the first video seeding company to launch in the U.S. in 2006, which seems like many years ago in Internet time. Feed Company is definitely a pioneer in video seeding, having been behind several of the industry’s early brand viral video hits including Ray-Ban “Sunglass Catch” and Levi’s “Guys Back Flip Into Jeans,” as well as having introduced the term video seeding into the marketing vernacular. For our conversation with Josh, we took a look back at the beginning of the video seeding industry and Feed Company, as well as a peek into what the future of social video seeding might look like.

The Early Days of Video Seeding & Feed Company

Mark Robertson: When did you start Feed Company?

Josh Warner: We incorporated in late 2006. YouTube was only a year old, but the growth rate was through the roof. I had a chance meeting with Lisa Nova, one of the first YouTube celebs, and within a week was pitching a YouTube promotion with Lisa to a friend at Warner Bros. Records.

MR: How did that turn out?

JW: It went really well. It was to support a music release from a band on Warner Bros., the Flaming Lips, but it was Lisa Nova who brought in the YouTube audience. It got my attention that many of the old media rules didn’t apply anymore. Whenever that happens, opportunity is usually close behind.

MR: Was it?

JW: Not right away. These were very early days for video seeding. I started pitching my friends at ad agencies. “Let me post your client’s videos on YouTube, Break, whatever other sites were around at the time. Amazing things will happen. I promise.”

MR: Did you have competition?

JW: Not really, and that surprised me. You had Viral Factory and 7th Chamber that were doing “viral video,” but they weren’t in the U.S. in any major way. I remember thinking I have to move fast on this. The opportunity just seemed too big to stay that way for long.

MR: When did you start to break-through with the business?

JW: Spring 2007. I was reading an article in Ad Age about a new web video campaign from a small agency in San Francisco, Cutwater. It was for Ray-Ban sunglasses, so I called the agency and told them what we were doing and they were, like, fantastic. We didn’t know anyone who was doing this. Within several weeks, we launched the first video for the Ray-Ban Never Hide series, which was “Sunglass Catch” It was an immediate viral video hit, millions and millions of views. For the next two years our phone didn’t stop ringing.

MR: How did you get it to be a hit?

JW: With true virals, it always starts with the creative. The Ray-Ban video was perfect for YouTube. Two guys who throw Ray-Ban sunglasses at each other from increasing distances and complexity – from a rooftop, bridge overpass, a moving car. Just from the first comments on YouTube we knew we had something special. But by then we also knew how to get the creative to the right blogs, sites and tastemakers for it to take off.

There was very little strategy of buying placements back then. It was more about uploading to as many blogs and video sites as you could and pitching editors who were looking for cool content to build up their audiences. It was more relaxed before sites were getting compensated for major video features, which is what you see more of these days. But as relaxed as it was, at Feed Company we were a pretty obsessive bunch. We spent a lot of time getting the tone right; making sure the title was just right which was to us was how a kid who uploaded a video to YouTube on his own would name it; and when and how we would introduce the Ray-Ban connection to viewers and bloggers. We left breadcrumbs so people who were paying attention could see it might be related to Ray-Ban, so we could make sure the brand entered into the conversation.

Video Seeding vs. Viral Video – Managing Expectations 

MR: You said true virals, is there a fake viral?

JW: Sure. You can spot them sometimes on the Ad Age Viral Video Chart. The creative is not very good, but the views counts on YouTube are high, which gets advertisers on the chart. But if you look closely at the ratings for the video on YouTube or the small number of comments, you know the video is being propped up by heavy promotion. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but don’t call it a viral video.

MR: So the word viral is misused?

JW: Definitely. When I started Feed Company, I made a conscious decision to call ourselves a video seeding company. It wasn’t a popular choice in terms of SEO and didn’t make it easy for the less educated to understand what we did, but I felt – and still do – that “viral” video creates a dangerous set of expectations by the agency and the brands. Just because you say you’re creating a viral video doesn’t make it so. It’s like a film studio saying we’re making a blockbuster. No, you’re making a film you hope is successful, and if it becomes that, then call it a blockbuster.

The same with branded social video. Make a great piece of creative. Know who you audience is, who you’re really making it for, and have a great, simple concept. Guy Back Flips Into Jeans, Baby on Roller Blades – and then support the heck of it. Have a plan, have a budget that aligns with the size of your goals, and pick the best video seeding company that understands what you’re trying to do.

MR: How should an agency or advertiser select the best video seeding company?

JW: These days, many marketers select on price – who can deliver me the biggest view guarantee for the lowest price or Cost Per View (CPV). I shop the same way sometimes, but I’m also willing to pay more if I’m getting more. In my neighborhood there are two Italian restaurants on the same street. One delivers huge portions at a very attractive price. I might have to wait to get a table with a checkerboard tablecloth and sometimes I feel as though I could cook the same dish at home, but the value is there. The other restaurant is slightly more expensive, but there’s a tone and attentiveness to the service and food I feel is superior.

Video seeding companies are the same. They have personalities and belief systems for the kind of culture they inhabit, the service they provide. Often it’s the intangibles beyond price, or technology or tactics that deliver the fit, and it’s incumbent on the video seeding vendor and the agency to explore that.

The Future of Video Seeding = Creativity

MR: What does the future of video seeding look like?

JW: It looks a lot more creative than it is right now, which is where it was when we first started. Back then it was brands and agencies that took the time to understand the social medium. They were experimenters. Then everyone jumped on the bandwagon – I call it the Give Me a Viral Video era. Then it was just Get Me the Views era. People didn’t care where the views came from as long as they saw a big number on YouTube. Now we’re in the Views and Engagement era, which means video seeding companies have to be even more creative to deliver on what they promise. For Feed Company, this means more creative earned marketing strategies and experimenting with new social platforms like Pinterest. Anything to reach and engage audiences on the social video web in new and different ways.