Can brands really be built six seconds at a time?
Just before noon on Jan. 23, Dick Costolo posted a six-second video of himself making steak tartare to the more than one million people who follow him on Twitter.
The clip marked the unofficial debut of the video sharing app Vine, the latest toy for the twitterverse to play with. If Costolo had his way a few months earlier, however, that steak might have been posted as a still image under an Instagram filter. Less than a year earlier, he and his executive team had courted Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, dangling more than half a billion dollars in cash and Twitter stock only to be rebuffed when the pair opted to accept an offer from Facebook that was twice the size.
Wasting no time on his hunt for the visual companion to Twitter’s 140 characters, Costolo soon came across Vine, a three-person startup founded by former employees of the Gilt Groupe travel site JetSetter who had managed to get a prototype into the hands of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
Costolo decided quickly not to buy a competitor to Instagram; in fact, he had already decided to go beyond photos and find the next big thing, something consumers didn’t even know they wanted yet. When Dorsey showed him Vine, he figured he’d found it. The service was simple, almost stupid-simple, but in design that can be good. Perhaps it would only be used for cat videos and food porn, but Dorsey and Costolo saw it as a game changer and, presumably, redemption for the failed Instagram deal.
Twitter acquired Vine in October 2012 for an undisclosed sum, while it was still beta testing its software. There was no bidding war.
Fast forward three months to Costolo standing in front of an iPhone with a glass full of egg yolk: because Costolo has more than one million Twitter followers, the video, known as a vine after the company’s name, got noticed.
Vine officially launched the next day and early adopters took to the service quickly. Most of them, like Costolo, filmed their food. Soon six-second clips of plates of food disappearing in stop motion as the filmer ate them were everywhere. Celebrities followed suit. Paul McCartney posted a stop-motion clip of a paper doll and asked fans to guess the song (“Mamunia” from 1973 Wings album Band On The Run, by the way). Victoria Beckham used it to show off dresses from her latest collection at New York Fashion Week. Then, at 8:14 p.m. ET on Jan. 24, less than nine hours after the official announcement of Vine, candy brand Red Vines, obviously seeing an opportunity with the similarly named social network, became one of the first big brands to get the six-second treatment when it posted a vine showing off its packaging.
After only three months, it’s difficult to say how much long-term traction Vine will gain. Billed by many as “Instagram for video,” Vine will inevitably be judged against the success of that social network, which has accumulated 90 million monthly active users since its launch in 2010.
Twitter hasn’t released any information about the size of Vine’s user base, though a recent report by Simply Measured showed over 113,397 vines were shared on Twitter during a single weekend in February, suggesting plenty of curious users are testing out the app. It’s unclear how Twitter plans to make money from Vine – or if it even sees it as a revenue vehicle – as Costolo and his team have said very little publicly about the service. A Twitter rep declined to comment for this story, except to say that Vine is in its “early days.”
Twitter has yet to release any Vine-specific offering for advertisers, but many expect it will eventually roll out “promoted vines,” much like the promoted tweets it sells. For now, marketers can take advantage of Vine for free and several big name brands like the Gap, Lean Cuisine and General Electric hopped on the bandwagon immediately after launch.
One of the most popular and successful branded vines so far is a mini commercial created for Malibu rum by its digital agency, Deep Focus. The agency’s creative director, Ken Kraemer, says Deep Focus’ Moment Studio had been following the development of Vine since it was acquired and was prepared to post its first vine for Malibu the day after launch.
The hyper-short videos are almost a new medium, says Kraemer. “It seems to hit a new sweet spot: ultra-short vignettes that are fun and entertaining. It certainly capitalizes on the short attention spans people have when consuming content, especially on Twitter. Like Twitter, it is amazing to see how a simple proposition and some limitations spur peoples’ creativity.”
For some, like the Gap’s Rachel Tipograph, the decision was easy. Tipograph, who acts as global director of digital and social media out of the brand’s New York-based global creative centre, knew Gap customers were spending lots of time on photo and video sharing networks like Instagram, Snapchat and Cinemagram—a Montreal startup that is Vine’s biggest competitor in the mobile video sharing space.
It made sense for the Gap to target customers on a service they were likely to use, but Tipograph says it was a creative fit, too.
“The reflective composition allows for capturing nostalgia, such as the time we went through our rich clothing archives and captured the evolution of our denim labels,” she says, in reference to a vine in which folded pairs of vintage Gap denim flash in rapid succession.
Others, like Rannie Turingan, who helps manage Ford’s social media presence in Canada, approached Vine with more trepidation. Turingan, a social media specialist at National PR’s Sonic Boom Creative, has been following the network closely and gave a talk on it at Podcamp in Toronto in February, but has yet to create any vines for clients in an official capacity.
“With a lot of big brands, we’re being a bit more strategic. It’s definitely a channel we’re planning on playing in, but we don’t want to jump in right away [just] because it’s there,” he says. “The danger is the uncertainty of, ‘Will this platform succeed? Is there going to be a critical mass there?’”
If brands continue to use Vine, it will help solidify Twitter’s offering to marketers. When Twitter first acquired Vine, many assumed it was an “acqui-hire” and the startup’s staff would be folded into its new owner to develop new Twitter features. It was a surprise when it released Vine instead as a standalone app, though the close integration with its parent service still enhances Twitter. By playing in a new space, it shows the company plans to continue to innovate as it grows, a path Costolo clearly sees as Twitter’s road to success.
“When Facebook bought Instagram, I said we’re not going to do what those other guys did,” Costolo told The Wall Street Journal in February. “We’re looking for the next thing. The Vine guys showed Vine to Jack [Dorsey], and he called me and said, ‘You gotta see this.’ We all agreed that this is the next thing down the road. It’s hyper-constrained publishing.”
Though it’s without an ad offering, Simply Measured is already offering analytics for marketers using Vine. Kevin Shively, one of Simply Measured’s community managers, says the uptake of Vine has been great enough to warrant a need for analytics. Shively says it’s too soon to talk about promoted content on Vine or other ad options, as it has to mature and grow before the user base provides enough value for marketers to justify spending ad dollars.
If Vine catches on, it will undoubtedly raise the value of Twitter in the opinion of marketers and investors. And as speculation grows about Twitter being the next big tech company to go public, analysts, investors and advertisers are scrutinizing its ability to make money more than ever.
For the moment, most digital marketers are still excited about Vine as a new tool to play with. Once the lustre of newness has worn off, they’ll decide whether to invest time or money into it.
Shively says this is what any good community manager does: they experiment with new social tools. “If you choose to wait until everything is as big as Facebook, you’re not doing your job,” he says. “If you choose to avoid a new network that users are getting excited about, you’re losing touch with your audience, and losing the ability to engage with them.
“What’s the harm in getting involved with a new network? Say it fails. So what?” he continues. “You tried some stuff, it might not have worked, but if you didn’t abandon your proven models, you’re still growing.”
Jon Sinden, a digital content and social media expert at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment – which has posted several vines on the accounts of its sports teams—mixes baseball into a hockey metaphor borrowed from Wayne Gretzky to describe the adoption of new social tools and their chance of scoring marketing goals.
“Not everything is going to be a home run or a huge success for your brand, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
There’s more! To read the full article, including tips on what’s working for marketers on Vine and a quick look at other services that compete with it, subscribe to Marketing’s print and iPad magazines.