Some Takeaways From Week 1 Of Fidelity's YouTube Contest

Have you ever been part of a meeting when an idea is presented—maybe with some passion even—and the response is just a lot of shifting around in seats? Is it a good idea? Should we run with it? Or…? Nobody wants to say. With any luck, there’s an alpha in the room who is only too happy to step in and pronounce it.

When Fidelity announced its “Be the Green Line” Video contest on Tuesday, we decided to hang back a little and see how it played. It’s one of the first overt social media efforts by an investment company so naturally we’re happy to see something getting done. Go, Fidelity! We're rooting for you.

Week 1 of the contest, a YouTube promotion, has produced a few takeaways. First you'll need the contest's description. And you can watch its video, too.

Fidelity wants to extend its Turn Here advertising campaign with an online contest. The commercials feature a green line “that underscores the firm’s ability to help investors navigate all stages of life with financial guidance and appropriate investment options.” So, the contest invites entrants to create videos that give the impression “through creative interpretation” that “they are the Green Line.” And, the phrase “stay on the line” must be said in the video.

We're surprised that the commercials haven't been uploaded as standalone files to the channel. There's a really short clip in the contest video but Fidelity seems to be counting on consumers' recall and not expecting them to search YouTube for fuller versions. Because there are some non-authorized Fidelity green line videos, including some spoofs, out there. Permissions issue, maybe?

But we press on. The final prize winner wins $5,000 and the submissions of as many as 10 semi-finalists will be featured on the Be The Green Line YouTube page, according to the contest rules.

“Fidelity risks YouTube treatment with video contest” was the headline on Investment News’ coverage. We think it's a qualified risk. The submissions need to comply with YouTube's community guidelines and we bet that Fidelity staffers will be keeping an eagle eye on all uploads.

The public votes only on the semi-finalists.The selection round will be judged by Fidelity according to these criteria: 

  • Originality/creativity in presenting the entrant as the “Green Line” (50%)
  • Overall technical quality of the video submission (25%)
  • Appropriateness to the Fidelity brand (25%) 

OK, YouTube is not really where you go for technical quality and brand appropriateness, but we can give them a pass on that because, well, we’re all just learning as we go, right?

Not so much. Sometimes we compare these early days of social media to the mid- to late 1990s when asset managers were launching primitive and wobbly Web sites. What’s comparable is that there are pockets of knowledge and experience amid confusion, uncertainty and a little intrigue.

It was all upside then. Nobody expected much from an asset manager’s Web site. Animated gifs? We all cheered at the animation of the growth of the $10,000 mountain chart line no matter how long it took to fully draw.

That was then, this is now. Forty-plus comments on the (Boston Globe) article describing the Fidelity contest serve as a ready example of how social media can be a little trickier than launching a Web site was back in the day.

The crowd has expectations

Everybody—the general Internet population—has expectations now. Even newcomers are held to standards loosely defined by everybody, not professional reviewers. Investment companies’ social media doesn’t get a pass, it gets compared to Starbucks’.

Fidelity says they're bringing their campaign online because of its popularity. As often happens online, the detractors are better organized and post their snipes faster than the supporters—you will see some Fidelity defenders among the comments.

The brand is not in charge

In conversations, which is what social media is described as, both parties get to change the subject. When the Turn Here campaign was launched in March 2009, chief marketing officer James D. Speros explained that the intent was to position the brand as a guide and a navigator.

In other words, Fidelity didn’t want to talk about the markets, it wanted to talk about its value to investors. But when it’s their turn, people still want to talk about the market collapse and what it did to their investment portfolios. And there’s some of that in the comments.

We’ve observed this before and we encourage you to factor it in when you make your social media plans. 2008 has left some people distrustful and negative toward investment companies, and the people with computers are still working through it on the Internet. We believe that consumers will be light-hearted and carefree with other companies and other industries before they’ll relax with you. They want to see you working.

Sometimes the conversations will include the brand, sometimes not

By disabling comments on its YouTube page, Fidelity guaranteed that the commenting wouldn’t take place there. But people could be talking about the contest just about anywhere else—and to be the subject of conversations is the intent of viral.

The contest is getting coverage on video production blogs, broker blogs, investor blogs and even on Hooray! Here’s the impact of all that: It’s pushing down the official Fidelity announcement on the Google results pages.

On Sunday, Fidelity didn’t even shown up on page 1 of results for a “Fidelity green line” search and barely made it onto page 1 for “Fidelity you tube.” Contest coverage and more criticisms from social networks are ranking higher. Luckily, there were still some tweets circulating about the contest (another reason to make sure your news is covered on Twitter). A Google AdWords buy might have to assure Fidelity official’s presence on page 1 for contest-related keywords.

No matter what others’ agendas, it’s all worth paying attention to

Peanut gallery? No, brands really have to bury that dismissive phrase once and for all if they’re going to use social media to reach people. For marketing professionals who've knocked themselves out on a campaign now being reviewed as "lame-o," it can be demoralizing and the temptation may be to write the online critics off as just a few kooks. That’s risky, riskier even than social media.

We’re going to keep an eye on this contest and encourage you to, too. There's more to learn from Fidelity and the videographers it's inspiring (videos must be uploaded by February 19) about how social media and investment marketing mixes.