Can a stodgy financial firm be the force behind a viral video?

The answer is clearly yes, but the jury is still out on the ultimate success of the effort.

Mutual fund marketers are going where the audience is — on YouTube — and some are attracting viewers in the millions.

In a new quarterly survey by Dalbar on what mutual funds are doing to drive traffic to their websites and engage investors, the Boston-based research firm has found these companies are indeed producing popular content.

But as memories of high school attest, popularity can be fleeting and the report interestingly finds that the number of investors who ultimately subscribe to these firms’ YouTube pages is vanishingly small.

Of the 6.6 million viewers of the third quarter’s most popular video, just 16 subscribed.

That said, marketers have other goals including brand awareness, clicking around the site and of course, ultimately, sales — something that may be hard if not impossible to correlate with a visit to a firm’s YouTube channel.

So the marketers carry on with the slow-going but essential effort to engage investors, and have produced some remarkable videos, linked below.

Dalbar’s 44-page report, of course, slices and dices the data and produces some interesting analytical insights.

For example, readers of the report can see that it really is true that video length is a barrier to viewership. They find that viewers will watch roughly half of a 3- to 4-minute video, a percentage that climbs to nearly 78% for a video that is under 30 seconds.

Yet, in at least one case below, a video of over 13 minutes sustained viewers’ attention.

Dablar’s managing director Kathleen Whalen tells ThinkAdvisor that the challenge for marketers intensifies depending on the audience a firm is going after:

“As you attempt to gain interest and engagement from the more affluent, the level of difficulty is exponentially increased. The real key to success is to have a well thought out plan that is intended to transform these views, this delight with the videos, in to new business for the firm. The Nationwide video “Jingle, Featuring Peyton Manning” elicited the comment “Makes me wanna switch to Nationwide,” and needs to be the goal for every marketer when creating these YouTube videos.” 

Herewith are the 10 financial firm YouTube channels with the most hits out of 55 firms evaluated by Dalbar during the period from July 1 through Sept. 30.

Oppenheimer Funds

No. 10

Oppenheimer Funds

Total Views: 11,550

The fund company makes its YouTube page easily discoverable on the fund’s homepage. While the page offers a few off the beaten path videos on philanthropic topics with “Stories from Peru” or about “Why Volunteer Abroad,” most of the videos, and the most popular ones, are portfolio-oriented. That includes its most popular video: “Open Your Portfolio to New Investment Ideas: Growth, Income. Protection” (2:10 minutes).

USAA

No. 9

USAA

Total Views: 16,365

The military-oriented financial services company uploaded 31 different videos onto its YouTube page in the third quarter, and Dalbar was impressed that the videos ran the gamut of five different “purpose categories.” One of those videos was “Chalk Talk Life Insurance: Starting Early” (1:15 minutes). Writes Dalbar:

“Through communication of a personal experience, this presentation illustrates the need for life insurance early on in life, when one is young and healthy. With a mixed composition of both animated and real elements this video…effectively conveys the intended message.”

John Hancock

No. 8

John Hancock

Total Views: 18,229

The Boston-based insurance and investment firm’s YouTube page plays to the home team with its video, “Celebrating Life’s Moments,” a 33-second spot set at Fenway Park. The firm celebrated Life Insurance Awareness Month by sponsoring “free family photo day.” The clip’s happy Red Sox fans thus got a chance to pose with loved ones and consider “what matters most in life.”

Goldman Sachs

No. 7

Goldman Sachs

Total Views: 35,352

Some firms will attract attention with theatrics, even cartoons, but not Goldman Sachs. The buttoned down Wall Street firm employs a “serious tone in their educational and economic insight videos, which are intended to grab user’s full attention for more in-depth subject matter while at the same time underscoring the credibility of the message,” Dalbar writes.

This video posted July 10 is also about a sports stadium — in this case Levi’s Stadium in Silicon Valley, new home of the San Francisco 49ers. But instead of happy fans as John Hancock portrayed, Goldman discusses the “team effort” employed in financing its high-tech construction.

Federated Funds

No. 6

Federated Funds

Total Views: 112,697

The mutual fund company’s YouTube page is heavily oriented towards investing, though it also features several “breaking news” features with titles such as “Can Obama Climb a GOP Hill?

The firm’s investment fare can attract serious viewership. An example from the third quarter is “Game Changing Retail Trend,” posted on August 6, in which portfolio manager Barbara Miller offers her investment insights in a 2:17 minute spot that has so far attracted close to 49,000 visits.

The Principal Financial Group

No. 5

The Principal Financial Group

Total Views: 142,378

Here’s a way to get clients you may never have thought of. The Principal Financial Group’s YouTube page includes “financial lift” videos where an advisor discusses subjects such as what retirement fears are keeping passengers awake at night.

Writes Dalbar:

“The docutainment video averaged a total view duration of 29 seconds out of the film’s 30 second play time. The video features regular people voicing their concerns about retirement while driving in a New York City cab with a Principal advisor. The video is short and to the point, ending with the Principal logo urging viewers to “Take Action Today”.

Posted on Sept. 15, the video has already been viewed some 175,000 times.

Prudential

No. 4

Prudential

Total Views: 278,575

Prudential’s got a varied playlist. Its YouTube page features real-life retirement stories, advice for small business owners, even golf tips.

The firm describes one 45-second spot, posted during the third-quarter period, thusly:

“Could the money in your pocket make an impact on your retirement? We built a 30-foot tall domino to demonstrate how even small investments can grow over time. The results are pretty surprising.”

The video has received over 2 million views to date.

Hartford

No. 3

The Hartford

Total Views: 353,248

Not every video need be 45 seconds to be watched, as a tour of the Hartford’s YouTube page will reveal. Dalbar describes the appeal of its viral success, “Office Dance.”

“This theatrical advertisement is not only entertaining but interactive, which makes its length of 13 minutes and 30 seconds unnoticeable. The video requests that the viewer pick one of the six tracks listed in order to help the business ‘play on.’ Once a track is selected, the office workers break into a dance that corresponds to the selected genre, such as “Disco”. The viewer can change the track and also click into different rooms such as the lounge or the copy room, where other employees are enjoying the music break.”

Nationwide

No. 2

Nationwide

Total Views: 4,045,196

From 13½ minutes for the Hartford to just 17 seconds for Nationwide, the insurance company found a way to engage consumers on the “vanishing deductible” benefit that rewards safe driving. The video’s “mixed composition of real and animated elements,” made it the second most viewed this quarter, attracting just under 3 million views.

A second video called “Jingle, Featuring Peyton Manning,” also attracted a huge audience, and Dalbar’s highest enthusiasm since the football star’s humming his life to the tune of the insurance firm’s jingle induced one commenter to say:

“Love this commercial. Makes me wanna switch to Nationwide.”

Wells Fargo

No. 1

Wells Fargo

Total Views: 6,572,621

Wells Fargo is invested in YouTube. Its channel uploaded 130 videos in the third quarter, in seven “purpose categories.” Two of its videos received more than a million viewers each during this period, both of them showcasing the firm’s support of American soldiers. And a retirement-themed 29-second spot was notable for keeping viewers attention for 100% of the time.

But Dalbar heaps its greatest praise for “Soldiers to Summits” (2:35 minutes), portraying military veterans with the daring to climb Mt. Whitney. Writes Dalbar:

“Many of these individuals tell bits of their survival stories and how this program has helped them tremendously since returning from fighting for their country. This video was viewed over 4 million times with each viewer having the opportunity to take note of Wells Fargo’s support of this program, whose motto is unforgettable: ‘Little by little, we can do a lot. Because Small is Huge.’”

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