Brazilian protesters reclaim ads

First a crash course on what reappropriation is.

Reappropriation occurs when a group reclaims symbols or words and transforms them for their cause. The term is often used in anthropology and sociology to explain how subcultures transform symbols and words to their benefit.

A couple examples are:

1) The word nerd. Initially used to put down people who were more studious and anti-social compared to their counterparts. One can argue that now the word nerd is used by hobbyists, intellectuals and in many cases has positive connotations.

reappropriation of nerds

Nerds empowering themselves.

2) Madonna re-appropriating Christian art. Madonna turns Christian symbols into taboo in her videos. The reappropriation of these symbols to her own use is an example of reappropriation.

reappropriation of symbols

Madonna using Christian symbols

A couple days ago, the biggest example we’ve seen in reappropriation within the advertising industry occurred. This week Brazilian protesters took symbols from FIAT and Johnnie Walker campaigns and morphed the ads to suit their social cause.

In a nutshell, many Brazilians have become upset because massive stadiums that cost Brazilian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars are being built at the same time public transportation is becoming more expensive and doctors do not have sufficient resources to take care of the sick. Many Brazilians are uprising against this.

Protesters used the FIAT’s “Come to the street” (“Vem para a rua”) song in the video. Leo Burnett‘s clever song has resonated with Brazilians so much that it is now part of the core material of the uprising. The song by FIAT was initially made to celebrate the Confederation Cup but has since taken a life of its own.

Not only is the video being used in protestor’s collateral but it has taken a vibrant shape on twitter under the hashtag #vemprarua.

Protestor’s have also seized symbols from Johnnie Walker’s advertisement. The original advertisement shows a mountain waking up, hence the name, “The giant woke up” (“O gigante acordou”). Parts of the footage and the twitter hashtag #ogiganteacordou have been reappropriated by the protestors and lighting up on social media.

The ingenious advertisement was created by BBH.

Here is the footage the protestors put together with both FIAT’s and Johnnie Walker’s symbols:

When advertisement’s symbols are reclaimed by a repressed group and reclaimed to drive a social cause – this may be the ultimate award for any agency. It can only mean that the images, symbols and footage are so powerful that is being used by the repressed.

The agencies obviously got more than they bargained for and, irregardless, of whether they condone the protests or not – they are very emotional campaigns – and for that the industry should tip their hats.

The protests, symbols and images have drummed up enough support from global media that Brazil is making changes. The president recently announced that all oil royalties would be given to education and that public transportation will get cheaper not more expensive.

We hope no one is hurt during these protests and that our friends in Brazil receive what is fair in peace. It seems as though the social uprising worked and, in this case, the reappropriation of ads worked.

This is the point of advertising – to create impulse and emotion.

Virurl launches In Stream Ads

We recently announced the launch of VIRURL‘s latest product – In Stream Ads. These ad units allow publishers of all sizes to earn revenue from posting relevant sponsored content directly to their blogs. The result is an “ad unit” that is contextual and unobtrusive to the audience, while looking beautiful on all devices.




Content publishers using VIRURL’s technology receive an email once a relevant sponsored post matches their blog’s audience. The publisher controls what is pushed through and advertised on their blog based on content, budget and cost per click.

How to try In Stream Ads: 

  1. Sign up to VIRURL
  2. Submit your WordPress or Tumblr’s details
  3. Wait for VIRURL admin to approve your blog
  4. Click on Post to Blog when you receive an email from us that you would like to earn revenue from!

virurl instream


Get paid every two weeks via Pay Pal. It’s that easy.

Read more about VIRURL in the press:

VIRURL launches RSS Ads on Techcrunch

The $20 Ad Campaign on Businessweek

VIRURL: Sponsored Content on Marketing Tech Blog

Going Viral: A Startup Monetizing Content for Publishers

Marketplace for Good Content on Technorati

Spotlight on VIRURL on All Voices

Future of Advertising and Content Monetization (transcript part one)

On Thursday, May 9th VIRURL held an event called the Future of Advertising and Content Monetization with VIRURL Chairman and founder of Merrill Brown and the following panelists:

  • Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr., cofounder and CEO, VIRURL
  • Scott Lenet, managing partner, DFJ Frontier
  • Keyvan Peymani, managing director digital strategy division, ICM Partners
  • Malcolm Casselle, CEO, Mediapass

Merrill Brown: What is the future of content monetization?

Malcolm Casselle: 25 billion songs downloaded on iTunes and we can see very clearly the trend. Their spending all their time in front of not just one but a second and third (computer) screen.

It doesn’t feel like buying Now that buying isn’t always about putting your credit card in but clicking the button, clicking buy.   .  It doesn’t feel like you are spending money and that’s really changed things.  Now that you have 25 billion songs downloaded on iTunes and we can see very clearly the trend that people are spending all their time in front of not just one but a second and third (computer) screen.   With all that time spent in front of the screen friction for purchasing coming down. People we want to start charging for things. Another reality because businesses can charge, it means the guys that charge (for advertising) make radically larger profits than those who don’t.  The difference you can make on advertising on a per page basis V.S.  A paid subscription on a per basis is 110X, 200X to 1000X.  We see it every day.  The guys who  charge are going to create better content and then they are going to then have more subscribers they have superior business models.  Guys with superior business models win.  What it means are the guys left not charging are screwed. That’s the business model we see trending.  Most advertising is concentrated; most ad revenue goes to the top 50 guys.  What does that mean?  Well that means the long tail, the other 10% is spread thinly across a lot of other sites and they can’t survive.

Merrill Brown: So the takeaway is that if you are launching a content business you better have a subscription strategy or your future is murky. 

Malcolm Casselle: Subscriptions are not the only way to think of it. Premium is another model, there are certain models that you can use to monetize, and advertising is the one people go for.   You see people working with free services, the drop boxes and so forth but we are also seeing it for content.  And I’m really coming in at a content point because I think services people already get.

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr.:  So I agree with some of the things said but I also disagree with many of the things said in terms of having to charge for better content or only the paid content is the best but that’s not a question.

Where I’m coming for on this whole issue and content monetizing is strictly from growing up with the Internet. For example, being on Myspace and starting to avoid the banner ads.  I am not the only one. Eye tracking studies have been done, that show people are avoiding the ads and consistently banner ad engagement has gone down.  Our company Virurl challenging this, it’s taking that banner space that is generally avoided and placing content that does one of two things 1) that informs the audience or 2) entertains the audience and that has been our mission.  We see that as a business model and a great philosophy to base a company on because it’s everlasting. It is not that challenge you can solve overnight.  No company will ever solve it, because predicting what kind of content to suggest is a very complex challenge.

Merrill Brown: To follow up, the premise of your thesis is the old models are broken whether it’s subscription, premium or ad based and it’s something new and different like you’re doing with VIRURL.  It’s where things are going.

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr.: Absolutely.  Content monetization is being reinvented across the board.  The great content for example on Netflix, the house of cards which people are willing to pay for because it’s that premium, it’s that good content and that’s a relatively new way to monetize content which is interesting.  The advertising base content monitization is also changing with companies that are focusing on this native advertising space.

Keyvan Peymani: Right now there is not one thesis that is right. It is really all grays because of the think ecosystem that exists today.  This ecosystem still generates billions of dollars, not only revenues but profits and it works together, it feeds each other.   It’s why so many new business models are hard to get off the ground. It’s hard to get marketing of the ground because you have this entrenched system that feeds each other.   On the flip side, you have what I think is one of the most exciting things coming out of youtube and that is the ability of content generators to start a business. The fact that they can get there and entertain billions of views a week and can engage an audience means that we are in this really fascinating space where you can start to build business models that are on a user generated models.

At the same time the big media companies are trying to figure out how to migrate their current business models.

Thesis:  We are in an environment now where contextualization that leads through engagement that leads to some kind of activation is the fundamental underpinning that is going to drive a business.

Merrill Brown: Please clarify contextualization.

Keyvan Peymani: Three answers I would give to that.  The first is the message must be absolutely targeted.  It’s finding the right person with the message at the moment that they would be inclined to care about the message.  Secondly, contextualization means narrative. Reading a story about a bunch of things and the ad unit is giving you another piece of the story.  And lastly the thing contextualization means to me is business model.

What’s the takeaway from that for the entrepreneurs in the room? I think the take away is you have multiple bites of the apple, you have multiple business models that are built into you system.  You have to measure which ones your user base is actually gravitating towards and measure ruthlessly.

Merrill Brown: Do you think the era of free content is over?

Keyvan Peymani:  I don’t think it’s as black and white, to say that if you’re a (free) content publisher you expect the views to make up for it. But a blogger who gives away all their content today to a massive readership can then turnaround and create a million dollar book deal with Harper Collins tomorrow.  That model for that you could argue was built on free trading. It is really contextualized in the broader sense on how do you plan to drive monetization off your intellectual property if you want to make it just that.

Scott Lenet: My Thesis would be there are two types of content good enough to pay for.  You can make money on all the rest of it.  I think the You Tube example is an interesting one but as a venture capitalist we don’t usually invest in content. It’s an interesting notion.  How do you tell what type of content is good enough.

Merrill Brown: That is an inadequate answer in that it really doesn’t really offer the entrepreneurs in the room or even the panel on what it feels like to you as an investor.  Would you consider investing in something where the publisher has all his or her content free on the web and is dependent on the web?

Scott Lenet: I absolutely would.  The way you describe contextualization is probably exactly the way we think about it. There is an element of a business model, there is a way you can say if there is something that is premium, is a lost leader in some way in order to get to another model.  That is something we can do and have done.  An example I would give is our investment in a company, Boom Studios.  Boom Studios doesn’t give away their content for free, they sell Boom comic books. They are sold digitally on the web. They don’t make a tremendous amount of profit in those comic books. A typical series they might start might be four issues.  Some of them might make money some of them might make a lot of money and some of them might lose a little bit of money or break even.  But when that property then gets marketed in Hollywood as a feature film or television show, bought up and moved through the chain then they can make a lot of money.  That’s the interesting model. You know making movies is like playing lottery.  If someone came to me with a movie script I wouldn’t back that as a venture capitalist but if there is a machine for making great comic books and you will be able to consistently put that machine through the system.  We fund that.

Merrill Brown: Great, Thanks.  A year or two ago the hot buzzword around the world we live in was solomo – social, local, mobile – today the hot word is native advertising. We have to give the group here today a view of native advertising and how we approach it and think about it.  How do you think of native advertising at Mediapass?

Malcolm Casselle: I think of native advertising as part of a supply chain and that we need to figure out the value of that supply chain.

I actually enjoy native advertising.  Native advertising to me is like being at Whole Foods at the checkout counter and clicking on sponsored content. I actually enjoy looking through them.  I click on them much more than I ever would a banner ad.

Scott Lenet: Is native ad advertising in your mind limited to that type of material?

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr: That is not native advertising that is strictly lead generation disguised as native advertising. When I think of native advertising, the best way I can describe it is by providing an example.  It’s an experience.  You bounce around a blog, lets say 3 to 4 different blogs about skiing and you have now learned how to wax your skies, you have seen the ski conditions.  You have done all these things but within a contextual experience.

What you describe is an issue the advertising agencies are having an issue with.  It affects us all within this room, when you are on the internet you see a little thumbnail that you want to click on.  It will show how to stop hair thinning, you click on it read the article and at the end of the article it’s driving you to buy a prescription pill.  So for me that is absolutely the incorrect way to describe native advertising. Its using a lot of the same element where it is trying to blend in with the website but the fundamental it’s breaking all the laws that I believe define native advertising.

Scott Lenet: Do you believe native advertising is like product placement, where it is so deeply embedded its part of another story already.  Where is the line? You cross?

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr.:  Well it’s definitely a murky line and that’s why we brought on Merrill, with his great editorial background to help us navigate those waters.  You know it has to have some taste to it.  Where okay in some cases where there is branded content.  For example we did a campaign for a car company last month, which was a branded travel adventure, and people would naturally want to see that video and share that video. It was the right audience.  Agencies and companies are starting to invest more in content.

Merrill Brown: Scott as the older guy on the panel you might remember when advertisers use to own networks and sponsor programs and you watched the Brystol Myers hour.

Native advertising may be the long waited segway if you will where sponsored programs have a different branding and a different level of engagement with sponsors.  That are we getting there you think.

Scott Lenet: That and the sponsorship model makes a lot of sense for a lot of the content we are talking about compared to what we rationally think of as advertising on the web.  What you guys have all described from banner ads , people clicked on them and after time they monetized.  If you have something like click bait , tricking you into thinking it’s part of the page when it’s really not going to monetize over time.  And that’s going to get higher click rates but not for long because people will figure it out.  But if it is truly embedded and its part of the narrative you describe and it’s contextual then I think it’s more like a sponsorship.  As a business how do you make that scalable and not an incredible effort each time?

Keyvan Peymani: Brands are getting much smarter on how they engage their audience.  I think there is a generational wave of executive chief marketing positions that still believe in brand 101 strategy oppose to those who are much more focused on activating the right individual at the right moment and then drive it to sales.  Basically if you look at entertainment marketing it’s growing very very quickly. Everything is blasted to the community for four million dollars it’s not let’s build that community, feed that community.  We are starting to see that change happen.

Merrill Brown: Do you see the difference between building your brand and exploiting your brand?

Keyvan Peymani: That’s an awesome question and I’m going to give a great answer to that, yes and No! (Laughing) I think building the brand and exploiting the brand are now interlocked in a way they weren’t before.  Because while you’re building the brand and making money off the things you do, you have to be cognizant of the reason in which you are exploiting the brand, impacting the brand you are building.  It’s because of the world we live in; I mean movies open and close on a Friday afternoon now.  It used to be that they had weeks and weeks to run but now we can now tell each other if something sucks or is really a complete sell out.  So you see the pendulum swing were the Kardashian’s build a huge brand exploit it and it backlashes on them … then they figure out maybe they need to re build that brand.  It’s a much more difficult navigation now, as brands can be built faster than ever, that’s the great news but they can also be destroyed faster than ever.  You have to think of both sides as you’re doing it.

Future of Advertising and Content Monetization: part two is coming soon.

VIRURL Chairman Merrill Brown joins DFJ Frontier

VIRURL Chairman Merrill Brown

VIRURL Chairman Merrill Brown

VIRURL Chairman Merrill Brown joins DFJ Frontier as Venture Partner.

From “Los Angeles-based venture capital investment firm DFJ Frontier has significantly bolstered the company’s team, saying Tuesday that it has added Merrill Brown–former founder of MSNBC–as a Venture Partner. DFJ Frontier said that Brown will be based in New York, and will work both on the East Coast and the Northwest. Brown is curerntly at the Montclair State University School of Communication and Media, where he also continue to serve, and prior to that also had served at Journalism Online (acquired by RR Donnelley); Realnetworks; (as Editor in Chief/SVP); and worked withTime Magazine, NBC, Court TV, among other companies and clients. He’s also been involved with such companies as, GoLocal,, and Now Public.”
If you are around Santa Monica this Thursday, May 9th you are welcome to join VIRURL in hosting The Future of Advertising event at cross campus. It should be an exciting panel. More details below:

If you are attending the UCLA Entrepreneurs Association Conference this Friday, May 10th join VIRURL’s CEO Francisco Diaz-Mitoma Jr. in a discussion regarding “How Big Data will Change Business” at 2:00 PM (Room C315).

What startups can learn from Dr. Jerry Buss


Los Angeles Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, 34 years as owner of the NBA team, died at the age of 80

Dr. Jerry Buss’ legendary status on the basketball court can be attributed to a keen sense of business vision and an even greater taste for talent. The sequence of events that lead the Los Angeles Lakers brand into, arguably, the largest sports franchise in history was not luck but a vision of investing heavily in talent early on. Many of the high-stakes moves created by Jerry Buss’ ownership career can be applied to the thriving world of startups.

Do what you love, everything will follow

Born Gerald Hatten Buss, he hailed from Kemmerer, Wyoming. Earning a M.S and Ph.D in physical chemistry by age 24. Following graduation, Buss began teaching at USC to share his knowledge with students. His desire to continue teaching led him to make an invest $1,000 in a West Los Angeles apartment building. It has been reported that Buss believed that the passive income would supplement his teaching income. Realizing that the real estate investment was a good one, Buss began investing more of his attention in the booming real estate market. This small investment eventually turned into a fortune that allowed him to purchase the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and the Los Angeles Forum.


Many times a start up is created with the sole pretense of earning mountain piles of cash. Although sustainability and earnings are important, we’ve seen that startups founded with an undying passion for meaningful change – not cash flipping machines – to be the most successful. When a founder creates a business under the pretense of changing the world- success, traction and money will follow. The challenging part of a startup is not how you spend money when everything is going great but how individuals and teams deal with difficult times. In looking at Dr. Jerry Buss, one can clearly see how an investment to keep doing what he loved, teaching, resulted in an empire being born. A lesson for startups everywhere, following a passion or a meaningful goal assures that your business stays afloat even when it feels like it is sinking.

Build it and they will come

Dr. Buss had an incredible ability to build excitement. He knew that by building the stadium, building the buzz around an all-star team – that fans would follow. In other words, he was excellent at understanding the fans and building traction. Jerry Buss made the world’s jaw drop by paying Magic Johnson a 25-year, $25 million contract. In retrospect it was a great deal but many at the time balked at the price tag. Dr. Buss understood the mechanics of investing in the lineup and turning heads as a result.


The same mechanic often happens in startups and during the hiring process. Many founders find themselves hoarding control or cash during the most important phase of a startup – its creation. Often times, a startup never makes it off the ground because cofounders and early team members can’t agree on a fair share.

An important example from Jerry Buss’ career is to invest in what matters – your team. Buss identified dozens of greats that included Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Although price tags were steep, Dr. Buss invested in top players to ensure his team’s performance.


Dr. Buss said, “I don’t just want winners. I want champions” and these same philosophies bloom from winning startups. The startups that win are the ones that share the pie accordingly, invest heavy in talent with the intent to win.

As people around the world mourn the loss of Hall of Famer Dr. Jerry Buss we also pay tribute to the lessons learned on and off the court. How Dr. Buss built a business, loved by millions, by following his passion and investing heavily in team.

VIRURL Updates, BlogWorld, CES

To start, we have a great announcement – VIRURL has now shared over 4,000,000 sponsored stories successfully.

We’ve made some big changes to help content owners do what they do best – focus on their content. The notable changes are:

  • RSS Ads (read about it on Techcrunch)
  • Daily budget
  • Advanced Scheduling


VIRURL launched RSS ads to make it easier for advertisers to acquire audiences. Now, programmatically every time an advertiser posts a new piece of content – VIRURL monitors RSS feeds and instantly launches a campaign with relevant publishers and influencers.

Daily Budget

To further help advertisers maintain a steady flow of new audiences, we have released the ability to set up a daily budget around a piece of content. For as little as $20 a day – advertisers can now automate a daily stream of new readers and viewers.


Over the last six months many content owners were interested in setting up future campaigns with calendar scheduling. In one session advertisers can create multiple campaigns with different start and end dates.

Going VIRURL at BlogWorld and CES

We gave away $50 in free advertising coupons for new advertisers and onboarded several great influencers and publishers to the platform at BlogWorld. We are more excited than ever to see the tools available for bloggers improving. We expect 2013 to be bigger and better as bloggers try out new services that are designed to make their experience easier.

One thing was crystal clear at CES – gadgets are being designed to better display new formats of content. 3D sans-glasses content, 4K vibrant content and multi-layer displayed content will improve the way we consume entertainment and information.

If you missed our giveaways this time around, make sure you check us out at SXSW.

There were also some notable airwaves on VIRURL in the past few months:

Thanks again for all your continued support. We continue to work hard on shipping product enhancements to make it easier for our publishers to monetize with engaging, relevant sponsored content.

Thanks for reading,

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma, CEO

Is this the Most Insensitive Banner Ad Targeting?

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and those affected in the KC Chiefs community.

Generally, at VIRURL we like to poke fun at banner ads and how ineffective they are. Today, while reading The Guardian I noticed the most insensitive banner ad targeting I had ever seen. I had to do a double take.


Do you think this was a bad coincidence? Or is Fab targeting based on keywords such as fatal, etc? That would be really dark. Comment below.

From an idea to being featured on Cult of Mac.

It is a toss up in the technology startup world between what is the most popular phrase. The prize either goes to:

“what is your mobile strategy?”


“We are (insert industry name here) meets Airbnb”

Mobile is big, duh.

I’m preaching to the choir. We are only where we are because our ancestors moved from place to place. Humans are nomadic. People are mobile, people want to use devices while they are mobile, mobile is big and has room for growth. Don’t believe me? Believe Mary Meeker:

There is a plenty of room for growth.

For the blind, the graph demonstrates the room for growth of the smartphone industry. I am not sure what percentage of this is in developing nations but I am sure much of the room for growth is stemming from that region.

Before you balk at the length of this post. I will give you a summary of what it covers to make sure I don’t waste your time. If I at any point I am wasting your time just click here. 

  1. Why we are a different ad company
  2. Why we had to build a photo/video app to support our ad company
  3. How the world being flat helped us
  4. Discussing the Sponsored Pageflip™
  5. More details if you want to get involved somehow with this revolution

If building a startup … mobile must be, if not a focus, a consideration.

Our company VIRURL does not sleep at night, we promote sponsored content all day and all night long. Our philosophy is very simple – Traditional Banner Ads suck. We hate them with a passion. We protest them. We throw darts at them. During our hiring process we do eyecam tests – if you look at the banners more than 5% of the time – you are not getting the job because you do not hate banners enough.

Our mission is replace these obtrusive traditional banners with a content experience. Firstly, we believe that we can swap traditional banner ads with content ad units that make you smart, make you cry, make you think. Secondly, we believe that ad units should be unobtrusive. They should not suddenly take over your page or auto-play. In our books, these obtrusive ads cannibalize users’ time – the complete opposite of what the internet was created for.

We bought the domain VIRURL in early 2009 (because was sold out) to begin this mission. Soft launched VIRURL in October of 2010 and today we have over 115,000 influencers and publishers distributing great sponsored content. Today we work with a range of content creators seeking to increase the size of their audience – the small mommy bloggers to the leading content creators (ex. VICE, Funny or Die, Sports Illustrated, etc.).

VIRURL connects advertisers, influencers and publishers to distribute sponsored content more efficiently.

Initially VIRURL launched with a web-enabled version of the platform. As we’ve grown in the last couple months, our advertisers have asked about mobile. We were hit with the repeating question “How does VIRURL work on mobile apps?”. In January, our response was “we’re thinking about it”. Fast forward to today and we finally have one small baby step in the right direction with VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ SDK.

Given that our mobile ad unit is non-traditional, we need lots of data in order to refine the experience and in turn the SDK. Creating a crappy mobile app to display our mobile ad unit was not an option. If we were going to build an ad unit in mobile, it had to be elegant, native and most importantly, be held within a great app.

We built a ridiculous app to seriously learn about mobile.

Artsy Head featured on Cult of Mac

Many would called me insane for assigning resources to build a mobile app that was seemingly irrelevant to our core business. After all, Artsy Head is a photo/video app. Cult of Mac describes it as:

“With Artsy Head, you take a photo or video, add sound over the top, and then choose a soundtrack. You can also add one of several styles of mustache right on top of the video as well. Once you take this masterpiece of video and sound, you can share it with your social networks, like Facebook or Twitter, or with the Artsy Head community.”

The excuse for building out Artsy Head was that it is a fresh way to create something different. We all have picture apps, video apps, sound apps but nothing seemed like a good option when wanting to mish mash the three together. I call it an excuse because in the end we probably could have found a developer with a soon to be released app for cheaper and faster. As we know this does not always mean better.

Pain can be good, sometimes.

I had never been heavily involved in designing and developing a mobile app. I did not know the pain points of time, effort, Apple approvals, Apple tracking, contracts, etc. etc. I knew the process because I had read about it but had not experienced it. Big difference.

I’m not claiming to be an expert but now when I speak to mobile developers, I know what it is like. I can somewhat relate. That is a huge part of being able to effectively do business. I have always thought that doing good business is hard for egomaniacs because they cannot seem to relate. Understanding the nuances of the ecosystem, the tools available is critical when entering a market.

Although it may have cost more to develop Artsy Head in-house – it was a road that had a destiny we could control (better). I knew that at some point an app would be on the Apple store market with VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ SDK. If I would have knocked on developers doors, I probably could have secured a few launch partners. The key is the world -probably. And I wouldn’t bet my startup on it.

By being maniacal and creating our own in-house iOS app not only was I able to nearly guarantee that an app would have VIRURL ad technology but I could also gain valuable lessons and pain points about an industry I knew very little about.

The world is flat and really connected.

Going into the whole thing. I knew my budget was razor tight and I had to execute near flawlessly. This project could not detract us from our bread, our live platform with live customers. It had to be a tiger project – one that would operate in a near vacuum from the core VIRURL engineering and management team.

Like most of you, I am a big proponent of social proof. In July 2012, I saw a positive recommendation from one of my LinkedIn contacts to a designer, Boban Pajić. If it were not the inefficiency of PayPal in Serbia we would have been up in minutes. I engaged Boban with an NDA, opened a Moneybookers and began working with Boban within a few hours.

I’m giving an unsolicited review for Boban’s skills. He is a sharp designer, can take words and turn them to art. Efficient, doesn’t disappear and always willing to redesign without complaining.

Even though, I am not a designer, I like to hash out prototypes quickly and have a better artist help me polish the look. Within a few hours, I had mocked up some horrendous designs and Boban clearly improved on them:

Boban is a designer, I am not.

It was not until we had all the designs that VIRURL began developing the designs into a native iOS app. Our iOS mobile engineer, plugs in from none other than beautiful Isreal, world-renowned for many things but amongst others – talented engineers. Now our team was truly operating on a global basis:

Santa Monica, Serbia, Isreal

Obvious to some but not all, the portion of the project that took the longest was optimizing and refining the app. Apparently building an app that lets you take a picture, then erase part of it, then film behind it, then select a song and stitch it together to a community that can support a million people is challenging. It surely is and we invested hundreds of hours refining this and crushing bugs. This apps mission is not done – I’m the first to admit – the app still sometimes crashes and everyone that uses it has a clever feature we should probably support. If you’re alright with that and the fact that it is currently free – you can download it here. Hate mail welcome to

I hope Artsy Head brings thousands (maybe millions) of people entertainment with a new format. After over six months of design, development and testing Artsy Head was accepted into the app market. But more importantly than the fun app, something special for us was packaged inside  – VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™ technology.

The Sponsored Pageflip is our trojan horse. 

If you’re still following me, I congratulate you – I could have never made it this far. Anyway, now it makes sense to backtrack into why we touched mobile in the first place. We don’t like the way most of mobile advertising works. In general, it is a very jarring experience. Picture this – you are sitting down on a Sunday afternoon reading your favorite app, suddenly you see a mobile banner, you click on that, it takes you out of the app, now you’re downloading a new app and by the time the download is done – you’ve forgotten where you were in the first place. The experience is broken.

Artsy Head was released to showcase VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip™. We believe the Sponsored Pageflip™ is an elegant way of displaying recommended content and also an unobtrusive way to advertise if executed correctly. The vision is that – every time a page is flipped the user is happy that they just learnt or felt something, the mobile app developer is happy because they just got paid and the advertiser is happy because they just engaged the right audience in the right way.

Introducing VIRURL’s Sponsored Pageflip

By allowing users to stay in-app viewing recommended content via the Sponsored Pageflip™ we defeat two birds with one stone – we could eliminate the jarring experience of leaving the app and save more real estate on such a small screen.

We’re just getting started.

We will continue building our network of mobile developers and add more great content partners. I know that we didn’t invent the pageflip, I know we didn’t invent the idea of the content network. What keeps me up at night is not knowing that we did or did not invent these things. What keeps me up at night is knowing that our problem of recommending the right content to the right user is infinitely complex and will never completely be solved. Not by us and not by anyone. Therefore, to make the world a better place we must keep improving the way content is recommended – one story, one user, and now, one device at a time.

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma
Virurl Inc., Co-founder and CEO

If there are any developers out there who want to try it out. PM me

How a protest increased our sales by 500%

Are you attending a conference and don’t want to be lost in the crowd? Do you want to be recognized as a rebel with a cause in your industry? Are you trying to balloon your business? Then organizing a peaceful crowd might be in your cards.

guerilla marketing

VIRURL hired 100 actors as banner ad protesters

As a fellow Canadian the last thing I want to do is start a protest in the United States. After all, I have nothing to complain about living in such a great, startup-friendly country. That is what I thought until last week when the marketing geniuses at our startup VIRURL decided that a protest was the best way to get attention at ad:tech, the world’s largest advertising technology conference.

It feels good to say that effective guerilla marketing is not dead – in the last week Forbes, Adotas and Businessweek have featured us. We spent just under $2,000 to pull off the stunt and increased our sales by 500% compared to the previous week (mostly due) to the press we got.

Here is how we pulled it off:


The first step of the entire operation was to figure out how we could cleverly re-associate the protest back to our company. Obviously we had to be careful. We wanted it to be a theme that was relevant but not blatant enough to the point where it could instantly be identified as a company’s PR stunt.

First we thought about dressing everyone up as banner ads. Nope – too expensive. Then we thought about having the protesters storm Javit’s center during Mark Cuban’s keynote. Nope –too risky. We finally agreed that having 100 protesters meet outside the Javit’s center and walk down protesting as the keynotes occurred would be the most impactful.

Legal Mumbo Jumbo

We decided to hire 100 actors and actresses to meet outside of Javit’s center where the conference was occurring. All the actors were contractors and had signed releases so we could use their likeness in photos and videos.


We asked all the protesters to wear green. That didn’t really happen (and we were expecting that). Since the protesters were not going to be doing a flash mob dance we decided to build them banners. We took a $60 shopping spree at Staples the night before and bought:

  • 30 plain white cardboards ($40)
  • 12 permanent wide tip markers ($20)

We then bought a bottle of Macallan Aged 12 years single malt. That was an ‘nice to have during the protest preparations but certainly not a necessity (if you’re over the legal drinking age limit. I definitely recommend it).

We began writing and sketching a bunch of crazy signs. Here is what we came up with:

Finally, we had ordered a battery-powered bullhorn from Amazon. It was powerful enough for a coast guard but a few minutes before the banner protest occurred an officer informed us that battery powered bullhorn use in New York City requires a permit, otherwise you get a fine. Noted and bullhorn discarded.

Time to Protest!

We scheduled the hundred or so actors to meet us at the corner of the convention center. As the actors began congregating on the corner of the street so did the intense gaze from the conference’s security guards. In hindsight, we should have informed the security that VIRURL was A) an exhibitor at ad:tech B) going to be doing a light-hearted stunt peacefully. The looks of the security guards and the ad:tech employees was priceless. There was a general sense of confusion as to why 100 people would be protesting banner ads. It was such a ridiculous and inconceivable theme for protesters to actually get out of bed to complain about.

100 actors met at 8:30 am on Nov. 7th and walked over to the main entrance of the Javits center

Dozens of people fist in the air were calling “death to the banner ad!” and cars were slowing down and honking as we filled the air with protest. Things were beginning to escalate – even though they were trained actors you could feel the energy multiply. It was a first hand experience on how the mob mentality can really get out of control. Keep in mind, these were all trained actors and had the explicit instructions to stay peaceful and obey all laws. I would not recommend launching this kind of stunt with untrained random people. Security was beginning to become aggravated and mentioned that they would be calling the police. During the protest, the security guards at Javit’s center removed my co-founder’s exhibitor pass. At this point we swiftly approached them and said “guys, work at startup and are ad:tech exhibitors, no one is going to get hurt and we will be out of here in 10 minutes.” At this point, the tone completely changed. The ad:tech employee started smiling and overall welcoming of the attention grabbing stunt.

Actors dressed as banner ad protesters marched outside of ad:tech

The Press Aftermath

The press aftermath is the most valuable part of the entire stunt and the main reason for using such a great guerilla-marketing tactic. Prior to the event we messaged dozens of news outlets and reporters not knowing which one would care. Immediately following the protest, a Forbes writer tweeted out an image which was then retweeted by the official ad:tech conference twitter account – giving us exposure we would have never received otherwise.

Our tiny booth in the startup alley at ad:tech that week was flooded with both press and people asking us why we decided to do the protest. The clear answer was “because VIRURL wants to replace spammy banner ads and we thought a protest was the best way to garner attention”.

Here are some additional links covering the protest:

Here is another great shot of the protesters outside of ad:tech (jk)

Advice for those considering crowd marketing:

  1. Make sure you are not breaking any federal, local laws
  2. Get a lawyer to review all the releases and paperwork
  3. Make sure all your actors are aware that it is to remain peaceful
  4. Have an internal security guard that knows exactly what is going down
  5. Have a great photographer on hand to capture the protest
  6. Don’t forget to send the news to the press

Above all stay peaceful, sincerely,

About Francisco Diaz-Mitoma

Francisco Diaz-Mitoma is the CEO and Co-Founder of VIRURL. VIRURL is a content-only ad network that provides distribution for some of the top brands and bloggers on the internet, including Sports Illustrated, VICE and Funny or Die.