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Right now, I, like 20,000 others, are watching the cutest Web site in the world, the Shiba Inu Puppy Cam on Ustream.
It's simplicity itself: a webcam trained on the sleeping area where a litter of 6 Shiba Inu puppies are growing up.
Yet it's currently averaging a viewership that's about 1/10th the audience of CNBC, a major cable channel that took a decade to build. The Puppy Cam built its audience in two weeks.
It's an amazing success story...the puppies have captivated the world, appearing on the Today Show, in People Magazine, and even in Murdoch's Sun. Just check Google News for "Shiba Inu" and be amazed.
Or better yet, check out the Google Trends graph for "shiba inu":
But while there is a very simple explanation for this (puppies are cute), the Puppy Cam also teaches us a number of important lessons about PR.
1) Start with something genuinely remarkable.
Just look at those puppies. My God. People aren't tuning in for hours each day because of the hype--it's because anyone who sees those puppies and doesn't say, "Awwwwwww" is soul-crushingly dead on the inside. Sorry Ramit, no offense.
2) Recognize what's the real story.
Imagine trying to sell your editor on the headline, "Puppies Are Cute." The real story here isn't the puppies, it's the massive, authentic reaction of the viewing public. The story is how many people are tuning in, their addiction, and the resulting media reaction.
If you started your own Beagle Puppy Cam today, the greatest PR firm in the world couldn't get you coverage, because the Puppy Cam isn't the story--the reaction of people to the Puppy Cam is.
3) PR can amplify excitement, but it can't create it.
We tend to give PR too much credit. Force-feed the viewing public something enough times, the reasoning goes, and they will inevitably succumb.
But this just doesn't work. PR can amplify natural excitement, it can't create it. Just ask Pia Zadora or Angelyne. Who are they? Precisely.
The Puppy Cam works because it was an organic groundswell of enthusiasm. Compare this to the launch of Justin.TV, where every news organization in the country rushed to write about this latest evolution in voyeurism (and how boring it was). After the most hyped launch I can remember (Leno and Today in the same week?!), Justin was averaging about 400 viewers.
4) Leave 'em wanting more.
The Puppy Cam is full of mysteries that encourage speculation. Who are the people behind the Puppy Cam? You never see their faces, just their hands and legs. Even in the interviews, the owners have asked to remain anonymous.
Similarly, the Puppy Cam is scheduled to end in a matter of weeks...the puppies have already been promised to homes, and the fact that they are now international celebrities won't stop them from being sent to loving families.
Leaving people wanting more keeps you from become an overexposed joke (I'm talking about you, Joe the Plumber. You too, Donald Trump.), and sets things up nicely for the future. I eagerly look forward to the inevitable sequel: "Puppy Cam: The Next Litter."
I for one welcome our impossibly cute puppy overlords.
* Disclosure: I am an investor in and shareholder of Ustream.tv. Not only that, I own a half-Shiba, which means I'm doubly delighted by all the attention these pups are getting--I no longer have to explain to everyone what a Shiba Inu is!