Staples was founder and chief executive of Converge Studios in Marina del Rey, which did marketing for brands such as Verizon Communications in New York and celebrities such as singer Rihanna. Manwaring also headed his own company, Consulting Virality in Provo, Utah, a marketing firm for YouTube videos.

Staples and Manwaring merged their companies into Contagious. Then Reed, a Hollywood film producer, joined.

They wouldn’t disclose revenue or rates, but said clients would spend about the same on a yearlong YouTube campaign as they would on a TV commercial, about seven figures.

Last week, the firm launched a campaign for the Colon Cancer Alliance in Washington, D.C. The non-profit asked Contagious to help it create a video encouraging people to get screened for colon cancer.

The agency hired comedian Jack Vale, known for his hidden-camera and prank videos on YouTube.

The three-minute video features Vale posing as a doctor and telling patients coming out of anesthesia from a colonoscopy that random objects such as car keys were found in their colon. The agency promoted the video to media outlets last week and in the first three days it had more than 650,000 views.

What might be a great television commercial might not translate well on YouTube.

This is important if a brand wants to achieve organic views, meaning views they don’t pay for. Paying for views is a common practice in new media. Some ad agencies will purchase millions of views to make a video appear more attractive to consumers, who will watch it thinking that it’s popular.

Contagious said it doesn’t purchase views for any of its campaigns and it also does not purchase ad space on YouTube.

Despite his skepticism, Ignited’s Johnson said he also believes other firms will try to follow the Contagious model.

“Oftentimes it’s easier to treat YouTube as a media buy then it is to go and work with a creative team … because YouTube works so differently,” he said. “So, in theory, I think we’re going to see more firms trying to bridge the gap.”