A few years ago I presented a forward thinking proposal to a very large company. In this proposal we explained how, if the company created compelling enough content, our ‘advertising’ could actually generate revenue, or at least help pay for itself. We were called naive, and scoffed out of the room.
I’ll never forget that presentation. It was demoralizing to realize that one of the biggest companies in the world was so far behind in their thinking. They risked never catching up to their future customers— becoming extinct by their own hands.
I was reminded of this presentation when I read in the WSJ that Blendtec has been making a profit ($18,000 US to date) on their own home-grown marketing campaign. Will It Blend, a short viral series that blends and destroys everyday household objects, started with a mere 50 bucks and a great idea. How’s that for turning traditional marketing on its head? And did I mention they don’t have an ad agency?
The iPhone Will It Blend video has had well over 1 million views in its first 2 days!
Companies (like Novell) are paying upwards of $5,000 for product placement or short infomercials in the Blendtec videos. Sometimes Tom Dickson (Chief Blender and CEO) sells the blended objects on ebay. At the time of this writing, the blended iPhone is going for $660 (more than the iPhone unblended!), but that also includes a blender, a DVD of their first 50 videos and an autographed “Tom Dickson is my Homeboy” T-Shirt (which are also for sale on their site).
Blendtec is about viral video revenue sharing, DVDs, T-Shirts, ebay, product placement, interviews on variety shows… and, oh yeah, blenders. The question that most marketing people ask is “Will it sell?” According to George Wright, the Marketing Director/Genius behind the Will It Blend idea, sales were up 43% in 2006 alone. He explains the phenomenon to the WSJ:
Start with your target customers. You want to have something that’s fun for the people who buy your products. You just need to find the communities you want to focus on and find something that will be appealing to the people in that community, and you will have success.
When things like Will It Blend come along, and kick everyone in the ass, including ad agencies, I can’t help but smile. I’ve been using Blendtec as an example of alternative marketing for almost a year, explaining in lectures how they created a viral video juggernaut by following a few simple steps echoed by Josh Bernoff’s article for Forrester:
- It’s funny. It’s visually arresting. It’s short. These are three qualities your videos must possess. Here’s another company that also succeeded with a visually arresting video: Ray-Ban.
- It’s authentic. These guys are geeks. Wright told me the CEO — Tom Dickson, who’s featured in the video — is an engineer. It comes across. This stuff ain’t slick, folks, and if it were it wouldn’t work. (I love the proud and cheesy smile while he watches his company’s blender reduce some object to dust.)
- It’s original. Figure out what your unique value is. Then film it and put it up there. Don’t copy Blendtec, or Ray-Ban, or Dove. This may be the hardest part.
- It actually connects to the value of the product. You see these videos and you can’t help saying “Can that blender really do that? Maybe I should get one.” And many people do. You could be a hit on YouTube with a video that doesn’t connect to the value of your product, but that will help your ego a lot more than your sales.
Number one I revise to say that it “evokes an emotional response.” Funny is good. But you can also be touching, provocative, or shocking to the same effect.
Number 2 and 3, Authenticity and Originality are crucial points. The video needs to be honest, and it needs to be something new. If it’s not something new, like a spoof, then it just needs to be done in a new way. That’s still originality.
Number four is the most important of them all, because without a connection to the value of your product, it will be just another silly video that people share and forget about. (Look at Bridezilla as the perfect example of this. Does anyone remember that this video was for Sunsilk?) This is where real brainstorming, or perhaps just a brainflash, comes in.
George Wright noticed sawdust on the floor of the Blendtec testing rooms because Tom Dickson was testing their industrial blenders in unconventional ways. George envisioned a niche audience that might appreciate these experiments, and he was absolutely right. It’s hard to believe, but Blendtec has made blenders cool for men. Every guy I’ve asked who has seen one of these videos claims to want one. Now whether that’s to help out in the kitchen or to reduce found objects to dust, that is the question.