People don’t remember facts, figures, numbers, or statistics. But they recall, and spread, stories.
Once upon a time…
Tell me a story…
There’s nothing more central to the human experience than storytelling. Being immersed in a narrative that makes you laugh or cry passes the time, is fun, and makes you want to go out and share the tale, the experience, the pathos, or the humor. People don’t remember facts, figures, numbers, or statistics. But they recall, and spread, stories.
And what’s entertainment—be it a story, a game, a movie, or an episode of a recurring drama—if not content?
As digital marketing became mainstream, so did marketing campaigns that engaged, intrigued, and entertained Internet users. One landmark example was Burger King’s Subservient Chicken. Without mentioning Burger King at all, the quirky, bizarre, and not a little perverse website featured someone wearing a giant chicken suit that obeyed (almost) any command a user typed into a text box (see Figure 5.1) with the tag line “Chicken the way you like it.”
The campaign went mega-viral. Millions of consumers spent thousands of hours telling the chicken what to do. Sales of Burger King’s TenderCrisp sandwich spiked during the campaign.
Another highly successful early example of entertainment content was American Express’ heralded Seinfeld/Superman campaign. The online component derived from a series of commercials starring Jerry Seinfeld and his friend, the animated Superman, and were directed by Barry Levinson (see Figure 5.2). Online, the campaign expanded. Not only could the amusing commercials be viewed in their entirety, but users could watch behind-the-scenes production footage, tour Jerry’s apartment, send e-cards, play a sing-along game, and have other interactive adventures that take advantage of the digital medium. The campaign grabbed headlines and talk show appearances by its stars, sparking buzz and conversation—and it lives on nearly a decade later on the dedicated website, as well as on YouTube.
So successful was Jerry Seinfeld as a shill for American Express that a couple of years later Microsoft hired him to appear in another series of humorous web-only videos, co-starring with Microsoft founder Bill Gates (see Figure 5.3). Like the American Express spots, as well as Burger King’s, the sell was a soft one. In this case, Microsoft wasn’t even mentioned, merely represented by Gates’ presence. Although the spots were web-only, the publicity value of the duo was enough to warrant plenty of pickup in mainstream print and broadcast media.
And no, you don’t have to be a star to create successful, engaging, creative marketing content. You don’t even have to have the budget to hire one. Case in point: Blendtec.
Tom Dickson, the high-end blender manufacturer’s CEO, bought a white lab coat, a pair of goggles, and a URL: www.willitblend. com. Total investment: $1,000. Dickson noticed that every time he jammed a 2 × 2 board into a blender to test it, people in the plant would stop what they were doing to watch. He figured this might translate to the web. Over the years, and always under the motto, “Don’t try this at home,” Dickson has blended iPhones, iPads, a crowbar, glow sticks, cameras, running shoes, a can of pork and beans, a video camera…you get the idea (see Figure 5.4).
Sales of Dickson’s blenders rose more than 700%.
Will It Blend has been on every list of the top viral videos every week for years. The campaign has spawned literally hundreds of millions of views and is so popular that Blendtec is actually selling its marketing. Viewers find what’s essentially an advertisement for Blendtec—Dickson doing product demonstrations—so entertaining that they’re willing to shell out $10 to buy a DVD compilation of the episodes. In other words, the campaign, which regularly rolls out new episodes of Dickson pulverizing stuff in Blendtec blenders, is also keeping the brand top-of-mind for consumers who may not be in the market for a blender today, but who will certainly be thinking of his products the next time they’re ready to buy a blender. They’ve become fans, and the product isn’t only demonstrably effective, it also has a personality.
It bears mentioning that Blendtec’s content marketing doesn’t begin and end with its YouTube channels and WillItBlend.com. That site links to Blendtec.com (and vice versa, of course), where visitors can find not only blenders, but also demonstration videos, recipes, installation tips, and more.
Online video is clearly one of the best channels for content that entertains and engages and that gets passed along. There are dozens more examples of viral (and business) success:
- IBM has a YouTube channel dedicated to entertaining and funny videos around (of all things) mainframe computers entitled Mainframe—The Art of the Sale.
- Dove’s Pro Aging campaign was a runaway success.
- The Old Spice Guy rocketed actor Isaiah Mustafa to fame.
- Ikea produced a popular series around the concept “Easy to Assemble.” It also created an amazing video of what happens when you release dozens of cats in a UK store.
- Not long ago, Air New Zealand put an in-flight safety video starring exercise guru Richard Simmons online. Within hours, it was the most-tweeted video in the world, and it had racked up more than a million views.
Video isn’t the only way to entertain, of course. Take Woot, the online deal-a-day retailer that rose to prominence—and an acquisition by Amazon—through its ingenious use of content to tell stories around rather mundane products. On any other website, a recent T-shirt offered for sale might have been described as “Black & white print design on a navy shirt. Sizes: S, M, L, XL.”
Here’s how Woot describes this perfectly mundane product.
WE’RE GONNA GO THE DISTANCE, MANDI. WE’RE GONNA MAKE IT.
It’s the Senior Spring Formal, babe. We’ve been through a lot of crazy stuff, you know? Like that time my buddy Jason ate 10 Double Decker Tacos at the Taco Bell. Or that time I accidentally spilled root beer in your mom’s Civic. Wow. It seems like just yesterday we were nervous about our locker assignments as Freshmen, but that was three whole years ago.
So here’s what I wanted to say, baby. I love you. I want to be with you. And I know that no matter where life takes us, even though we know you’re going to go to NYU or something and become a fashion designer or the next Lady Gaga and I’m going to win a national championship at a big state school before playing shortstop for either the Giants or the Cubs depending on who offers me more money, we’re going to be together forever. That’s why even though we’re only 17 I’m pledging my eternal love and devotion. Forever.
And that’s why I think we should do it.
What? Where are you going? Come on! Oh my god the guys totally said you’d react this way. What?! Only Ryan and Jason and Tim and Suraj and the other Ryan and Scott. Oh like you don’t talk about me with your friends. You are so selfish! I swear, we’ve been going out for like three WEEKS and I don’t have one braggable sexual conquest yet! This is ridiculous!
Yeah? Well I hate you anyway! You’re so stupid! And everyone thinks I can do better than you anyway, I don’t know why I even stuck around! Yeah, we’ll see what your best friend Jill thinks! I’M TEXTING HER RIGHT NOW YOU STUPID JERK! I want my jacket back AND my Green Day CD. I was a fool to think you’d ever truly understand those lyrics on the level I do. Whatever! I HOPE YOU HAVE THE WORST SENIOR YEAR EVER! I HOPE YOU DIE!
Awwwww, baby. See what you do to me? See how much I love you?
Wear this shirt: If you’re on a mission to complete the “My wardrobe is entirely by patrickspens” set.
Don’t wear this shirt: If you’re seriously planning on marrying your high school sweetheart.
This shirt tells the world: “Slow down, Sparky. Some of us have better plans.”
We call this color: We’ll get married as soon as I get my first shore leave from the Navy.
Design Placement: Centered
3X – S: 11.00″ × 18.99″
WXL – WS: 8.25″ × 14.24″
K12 – K4: 7.09″ × 12.25″
Pantone Colors: White – 284C
Please check our sizing chart before you order. The Woot Tee follows a classic closer-fitting style. If you prefer a baggier look, order a larger size. If there is not a larger size, consider starting a belly-hanging-out trend.
This kind of out-there copy isn’t a new idea. You might recall the old print J. Peterman catalogue, now online as well, in which every garment was described by a story. A plain cotton nightshirt on the site is named after Marie Antoinette; the copy that describes it is less a tale of a plain white cotton nightshirt, and more a fable of the life of a queen ruling over the court of Versailles.
Enticing people to buy into a story instead of just a T-shirt or nightshirt works. It gives them a reason to spend time with your brand and products. It gives the brands’ and the products’ personalities, identities, and stories. It makes people dream—even eagerly anticipate—your next catalog or ecommerce offering.
Don’t believe me? Believe the hundreds of thousands of customers who may not have tuned in to Comcast’s commercials but who are now eagerly awaiting delivery of their fictitious product, the hottest new pet out there: “petite lap giraffes,” as shown in Figure 5.5.
Those old, turn-of-the-century Sears catalogues have long been referred to as the “dream books” or “wish books” of an earlier America. Consumption patterns may have evolved, but basic human nature—the desire to become immersed in compelling, funny, fantastic, or exciting stories—is as strong as ever.