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FutureNow Article
Tuesday, Jun. 17, 2008

3 Things Viral Videos Must Do to Make Money

By Jeff Sexton
June 17th, 2008

viral marketing best practicesDave Young’s post about Microsoft’s “Inspiration, anyone?” video, and your comments, inspired a few thoughts about how to get a proper return on investment with viral videos.

Viral videos are, by nature, non-targetable. The message can be targeted, but the delivery is meant to spread in an out-of-control and, well, viral manner. But that’s OK since optimizing the message (e.g., with persona-based messaging) is usually far more effective than trying to control who actually ends up seeing your viral video.

We also need to be careful with the term “successful”. How are we defining success? If a video spreads virally but delivers no benefit to the creator or business, should that be considered a success? I would say no, it’s not. Accordingly, the only successful viral videos I have seen are the “Will it Blend?” videos by Blendtec.

But don’t take my word for it; watch this video to see if an iPhone will blend:

Impressive, isn’t it?

Not only did these videos go viral, but, according to Blendtec’s founder, they brought qualified buyers to the company’s website and drove sales.* Now that’s impressive.

So, here are three must-do ideas to consider before trying this at home:

1.) Viral Videos Must Remain “On-Message.” Yes, they have to be funny, amusing, insightful and wow-inspiring to “go viral,” but the those qualities have to be organic or intrinsic to the commercial message. The humor can’t be gratuitous.

The great Bill Bernbach once said…

Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are not right if in your ad you stand a man on his head just to get attention. You are right if [it’s done to] show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.

Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics is not being creative. The creative person has harnessed his imagination. He has disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every word he puts down, every line he draws, every light and shadow in every photograph he takes makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original them or product advantage he has decided to convey.

Exactly. The Blendtec videos are ABOUT the product: blenders.

2.) Videos work better as part of a campaign… rather than as a single, one-off event. There are at least 10 Blendtec commercials that I’m aware of, and, when they first came out, I probably watched five or six of them. That repetition of message compounded the effectiveness of both the viral spreading and the intended message. If you’re planning a viral campaign, do yourself a favor and plan it as an actual campaign, i.e., as a series of videos.

3.) Know WHERE and HOW your videos fit into the customer’s buying process… and plan accordingly. Watching the “Will it Blend” videos probably isn’t enough to get anyone to immediately buy the product, but it will put Blendtec on a customer’s short list the next time they’re in the market for a high-powered blender. That means their website has to pick up where the videos left off. That means the website has to be findable.

Notice that Blendtec also has a domain set up and has done the SEO work to be the first organic result when the titles of their videos are typed into Google. Notice that Blendtec has not assumed that anyone will be paying enough attention to learn the name of their company. (Viewers are most likely remember the name of the videos themselves. Prepare for that.)

The Microsoft campaign that Dave wrote about doesn’t play by these rules, and almost certainly isn’t as effective as the Blendtec series. Try it for yourself: Google “The Break Up” or “Inspiration, Anyone?” You’ll find the videos, but not any websites where Microsoft even has a chance to convert interest into business.

. .

*UPDATE: Word of Mouth marketing expert Andy Sernovitz reports that Blendtec’s sales increased 500% as a result of their “Will it Blend” campaign.

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Comments (14)

  1. Another great article, Jeff.

    Many of these viral videos end up like those TV commercials for banks and insurance cos. Very funny, entertaining, but afterwards you can’t remember which bank – or maybe it wasn’t even a bank after all. Or was it a hospital plan ?

  2. True ‘dat

  3. very impressive!!!

  4. UPDATE: Word of Mouth marketing expert Andy Sernovitz reports that Blendtec’s sales increased 500% as a result of the “Will it Blend” campaign.


  5. John is right on the money here. If you don’t reinforce your brand when you make entertaining commercials, you have not had a successful campaign even if you have had millions of downloads.

    My favorites include the Garmin Christmas commercials, and the Mac vs. PC commercials.

    Vi Wickam
    Online Marketing for Small Business

  6. Wow!
    I liked this video. :)
    It’s a kind of “must see” :)

  7. This is one of the few videos that actually work with the brand.

  8. Blendtec now has a worldwide known brand because of these videos. And for what, they probably ate through a few blenders, didn’t hire any expensive actors, and probably had a heck of a lot of fun!

    Of course, it follows human nature to enjoy watching things be destroyed. A demolition company could probably make similar videos. Unfortunately not all of us have products which can destroy stuff. =)

  9. Viral videos are lucrative and can be a huge springboard for any site or product but they are also tough to make without being too corny.

  10. Any ideas on how to use the hits info to drive eg sales? Who and why view’d? Of these who and why bought? Powerful info if you can build profiles for your product.

  11. Thank you Jeff Sexton for great article. Videos are always most useful for promoting our products online. Video shown in article is simply superb.

  12. our products online nature to enjoy watching view’d? Of these who and why destroyed. A demolition company Videos are always most useful for things be to drive eg sales? Who and why promoting

  13. Blendtec’s idea is absolutely genius. I could imagine other people in the marketing department being like, “durr let’s do something boring.” But they create these videos which are hilarious and actually interesting — AND which actually demonstrates how effective their product is.

  14. This is exactly the type of article I was looking for. What’s the point of a viral video if it’s not part of a larger message or purpose? Thanks for sharing.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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