It used to be that only big companies with big budgets and professional videographers could use video for advertising. Now nearly anyone with a smartphone can make great videos, and nearly everyone has access to a high-speed internet connection and a device where they can watch videos any time. Furthermore, video is usually much more engaging than long pages of text. Because of this democratization of video, we’ve seen a huge tectonic shift towards video marketing.
There is no other form of communication that trumps in person, face-to-face communication, but that kind of communication isn’t always possible. Video is the next best option. It allows us to closely replicate face-to-face communication in many ways. We can see facial expressions and body language and bring those elements into the conversation in a scalable way. According to HubSpot, 78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day. Some would even say that video is better than face-to-face communication because videos can be recorded once, uploaded to the Internet, and then be available nearly any time anywhere. This can give video communication much more reach than face-to-face communication, which is limited by our location and our time. Because of this reach and engagement of video, it is a force multiplier.
In this episode, I interviewed Benton Crane, who is the CEO of Harmon Brothers, the ad agency behind the most viral ads in internet history. In 2011, he was hired by Deloitte where he served as a consultant with various clients across the national intelligence community. He was the co-founder of VidAngel. In 2013, Benton joined the newly formed Harmon Brothers for a campaign to promote Poo-Pourri, an amazing ad that transformed the way products are marketed. Harmon Brothers went on to produce the most viral ads in internet history including Squatty Potty, FiberFix, Orabrush, Purple, and Poo-Pourri.
Success with Poo-Pourri
The founder of Poo-Pourri saw what Jeff Harmon, a friend of Benton’s and the future co-founder of Harmon Brothers, had done with Orabrush and reached out to him. He didn’t take her seriously at the time, and she ended up sending samples to Jeff, and he really liked the samples. He called Benton, telling him that he was thinking about leaving Orabrush to do the Poo-Pourri campaign. Benton wanted to be a part of it because he had seen what they were doing at Orabrush and knew they were pioneering the future of advertising. He told Jeff to let him join up and he’d bring the data analytics side of the venture.
Benton left his stable job and moved his family across the country to work on this ad campaign. When the ad was ready, the first people he showed it to were his in-laws. They were appalled. They didn’t laugh, and they didn’t crack a smile. So Benton turned it off two minutes into the video, knowing that they weren’t going to find it funny if they hadn’t already. Luckily, the public reception was the exact opposite of how his in-laws had reacted. They ate it up and it took off like wildfire. Poo-Pourri’s videos have now been viewed more than 350 million times collectively.
Use Video to Tell a Story in a Unique and Approachable Way
Squatty Potty was already a successful business when Harmon Brothers started doing their ad campaign; they were earning around $4 million per year. However, a large portion of their customers were women around 55 or older who had often embarrassing medical conditions. They were ashamed to talk about the Squatty Potty as a solution to their problems, and they would hide it away in the master bathroom. So Benton and his coworkers were faced with the question of how to make this taboo thing into something safe, something that could be talked about and laughed about.
They realized that in order to talk about this product they couldn’t use anything real for the ad otherwise it would be seen as disgusting. So they came up with ice cream and the mythical unicorn and set it in a medieval land with a prince to further remove it from reality. They designed the unicorn to be cute and cuddly to make it approachable. In doing all these things, they took the taboo and grossness out of the subject and turned it into something funny.
After the ad went viral, their customers no longer had to hide the Squatty Potty in the master bathroom; they could put it in their guest bathroom and it would turn into a funny topic of conversation. Harmon Brothers used video to tell the story in a unique and funny way that made it safe and approachable. It massively expanded the audience of customers to whom Squatty Potty could sell these stools, and it fundamentally changed the business and the owners’ lives while making customers’ lives better.
Pioneer the Video Ad Skip Button with YouTube
More than 1.9 billion people, one-third of the internet, use YouTube (YouTube). Before Google bought YouTube, no one saw it as an advertising platform. It was just a place where people could share things like funny cat videos. Google bought it and turned it into a place for advertising. Now we can use this platform where people are finding joy to reach more customers through the ads before videos.
Around the same time Google bought YouTube, Benton’s business partner, Jeff Harmon, created an ad that was about two and a half minutes long, but ads back then were either thirty-second TV ads or thirty-minute infomercials. Everyone was telling him this ad was too long, but he had an idea. He went to YouTube and said, “I want to try something out. Can you give me a skip button for this ad, so that people who want to watch the ad can and those that don’t want to don’t have to?” YouTube agreed to test this out, and they built in a skip button. This idea completely revolutionized the way we do ads.
Don’t Rely on Virality
The Harmon Brothers are known as the viral video guys, but really only a handful of their videos have gone viral. If you look at all the different variations of the Squatty Potty video, it has been viewed about 300 million times. However, it probably would have reached only ten to fifteen million views if they had just put it out there and relied on the virality of it.
The Harmon Brothers rely on a formula that says if their clients spend a dollar to drive advertising to this video, they should get back two dollars in revenue. It becomes a machine: money in, revenue out, at the same time generating awareness for the company. They can use that machine for weeks, months, or years to drive business results and awareness. This advertising model is how the Purple mattress video has been viewed over 500 million times, while never going viral.
If we can get our ROAS (return on ad spend) to be double or triple what our advertising cost is, then we really don’t have an advertising budget. We can have an almost unlimited advertising budget because we know that for each dollar we spend we get our money back and make a profit.
Building an Effective Video Script
An effective script will have all the elements of a great sale: a hook, problem, solution, and call to action. It will build credibility, overcome concerns, and finish with another call to action. The hook is very important; 33% of viewers will stop watching a video after 30 seconds, 45% by one minute, and 60% by two minutes (Ad Age).
The Harmon Brothers teach how to do research and behind the scenes work to make sure the right pieces end up in the script. The way to make sure the script is really effective is through research. We can ask ourselves, “What part of my message is it that really resonates with my audience?” Once we know the answer we must make sure the script focuses on the parts that resonate.
“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” -Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author
Focus Our Time on Things We Love
One day when Benton was in high school, he was venting to his dad about how he wasn’t finding school fulfilling. He felt like he was wasting his time and that high school was just daycare for teenagers. He wanted to be doing something more, something that he cared about. Benton expected his dad to say, “Stick it out. School is important,” but his dad didn’t. He said, “If you’ve got a problem with it, do something about it. If you don’t like school, leave. Go do something better.”
His dad’s answer was like a slap across his face that woke him up. He started questioning what he wanted to be doing with his life, and the answer he came to was cars; working on cars was the thing in his life that he was most passionate about. He was always buying old cars, fixing them up, and selling them. He read every issue of Motor Trend magazine from cover to cover because he loved cars.
So Benton dropped out of high school and enrolled in the automotive repair courses at a local college. He absolutely loved it there. A professor saw his passion and urged him to compete. Benton did, winning at the school level, then the state level, and eventually they sent him to Kansas City where he took second place at the national level.
From an outside viewpoint dropping out of high school seemed like throwing away a great opportunity and promising future and pursuing a dead-end career in repairing cars. In reality, though, instead of just going through the motions, he was pursuing his passion that was lighting a fire in him and causing him to excel.
Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode.
1. Video marketing is a massive tectonic shift, and a huge opportunity for our businesses if we leverage it effectively.
2. We may consider using video to tell the ad’s story in a unique and funny way that makes the product or service safe, fun, and approachable.
3. Try to create a viral ad, but don’t rely just on virality. Instead, try to create an advertising money machine that earns you a profit on each dollar you spend, and gives you an almost unlimited advertising budget.
4. Ask “What part of my message is it that really resonates with my audience?” Make sure the script focuses on the parts that resonate.
5. Focus your time on the things you love, and your chance of excelling will increase.
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