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Viral Video: Get Ready for Your Close-up

"Will it Blend?" from Blendtec and three more case studies of viral-video marketing success.

Your product doesn't have to be as visually appealing as, say, a Ford model to benefit from a snazzy viral video. It can be something as mundane as a blender, in fact. That's the lesson one can learn from the unlikely success of Tom Dickson. The CEO of Blendtec, a maker of commercial blenders based in Orem, Utah, has used a series of videos showing his appliances pulverizing marbles, golf balls, and cigarette lighters to turn his business into something of a household name. In one memorable spot, he takes an iPhone, throws it in his blender, and watches approvingly as it disappears in a puff of black smoke. The catchphrase "Yes, it blends!" then appears on the screen. Since the video series debuted on YouTube, retail sales of the company's blenders have grown fivefold, to an estimated $10 million, up from $2 million in 2006. The original run of five videos cost only $50 to produce and has been viewed more than 35 million times on YouTube.

Blendtec's success is exceptional, of course, but many companies are finding Web video an attractive marketing medium. Unlike basic banner ads, videos can use evocative music or comic timing to convey a message. They are cheap to produce and easy to distribute for free. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last year that 19 percent of Internet users watch videos online every day, and most of them share videos with others. Commercial videos are no less popular than the funny clips that dominate YouTube. Ads featuring videos garner much higher click-through rates than ads with text or graphics, according to DoubleClick, the online ad company. Ford may be the model, in other words, but there are many examples of marketers using video in a smart way. To wit:

RJE BUSINESS INTERIORS Indianapolis

The company: A $26 million supplier of office furniture to corporate clients in Indiana

The goal: To get more people to open the company's e-mail newsletter, which is sent to 1,500 clients every eight weeks. "I saw it as an opportunity to make our company come alive, to get people to say, 'Boy, this group is creative,' " says owner and president Denny Sponsel.

The videos: RJEFurn.com has a six-episode "reality series" showing the company's employees installing furniture, extolling one another's virtues, and performing community service.

Cost to produce: $25,000 for six five-minute videos. Each took half a day to shoot.

The results: E-mail open rates are now 30 percent, compared with 20 percent before the video series started a year ago, and revenue has increased 22 percent, Sponsel says.

PERSONALITY HOTELS San Francisco

The company: A group of seven boutique hotels

The goal: To improve conversions--the rate at which people who visit the hotel chain's website, personalityhotels.com, make a reservation. "I wanted website visitors to see that there was a strong personality behind the company and give them a feel for the design and detail that goes into each hotel," says CEO Yvonne Lembi-Detert.

The video: Lembi-Detert takes viewers on a five-minute tour of the company's hotels. She also rides a cable car and meditates.

Cost to produce: $10,000, for four days of filming, scripts, makeup, music, and editing

The results: Since the video went live last summer, reservations are up more than 5 percent over the same period last year. "Guests come up to me in the lobby and say, 'Hi, Yvonne; how are you? We met you on the video,' " says Lembi-Detert. "In the hospitality business, that is a home run."

GDIAPERS Portland, Oregon

The company: A $2 million a year distributor of eco-friendly diapers. The company sells through Gdiapers.com and retailers, including Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI).

The goal: To explain the diapers' reusable nylon pants and biodegradable liners. "Video is the perfect vehicle to get across the idea of how to use the product and the environmental impact," says co-founder Jason Graham-Nye.

The videos: A series of four. Three of them show consumers how to put the diapers on a baby, how to flush them, and how they break down once they are flushed. A fourth introduces customers to the co-founders and their young son Harper.

Cost to produce: A filmmaker made the videos for $5,000.

The results: Revenue doubled last year, and Graham-Nye says the videos are among the most popular features of the company's site.

  • A podcast draws more listeners as part of a monthly or a weekly series than as a lone effort.
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