Using Humor as a Weapon of Mass Distraction

by Carl Weiss

Being an Internet authority means speaking in front of groups of business people from time to time.  Whether the topic du jour is related to search engine marketing, blogging for business, social networking or the ins and outs of pay-per-click matters not.  What is a certainty is that as soon as the presentation is finished I will find myself buttonholed by someone who wants to know the secret of success online.  It’s as if my dissertation was meant to be an appetizer and the real meat and potatoes of online marketing could only be revealed to those bold enough to corner me after the fact.  “Okay, you got me.  If you really want to generate a million clicks, this is what you have to do...” As much as I wish there were three-magic-beans that could magically transform a stale web presence into a rock star, for the most part there is no such animal.  (As I like to point out to a number of people, I am a technician, not a magician.)

Image representing OraBrush as depicted in Cru...
That being said, the closest I have come to pulling a rabbit out of my hat during my presentation revolves
around a real rags to online riches story involving a product that I would say was least likely to succeed: The Orabrush.  Invented by a tinkerer by the name of Dr. Bob Wagstaff, the Orabrush is not a toothbrush.  It’s the world’s first tongue brush.  After spending tens of thousands of dollars to invent, manufacture and promote the Orabrush, all that Doctor Bob had to show for his efforts was a $40,000 hole in his pocket and about a hundred orders.  (At $3 per unit, you do the math.)

With his business circling the drain and time running out he was desperate to find a way, any way, to turn the tide and produce some sales.  This is where Jeffrey Harmon, a local college student entered the picture.  After listening to Bob wax poetic about the virtues of the Orabrush coupled with the fact that he had little left to spend on additional marketing, Jeff came back with what we in the marketing business refer to as a Hail Mary.

“Why not create and post a funny video on YouTube,” Jeff said.

“How much will that set me back?” Dr. Bob asked.

“Five hundred bucks.”

While I wasn’t there to witness the conversation, from experience I can tell you the thought process going round and round in Dr. Bob’s head...”Let’s see, I’m down forty grand and the Indians are circling the wagon.  What to do?  What to do?”

As you guessed, any shot is better than no shot at all, so Bob gave Jeff the green light and they created the first Orabrush promo on YouTube. (Below is an excerpt from their website to tell you the rest.)

Why read when you can watch our TV Show?

Shot in a makeshift studio in the neighborhood pool hall (listen closely and you can hear the balls cracking in the background), the video went viral, rocketing to 16 million views. After the explosive reaction to their first video, Harmon took on the role as Chief Marketing Officer and began creating regular webisodes, introducing new characters like Morgan, the dirty tongue. Harmon then used YouTube video ads to reach more people and grow their fan base. The “Cure Bad Breath” videos built a loyal following, and their YouTube channel grew to nearly 40 million views.

After two years, Orabrush had sold more than a million tongue cleaners to people in 40+ countries. The Orabrush brand became so popular that local pharmacy managers began contacting Orabrush directly, citing requests from customers who had heard about the brand online. This fall, Walmart began carrying the Orabrush tongue cleaners in its 3,500+ stores across the United States. And this week, CVS/pharmacy has added the Orabrush tongue cleaner to more than 7,000 stores across the country. That’s a lot of tongue cleaners!

It is indeed, Bob.  In fact the OraBrush has done so well that it became the third most viewed channel on YouTube, after Apple Computer and Old Spice.  It appears that tongues weren’t the only things cleaning up with Orabrush.  So was the company.

Of course, Cinderella stories and one trick wonders are as rare as catching lightning in a bottle, am I right?  While using humor to sell can work for the big guys, such as Aflac and their Duck or the Geico Gecko, it is next to impossible for a small business person to use these tactics to break out of the herd.  Or, is it?  To that I have three words of advice: Dollar Shave Club.

A real David and Goliath story, it revolves around a tiny Santa Monica company with five employees that wanted to get into the razor business.  Their opponents, none other than Gilette, owned by the $13 billion behemoth Proctor and Gamble, not to mention Schick and Bic.  Between the three they control nearly 80% of the market.  Unlike Dr. Bob at Orabrush, the president of Dollar Shave Club, Michael Dubin, did not invent a revolutionary shaver.  No, his website simply offers to ship to the consumer their choice of twin blade, four blade or six blade razors every month.  In fact with the exception of their six-blade razor which they claim “Comes from the future and lives in outer space,” their product line offers no flashy bells or whistles with any of its products.  So what made them think they could compete with the Fortune 500?

Have you seen the Dollar Shave Club video?

As much a comedy routine as an advertisement, the Dollar Shave Club’s YouTube video has garnered nearly 13 million hits.  While the company won’t say how many people have signed up for the club, an authoritative source told me that within the first few weeks the site had generated more than twelve thousand members.  That’s after the video had created only a couple million hits.  So who knows how high the number is by now.

The video, which only runs about a minute and a half, shows the president of the company riding a forklift, playing tennis (badly) and dancing with a guy in a bear costume, among other antics.  Far from being afraid of going too far, the titling above their video reads, “Our Blades Are F***ing Great!”  Well, I don’t know about that, but their results were certainly great.

So now you can see that with a little imagination, even major markets can be cracked by the use of humorous video campaigns.  So why aren’t more companies taking a whack at it by creating outrageous videos in order to sell their products?  It can’t be the cost.  Remember the Orabrush got into the game for a paltry $500.  In fact, the beauty of YouTube is that if you generate enough views, not only doesn’t it cost anything to air your webisodes, but Google will actually pay you.  (For the past few years YouTube has had a Channel Partner program that pays their top producers based upon the amount of traffic generated.)

The trick is to do like Orabrush and keep banging away at it.  Throw a few dollars in the hat and sponsor your videos.  Embed them in your blogs and social posts.  If you have a pet, use them as talent.  (Have you seen how many views funny cat and dog videos generate?)  Just get into the game and tap into the world’s most powerful superstation.  (Did you know that YouTube generates 4 billion video views per day or that they stream more video content in a year than all three major networks have streamed in 60 years?)

All I can say is that if you own a business and aren’t tapping into this free marketing resource than you are F***ing Crazy.  Now let me see, where did I leave that razor?

Carl Weiss is president of W Squared Media Group, a cutting edge online marketing company in Jacksonvlle, Florida.  You can also see him on YouTube and listen to his radio show on Blog Talk Radio.

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