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Skip Ad? | Harness Viral Marketing using Infomercial Insanity

By Rory Witt    |    December 11, 2015

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In our previous article we discussed how YouTube Advertising needs targeting to hold an audience’s attention. Today we examine a few things that could make YouTube Viral Marketing a more memorable experience.

Remember Infomercials?

Hear me out, Okay? I can sense your fingers hovering over the Close Tab button. When you think about it, the Infomercials of old are essentially what the internet has now become with advertorials and “news” stories shilling products. But there is honest content in there too. Much of YouTube’s content is now commentary based, remember back to the last time you bought something you were unfamiliar with, you checked YouTube for a couple of reviews right? A lot of those reviewers aren’t even sponsored by the companies for the products they are reviewing (if they are ethical they should really disclose it throughout so you know it’s a paid for opinion).

This user created commentary is why unboxing videos are also a thing. There is some kind of primal vicarious pleasure in seeing someone open a present. Our brains react as if it were us. There is something great about getting someones informed perspective on a product we have in mind.

So never mind excitement over products we do want, why do we get excited about other people’s opinions on products we didn’t even really want in the first place? Importantly, what can we learn from the legacy of Infomercials, what makes them so brain numbingly compelling?

Maybe these aren’t the dankest of memes, but nearly 30 million views is testament to its staying power. This isn’t even a product and I still want it!

The Anatomy of an Infomercial

Time for an old school Infomercial breakdown. To construct a classic infomercial you want to get a pitchman, someone who talks fast and sounds convincing. Clean cut, kind of indistinct. Bonus points for an unholy hybrid of an English and Australian accent because for some reason it comes across as more “trustworthy”. The way they speak is rapid, informative, helpful. This helps in speeding you along to a conclusion before you really get to think about why. Suddenly you know why you wanted MicroMachines so badly as a kid.

Next is the setup, they present a problem people never thought about (or create a problem they never had in the first place) and then present a clever solution for it with a product. After impressing you with a demonstration then they layer on the bonuses and freebies until finally putting on a time limit to ramp up the urgency. Phone now for this never to be repeated offer! Seriously this is your last chance. Okay well how about two of those things for the same price as one. Think of the total savings! Operators are standing by.

A number of obvious psychological factors came into play as to why Infomercials were effective at all. When they were first introduced reactions quickly swung from “Ugh, who would buy this crap?” to “This is amazing. Did you see that? Imagine how quickly we could sweep our ceilings with two sanitizing ceiling brushes!”. You can almost feel the brainwashing working.

Infomercial Brainwashing!

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Try this at home! Look for infomercials on YouTube, find one that has the automatic closed captions, enable them and press play. You will not regret it.

If there’s a surefire formula that can tip the odds in favor of a successful sale an advertiser would be crazy not to use it, right? Well, even if sales is the primary goal, without credibility and ethics your company will eventually face the wrath of the consumer.

The ethical problem arises when psychology is used to sell things that people don’t want or need because it’s inherently deceitful. Using purely hard sell techniques and psychological triggers is the consumer product equivalent of scam email spam and an advertiser using this method will lose consumer confidence.

“Wait,” you say “isn’t all advertising trying to sell us things we don’t need and making new wants if there isn’t a need?”

Previously casting a wide net and reducing consumers to stereotypes was born out of the limitations of surveying target demographics accurately. This might have been the old model of doing things. But the internet has already changed the face of the music, film, news and entertainment why should the advertising industry be any different?

Advertising can be nuanced, informative and non intrusive now that it doesn’t need to rely on smoke and mirrors to have the broadest appeal possible. Think about when you get a strong endorsement of a product from a friend and how much weight that carries in your decision making process, this is the sort of advertising that can be achieved from good internet marketing campaigns that build trust.

Understanding your market segment and making sure the people who actually want to use your product are reached is a much better long term investment and doesn’t require saturation and manipulation to achieve. This is especially true if you make unique, funny and interesting content that spreads itself.

The Viral Marketing Approach

Using a fast talking spokesperson to deliver comedic Viral Advertising content with manic intensity is totally cool though.

Although I have no data to support this, I do not believe anyone took the claims in these Old Spice ads seriously. But it was funny and their brand really did need the reinvention. My memories of Old Spice were, it was the sort of thing my dad wore in the 80’s. Now its associated with Terry Crews being random and yelling a lot. Did the modern Old Spice commercials make me rush out and buy it? No (I’m more partial to tonka bean and musk) but it made me laugh enough to not mind sharing it with others. Although I might not have fallen into their target segment the person I share it with might be or the person they share it with, ad infinitium.

Viral marketing shares a lot in common with infomercials, maybe it starts off with a standard scenario but things take a turn for the weird. There is an element of the unexpected, that insanity bubbling just underneath the veneer of our culture. When it bursts forth there is an almost childlike glee at what you have seen. Viewing something through a unique lens makes it compelling, even if you don’t get it first off, it has an infectious quality to it and the way it spreads, hence the viral, in Viral Marketing.

Blending Infomercial & Viral Marketing

Think about Will It Blend? It is clearly an infomercial for the niche market of blender based vandalism. Blending everything from glow sticks to golf balls in their industrial blenders. Will It Blend started as a YouTube viral marketing campaign for the company Blendtec now it’s entirely its own thing. If I were in the market for the most industrial of home blenders this would be my brand of choice. The format has some of the elements of traditional infomercials. Products on display, a lab coated “scientist”, this is quickly turned on its head when instead of blending salsa or making margaritas he drops in a couple of modern Smartphones.

There is a nihilistic streak in most of us, although incredulous to why some idiot would blend an expensive phone, a part of us really wants to see what happens. *SPOILERS* the phone does not survive. You would think this would be another case of “Ha typical, iPhones, they can’t even survive a blending.” But Will It Blend often does promotional tie-ins for tech giants like Apple, Samsung, movie releases and a host of other products. A bizarre form of synergy has blossomed from it. Say what you like about its statement on disposable consumerism. The campaign worked and is still running as regular segment on their YouTube channel. A blended iphone $800, 10 million YouTube hits? Priceless.

In the words of their founder Tom Dickson.

The campaign took off almost instantly. We have definitely felt an impact in sales. Will it Blend has had an amazing impact to our commercial and our retail products.

In conclusion here is an example all of these factors combined.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel compelled to shop at Ants in my eyes Johnson’s store after this advert.

Just like in the case of Old Spice or a blender, taking something ordinary and doing something extraordinary with it is a solid staple of Viral Marketing. Who’s to say we can take the best of what infomercials had to offer and use it to make something great.

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