Learn From Netflix: Why “Orange is the New Black” Totally Works

A colleague of mine has been buzzing about her latest gig for the past few months now.

Her email announcement that she landed a role on a new series created by the one-and-only-one, Jenji Kohan was super exciting both for her career and for me (yay! I’m officially one slice of Kevin Bacon away from Jenji Kohan herself).

The second part of that announcement was that the series was being produced and self-distributed by Netflix to exclusively be available on – Netflix; this part of the news was interesting, somewhat perplexing and I wondered if my friend would have a job after she wrapped shooting.

Now, however, we see that Orange is television and narrative storytelling history in the making.

A Fast Lesson in Distributing Original Programming

We’ve seen some Netflix original programming done before and quite well I might add.  House of Cards, was the content provider’s first original series and the revival of Arrested Development, which originally aired on FOX for three seasons, was a move to capitalize on an established fandom.  Orange is the New Black, although greatly different from these two programs, is the combined result of what made both House and Development work.

The reported budget on House of Cards was around 100 Million, according to this Forbes.com article. The network used analytics of subscriber activity to know that their customers would indeed check out a Kevin Spacey starring political drama produced by David Fincher. This number crunching and market research is nothing new for Hollywood; Q-Star ratings have been a mysterious method of evaluating blockbusters for sometime now. Netflix, however, had one thing working in their favor – they could deliver the content right to the viewer verses blockbuster which still functions under the “if you build it they will come” theater distribution model.

So, Netflix spent the dollars, set out to produce something that was for sure going to be streamed and delivered something stellar. I mean how could something touched by David Fincher that birthed performances between Spacey and Robin Wright not be wonderful? Seriously.

With House, Netflix established themselves as a distribution platform that could work for original programming and not just a platform where audiences are watching outdated content that may or may not be new to them. There was just one thing that Netflix had to ask themselves: how long would it take for Netflix to gain more subscribers from their original programming?

Which led to them asking the smarter question: how could they obtain an untapped audience without breaking the bank on marketing dollars?

Easy answer here folks. Find a series that has a large fandom that is currently not being fulfilled. Enter: Arrested Development, Season 4.

Arrested is a show that drives transmedia fandom. The cult following that ensued from the three seasons on FOX made Arrested a true “social” series with fans discussing its’ past and future on blogs, making up stories for characters and in some instances posing as the characters themselves.

There was no question that the fans of Arrested would chatter and cheer over the announcement of a 4th season on Netflix. (That’s kind of the whole point beyond “fandom” they live in the same world that the Bluth family does). The distribution channel reportedly grew its subscriber base by 600,000 when they announced the revival.  A good number but arguably not enough; but that was OK because Netflix executed the alley-oop just right, what was coming next in the world of original programming for them was the slam dunk. .

And then, Jenji Kohan parted the red sea and released all episodes of a first and original season at once…. 

This is a move that Netflix has made before – all episodes, all at once. There is been a lot of debate over whether or not this model works or hurts. I think that the correct answer leaves us in too much of a gray area but there are certain instances in which releasing all the episodes at once “works.”

Orange is the New Black is one of those instances and here’s why:

1. Jenji Kohan is most known for her ground-breaking, critically acclaimed series WEEDS. I definitely signed up for Showtime just to watch it and I definitely cancelled my subscription after the series finale. But if I need my fix I can still watch the series on Netflix..

Yes, Netflix has been able to analyze the analytics over who was watching WEEDS; a show with a female anti-hereo protagonist, that was watched by not only women but men as well.

2. It is funny yet has its truthful moments, this is provided because Orange’s cast of characters live within a very, very specific world. That world is the prison system. It is one that you and I don’t live in but one that when we enter into “fandom-land” translate into transmedia-like properties, for example: “Red’s Cookbook”, an online Orange themed store called the “commissary,” beauty tips from Laverne, stretch of the day with Yoga Jones, Catch the Chicken Facebook game, etc. you get my point. (BTW if you are a representative of the Netflix marketing team you can reach me at amydepaola [at] mac [doc] com, should you want to develop my ideas.)

3. A show in a female prison and therefore a 90% female cast is something to talk about.

How many of us have peered inside a women’s prison before? Not many. The majority of content out there that focuses on the prison system is focused on men. Mean men. Dramatic men. There is SO much to talk about here. We are seeing content we’ve never seen before. Releasing all the episodes at the same time has had the complete opposite effect. Ever since the series aired its’ hashtags and reactions from viewers have been crowding my newsfeed, on Facebook and on Twitter. I argued just the other day with a friend of mine that that was absolutely genius. Having the content there all at once allows fans to reach the point of obsessive, they, we are ultra-consumed by the show’s content.

It is a different kind of social chatter that is occurring when the series is available all at once to viewers. Unlike the social chatter that I see crowd my newsfeed on a Tuesday night before the new Sons of Anarchy. This chatter is not only an announcement that “I can’t wait for it to come on” or “yay, it airs tonight” or “can’t wait to have a glass of vino and watch it tonight,” the conversation is about the content within the program:

“Did she really see the chicken” appeared in my newsfeed.

“Did Bennett sleep with her mother?!?!” Also appeared in my newsfeed.

Why? Because we are ultra-consumed with something when we are given the opportunity to experience it all at once. That is how you tap into audiences imaginations, by inviting them 100% into the world. (See: Walt Disney and the Magic Kingdom).

What Happens Next?

Rumor had it, way back when, that Orange was going to be produced by Netflix but was possibly going to be sold off to a more established original programming network for distribution.

Lucky for Netflix that did not happen. In fact the series has been greenlit for a second season and another excited email popped up in my e-mail earlier this week announcing the start of production on season 2.

Orange is the New Black not only set the standard for Netflix but is going to change the landscape of original programming – and possibly episodic narrative programming as we know it.

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Stay tuned from more insights on Netflix from ZoomTilt’s Community Manager, Amy DePaola and follow her on Twitter.

Web Series Creator Spotlight: Katie Shannon and Audrey Claire Johnson

Let’s face it, Hollywood and their blockbusters have been dominated by men for decades now. Television has given a slight rise to powerful female centric programming with shows like Weeds, Sex and the City, GIRLS, and The Big C, all of which is on premium, pay-for television.

Independent filmmakers have turned to the web to generate programming and stories that they believe is missing from the likes of Hollywood. Programming that can be made accessible to a much broader and larger audience. But with the likes of Machinima and Rooster Teeth it is safe to say that the “Hollyweb” is also favors a slight edge towards content that is generally considered male-centric.

Alas, we over here at ZoomTilt have stumbled upon the dynamic duo of Katie Shannon, writer/director and Audrey Claire Johnson actress/producer; both funny-gal extraordinaires. that are embarking on their first collaboration together: K&A, which stands for Karley and Alex.

Written and Directed by Katie Shannon of Thompson Films. Starring Audrey Claire Johnson and Ashley Elmi. Produced by Katie Shannon, Audrey Claire Johnson and Michael Madden.

Written and Directed by Katie Shannon of Thompson Films. Starring Audrey Claire Johnson and Ashley Elmi. Produced by Katie Shannon, Audrey Claire Johnson and Michael Madden.

Katie and Audrey worked together previously on 617, The Series, which also included producer/actress, Amy DePaola (sound familiar?) You can view the second season of 617 on ZoomTilt’s YouTube page.

@ZoomTilt: Ok, first off, this question is for Katie. Tell us about the concept of K&A? How did you come up with it? 

@KDuffShannon: K&A is a comedy about the friendship between Karly (played by Johnson) and Alex (played by Ashley Elmi) as they navigate their complicated lives in the city of Boston. One of my favorite shows is “Sex and the City” because it is honest and truthful about women today and their relationships with one another. It reminds me of my relationship with my best friend [from college], who currently lives around the corner from me. However, their is one huge difference between us and the ladies of SATC; I’m gay and she is straight. A lot of the ideas for the series come from our relationship (not all but some!). For storytelling, it’s a character dynamic that hasn’t been explored all that much. When I hear or see something I think would be great for the show, I write it in my phone. If someone ever read the list, they would probably think I’m crazy!

@ZoomTilt: What makes Karly and Alex’s story different from some of the more popular female duos that are currently out there? (ex: “2 Broke Girls”) 

@10ThousandHangs (Audrey’s Twitter): The combination of one straight and one lesbian lead protagonists is blatantly underexplored in sitcom format. Television comedies with a broad audience have found success with straight/gay leads, normally shown as leading/supporting man/man or man/woman. Because of the female straight/gay premise, I’m already interested in their history, their friendship, and their chemistry with other characters on the show.

@KDuffShannon: Both these characters don’t hold back. Their lack of caring what people think has allowed me to explore so many story lines. I’m partial to comedy shows like Family Guy and It’s Always Sunny Philadelphia for never apologizing for what they put out there and talking about topics that many of us think about, but are too afraid to bring up.

@ZoomTilt: What are the benefits of distributing the series online? What are also the challenges?

@KDuffShannon: Online distribution gives us the benefit of being able to reach anyone in the world and have a much broader audience for that. The challenging part, however, is to get people to discover it in the first place. Anyone who has a camera can make a web ddfseries these days. You need to think to yourself: what makes your [concept] different? Why should someone take time out of their day to watch? It’s also even more challenging with bigger and bigger names getting into the web series scene, so you really need to take the time and steps to make your concept stand out.

@10ThousandHangs: If you’re a creative artist in any medium, you will have challenges deciding on the best way for your work to be seen. Not just any way, the best way – and one that is financially doable. With K&A we’ve studied other projects that have been crowd funded, how they interacted with their audiences and where their content was eventually hosted. Its been a huge help.

@ZoomTilt: Interacting with audiences is important online, how are you both hoping that audiences will interact with K&A? 

@KDuffShannon: I hope people find the show as funny as I think it is (obviously I’m partial). I hope people can see that females can be just as funny as men. And trust me…these two ladies are.

@10ThousandHangs: Goals would be to have a hefty number of subscribers on our YouTube channel and dialogue on social media about each episode as they are released. We’d also like our fans to share their stories about their exterminators with us, and, of course, get 1,000,000 signatures on to petition HBO to pick it up……..obviously.

@ZoomTilt: So, what are some points of the series you are looking forward to shooting? Can you give us some secrets about what to expect? 

@KDuffShannon: I’m looking forward in shooting the episode “Doing Nice Shit For People” because in that episode Audrey’s character gets tasered. We read that episode during our auditions for the character of Alex, and her [Audrey] performing the act of being tasered made me laugh every single time.

Karley takes a much needed rest on Alex's lap. (From L to R: Johson and Elmi)

Karley takes a much needed rest on Alex’s lap. (From L to R: Johson and Elmi)

@10ThousandHangs: There’s an episode about a rat in the apartment. I am paralyzed by rats, phobic to a traumatic degree. K&A stand and huddle on the couch while some weird stuff goes down off camera. It’s classic suspense, not seeing the “violence” on screen while we react in horror. I can’t wait to play that scene.

@ZoomTilt: What are some female-centric web-series out there that you enjoy?

@KDuffShannon: I was an intern on set once for the filming of The Guild, so I really enjoy that one. There was also a lesbian web series called 3Way, which was one of the funniest web series I have ever seen. It’s sad but the lack of female leads in web series is a reflection of what you see on television. Obviously as a female filmmaker you want to try to change that as much as you can. I’ve never made a project where female characters weren’t the focus and I plan to stick to that.

@10ThousandHangs: I worshiped Broad City, would die to have been on Delusional Downtown Divas by Lena Dunham. Other web sketch groups that do incredible work are Good Neighbor, Olde Payphone and Paulilu.

The admitted lack of female genres within the web series community is a reflection of the industry as a whole. I spend my energy focusing on women crushing the scene online, on television and back to feature length blockbusters. They are my inspiration when choosing projects, writing scripts, and aspiring to be a great comedic actress.
Touche. Thanks for your time ladies! We are happy to support you. Please let us know when we can expect the first episode!
Support K&A by taking a visit over to their Kickstarter page and learn about their team on Facebook and stay up to date with them on Twitter.
If this photo is any indication of the realistic bond between these two ladies, we are extra hyped to watch!  (From L to R: Elmi and Johnson)

If this photo is any indication of the realistic bond between these two ladies, we are extra hyped to watch!
(From L to R: Elmi and Johnson)

Online Video, the Catch Twenty-Two of Advertising?

The online video production and online video advertising industry insiders were buzzing yesterday when this Tubefilter article was published announcing that 80-85% of video ads are skipped.

REELSeo responded and published this article, which asks the question, “are we too optimistic when it comes to online video advertising?”

Is everyone really as shocked as they are writing? Online video and video on demand services have allowed us to skip advertising for years now. Skipping advertisements is almost the pioneering purpose for why people have turned to watching online video in the first place. At least, my thought has always been:

“If I watch my video online than I can watch what I came to watch and that is it. I don’t need to sit through an ad that I know is intentionally trying to sell me something.” 

First and foremost, however, I watch video online to be entertained. If I can’t skip an advertisement I am still pretty hell bent on watching a video, however I am just going to walk away really quickly and come back when the video is on.

I continuously search for the best in online video so that I can share with my friends and they can see that I am knowledgable of what is out there and also portray that I am a funny, witty and carefree kind of gal.

Due to an increasing use of tablets, smartphones and the like, mobile and online video numbers are on the rise according to this Business Insider article. I have to ask advertisers: is online video the “catch twenty-two” of advertising? 

Since it seems inevitable these days that some thought needs to be given to online video but online video advertisements are only watched about 15% of the time, how can advertisers guarantee that their message is going to be viewed?

This is a call to big ad agencies and ad executives: Tell me, how do you feel about this? What are your plans to handle this? Do you think it will change? Can it and how will it?

I think the answer is simple, advertisers need to consider putting their dollars towards entertainment. Less ad focused content and more entertainment focused content will guarantee that your dollars are being spent wisely. Think about it. If I am going to watch a video, skipping an advertisement, you might as well find a way to make the entertaining video somehow your advertisement.

I’d like to hear some thoughts on this. Tweet me @TheeAmyDee.

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Need to learn more about how to create an entertaining video for your brand? email Bryan Ryczek, Business Evangelist at ZoomTilt;  bryan [at] zoomtilt [dot] com.

YouTube Creator Academy: What is a MOOC?

This past Monday I began taking my first ever MOOC with the YouTube Creator’s Academy.

What’s a MOOC? Well, its a Massive Online Open Course, of course.

I took an online course at Harvard Extension School a few years back, it wasn’t the best experience for me. A MOOC is different from what we’ve seen with “web-based education” to date because unlike online courses from selected colleges, MOOCs, don’t have a cap on the number of registrants.

In order to better understand a MOOC and how the creative industries can benefit from them I took to my Emerson College colleague, Loudon Sterns, who is also a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Loudon has been teaching online courses for several years now and recently dove into the grand task of organizing and instructing his first ever Music Production MOOC with Coursera.

@TheeAmyDee: I know you had experience with a Massive Online Open Course, can you tell me why you chose to get involved with one? Seems really daunting to organize.

@LoudonStearns: I have been teaching online for 4 years now through Berkleemusic.com. I found the transition from classroom to online teaching quite easy. At BerkleeMusic I have class sizes of 20 people or less and I have weekly contact with every student through e-mail, assignments, discussions, and realtime audio video chats. With the introduction of MOOCs that has become the traditional online class. It is kind of funny that we now have “traditional online teaching!” Berklee is creating a series of MOOCS in partnership with Coursera.com and asked me to author one. I jumped at the idea because I love a new challenge. It was a chance to experiment with new modes of education and have a wide impact on the world. Also, as a music teacher I think I have a responsibility to try new teaching methods. Hopefully what art educators discover works(and doesn’t) can provide examples for other disciplines.

Personally, I was also very interested on what impact this would have on the teacher. It seems like a huge amount of exposure, which is unusual for a teacher. I was curious how being a public figure like this would impact the rest of my life. As a musician I am comfortable, even excited, by this type of exposure. In the end the personal impact wasn’t as great as I thought it would be, but that was one of my reasons to get involved.
@TheeAmyDee: What were some of the take-aways for you? Any lessons learned? or Advice you would give someone on how to maximize the potential of a MOOC?
@LoudonStearns: Humans are amazing! Every day, as the MOOC ran, I saw people helping each other, treating each other with respect, and working hard to understand this difficult topic. The community was wonderful and I was blessed to be part of it. The biggest lesson would be the need for research and iterative design. We can’t expect to know how to do this right the first time. Every class I have ever taught got better after 3 or 4 runs as I refined my presentation and what I expect of the students. The same must go for a MOOC. Teaching here is quite different. The teacher must think statistically instead of personally. A single student’s problem is my problem in a traditional classroom, but in a MOOC I must focus on the community. This shift is tough to adjust to, and I think any teacher will need to run the MOOC, adjust it and run it again before the MOOC will really work perfectly. We are running my MOOC again later this summer and I am really interested to see how the course changes with the adjustments we are making to the assignments, grading, scheduling, marketing and class communication. The other big lesson was the importance of a team working together. In a traditional classroom the space belongs to the teacher and the teacher is largely autonomous. In my MOOC experience I realized how important it was to have a strong team working together to make it work well. Because of the large community and the teaching team, it felt that success of a MOOC really revolves around communication. Clear communication between the team members and within the community is essential. Because of the highly international student body the communication must be carefully crafted and I found myself really examining how I communicate with that community in mind.
@TheeAmyDee: As an artist, it seems strange to think about a MOOC. I’ve been concerned with this as I dive into the YouTube Creator’s Academy; do you think that MOOCs have the capability to promote individuality?
@LoudonStearns: They definitely promote the teacher’s individuality! The thousands of students that finished my course watched 83 videos of me teaching music production, so they got a good dose of Loudon for sure.
I think there are opportunities for students to promote themselves. Within the class forums is a large community of fellow musicians. I am not sure that was the best place to promote their music, but it is a great place to get honest feedback about their music. In looking through the forums I found many great supportive comments and some insightful feedback.
On the whole, I think people were at my MOOC to learn. While it is a community, and socialization is part of that, the most important thing is to create an environment focused on learning. I had expected more socialization and personal relationships in the course, but there is this huge crowd feel to it. And now that I think of it, I have rarely met someone within a huge crowd that I have maintained a lasting relationship with. I think to really promote individuality we need to find ways to create smaller groups within the crowd. This is a known issue with MOOCs and one that I tried to solve in a few ways while running my MOOC, and I know of other teachers that have tried it with various amounts of success. Really, I think it is a design problem, and this is an evolving learning/teaching format. As it develops teachers and students will work together to improve the environment. Right now I feel that we are just starting to understand how this works. We should be careful about judging the success or failure of this format for a couple of years. Give the teachers and software developers time to identify and solve the issues. Right now there is amazing support for MOOCs from colleges and they are creating so much of this amazing content and supplying it to the world for free! We really owe a huge debt to the colleges, like Berklee, and the individuals that are taking the risk to create these classes. Creating these classes takes time and money and the rewards are uncertain. I could go on and list other issues with the current MOOC situation, but that pales in comparison to the one thing that I do know: thousands of people were able to study with me, a Berklee professor, for free, and that is an amazing thing.
@TheeAmyDee: Thanks so much Loudon! This has certainly made me more excited about participating in the YouTube Creator’s Academy MOOC. I’m going to keep an open mind and embrace it with full force.
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For more from Loudon Stearns follow him on Twitter: @LoudonStearns. You can also register to be apart of his next Music Production MOOC with Coursera here:

To stay up to date with our experience and opinion on the YouTube Creator’s Academy follow ZoomTilt on Twitter: @ZoomTilt

YouBrand RoundUP: Auto Edition

ZoomTilt is bringing you YouBrand RoundUP, a once a week in-depth analysis of  video content from top brands in focused industries.

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The auto industry is no stranger to viral video marketing. In fact, there is a reason why we chose this industry as our first industry of focus in the YouBrand Round Up.

Last week Crain’s Business Detroit published this article that discusses how marketers in the auto industry are focusing on delivering TV content that jumps to the “second-screen”; those devices hardly anyone can live without: lap-tops, tablets and mobile phones. It is proven that TV content drives internet search so the logic is that eyes that are watching advertisements on TV, especially ones that leave them with something to search for, or something that has “repetitiveness” and it just has to be watched again, will generate “second-screen” attention and more importantly it will be shared on “second-screen” platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Another Crain’s Business Detroit article highlights the “Top 10 viral auto ads” however, all the listed ads also began on television and only entered into the “second screen” sector following their television debut. Yet, in order to be considered “viral” they had to go to the second screen. Interesting.

It is fair to say that the auto industry considers a successful advertising campaign to have “unimaginable Superbowl like numbers,” and these days marketers have to look to the “second-screen” chatter to calculate these numbers accurately.

So, who is taking the brave and the incredibly smart leap over the budget-wasting step of television and heading straight to the “second-screen” from the auto industry. Here’s our YouBrand RoundUP: The Auto Edition:

The 8 YouTube Original Channels: Automotive:

What began as eight featured “original channels” promoted through the “YouTube Original Channels Series” now lists about ten channels that focus on topics that affect consumer opinions on their car/motorcycle purchases, fantasies and general knowledge.

On the Drive Channel, Swedish luxury car designer, Koenigsegg, had their own show which goes inside the meticulous process to create the car, which is a sleek, high-end, sports car, in nine-episodes.

Jaguar F-Type presents Desire:

The most recent video campaign in the auto industry accompanies Jaguar’s release of their first sports car in 50 years. The 12 minute short film that debuted online last month stars Homeland’s Damien Lewis and features a commissioned song by Lana Del Ray. The film itself only has about 43,000 views on YouTube while additional videos such as the behind the scenes and the making of have between 1,000 and 3,000 views.

This is nowhere near “viral” or the Superbowl like numbers that advertisers in the auto industry like to see but there is a lot we can learn from this. I’ll explain further.

Audi and BMW, been there, done that:

In 2010, Audi released an original mini-series The Next Big Thing which starred Justin Timberlake. Big Thing, unlike its predecessor BMW’s The Hirewas told serially, meaning you had to watch the episodes in order to understand the story, whereas Hire was a series of different stories with the same lead character portrayed by Clive Owen.

Both Big Thing and Hire had views that dipped into the several hundred thousands. It is hard for me to sit here in 2013 and even state a fair and accurate number because fans of the cars as well as the actors and the series’ themselves also uploaded the episodes to their channels as well to share (key word here) with their friends.

Ford, still doing it and doing it well:

Ford has a decent amount of original content that they have been churning out over the past few years. Late last year they announced the launch of their original series to accompany the release of the new Ford Escape, Escape My Life.The series has over 2,000 subscribers to its channel and over 1 million views. Its channel page has added features that allow viewers to create their own content that relates to the series, such as the Barry memes, of which one can assume that when it is shared (huh, huh, that word again!) it will spark the interest of others and they’ll click through a bunch of hyperlinks to find out where the source of the meme was – and oh – “ta-da! Its part of Escape My Life…that’s weird I was just thinking about a new car . . “

I really enjoy the series over the other’s that I’ve discussed in this YouBrand RoundUP but that is because I am a woman, who works in the film industry that needs a car that is not only functional for my work but is comfortable, stylish and affordable (I’m single too.).

At first glance, one would say that Jaguar “did it wrong” because they chose to make a 12 minute film as oppose to a short episode no more than 4-5 minutes. Something shorter would’ve gotten them more views, no?

I wouldn’t consider Jaguar a failure based on their low number of views. The Jaguar F-type clearly has a very niche customer. And there aren’t many of them. The average consumer isn’t purchasing a sports car, let alone a luxury sports car. Those guys, well, they are like Damien Lewis in a gray suit and tie, classy, educated and fantasize about beautiful Latina women.

I’ll stop beating around the bush: Visual marketing and advertising these days needs to go beyond showing your consumers what the product is or who uses it. Brands, such as the brands listed here in our YouBrand RoundUp: Auto Edition have gone beyond the traditional commercial that does so and have told the stories of their consumers, or at least how their consumers want to see themselves.

I’m just saying. I’m a quirky, fun-loving, humorous, late twenty-something who drives a crossover very similar to the Ford Escape.

 

 

Orabrush – Insights from Austin Craig

I was in Utah back when people were still using their toothbrushes to clean their tongues, assuming they even knew tongue hygiene mattered at all. Then a good friend of mine wound up getting involved in a quirky YouTube ad campaign that started with this video:

Fast forward some years, and through a whole lot of pretty amazing breakthroughs in YouTube advertising, Orabrush is now nearly as ubiquitous as the king of hygiene appliances: the toothbrush.

The following is adapted from a conversation I recently had with Austin about Orabrush, and what he thinks of ZoomTilt’s mission and business model. He’s a smart guy, and his responses were good enough that you shouldn’t be surprised to find a follow-up post here sometime in the future. Orabrush’s story and success is strong evidence in support of the ideology that drives ZoomTilt.

Jordan PetersenFirst off, tell me the story of how you got involved with Orabrush.

Austin Craig: I got involved with Orabrush on accident. It’s a funny story.

Orabrush was developed by Bob Wagstaff. We call him Doctor Bob, but he’s not a dentist. He has a PhD in Biochemistry and Nutrition. He spent most of his career researching and developing solutions for the consumer market. He started working on the Orabrush when he was managing a group of missionaries [for the Mormon Church] in the Philippines, and heard multiple reports that his missionaries had bad breath. How were they supposed to help and teach people who were offended by their breath stench?

It was years in development, but when he had it market ready, it was the market itself that wasn’t ready. A $40,000 infomercial sold fewer than 100 units. He begged store managers to put it on their shelves, but when they did, it stayed on the shelf. Customers didn’t know what it was, or what it did, so they didn’t bother with it.

In a final reach for help, he went to a class at BYU, and asked them to conduct some market research. His primary question was whether he could sell the Orabrush online. The group that studied it decided the answer was no. According to their research, only 8% of consumers would consider buying online. It was a lost cause. “Better go work on your golf swing, Dr. Bob.”

But one student in the class objected. 8% of the Internet? That’s millions of people. Wasn’t that worth pursuing? Dr. Bob liked that sound of that. They got together and struck a deal. Bob and his new assistant, Jeffrey Harmon, would work nights and weekends. As payment, Bob would give his old motorcycle to Jeffrey. It sure beat the 10-speed he was using at the time.

Jeffrey’s day job was at FamilyLink.com, with me. We were on the social media intern team, tasked with finding the most effective ways to promote on Facebook and Twitter. We spent the whole day in a windowless office on social media. It turns out that even Facebook and Twitter get boring after the 4th hour, so we had to concoct some games to keep ourselves sane. One of the favorites was to push Austin’s buttons. The whole team knew I had strong opinions on politics, technology, company policy, whatever. It didn’t take much more than, “Hey, look at what Congress is doing!” to get me to fly off the handle.

Jeffrey knew my antics, and that I had experience on camera as a broadcast journalism student. He had an idea. “Hey Austin, can you freak out like that, only on camera, and about bad breath?” Sure thing, I said. For $100, I’ll rant and rave about whatever you like.

We filmed after work on a Friday at Oz Pool Hall. I acted, Jeffrey produced/directed, Dr. Bob held the microphone, and our friend Devin Graham filmed and edited the video. It was fun. Afterward, we grabbed some burgers and caught a movie at the dollar theater.

That was the beginning.

Jeffrey worked like crazy in the newly debuted YouTube advertising system, tweaking every knob, dial, and piece of meta-data on the video. With each iteration, testing one variation against another, it became more and more effective, until he knew that for $30 spent, Orabrush would make back $35 in sales. When the campaign is cashflow positive, you can roll all profits back in to growing the campaign, and it snowballs.

Before long, we were making another video. And another. And hiring employees. And more videos. I signed a contract to continue as the official spokesman. It’s just grown ever since.

JP: Would you describe how Orabrush used a running web series to greatest effect in advertisement? What’s more important: entertainment or sales? Or do those priorities evolve over time, and how?

AC: The “Diary of a Dirty Tongue” was something that helped Orabrush in a big way. The video strategy was critical to our company, and involved two prongs. One was our sales videos; videos meant to work mainly as commercials, telling people about the benefits of the Orabrush and where they can buy. The second angle was the web series. Diary of a Dirty Tongue was meant to grow an audience on YouTube. We wanted subscribers, people who grant us permission to communicate with them regularly.

But people don’t want to be sold. You aren’t friends with somebody who is always trying to sell you something. We wanted media content that was valuable as media. We tried to make it funny, playful, and sharable. It starred Morgan, the giant human tongue. Really, it was local standup comedian Dave Ackerman who created the character. We had the concept of a giant, comedic, slovenly tongue. Dave Ackerman brought him to life.

It worked, too. We consistently brought in more and more subscribers. People knew that we’d have a new episode every week. We toyed with different formats, and different days to publish, but through it all, we gained over 150,000 new subscribers. We fostered new fans and brand advocates. People who never would have been interested in Orabrush before came to us through the webseries, and became die hard fans of the brand and product.

After a year and a half of weekly videos, we ended the series. It had been a huge success, but as a company, our efforts were going to other parts of the business. The lesson was clear, though. Good serial content online has an audience.

JP: You recently released a new product called Orapup, an Orabrush for dogs. How did your web series help you introduce this new product? 

AC: The primary tie between the web series and the Orapup launch was our subscribers. The fans we gained through the web series were still subscribed when we launched Orapup. We had a ready base to hear about our newest product. The two were separated by about a year, but that subscriber base made a difference in the launch. The initial Orapup video on the Orabrush channel had over 4 million views before we launched the Orapup channel.

*****

Thanks times a hundred to Austin for his willingness to share some of his thoughts with us. We’re encouraged by his experiences, and the success Orabrush has built upon the foundation of high-quality web series.

Do you think Orabrush’s model is replicable? Is their story proof positive that ZoomTilt’s mission and goals are founded upon good theories? Do you have other thoughts about what they’ve done, or what we’re doing? Please, share them in the comments!

10 Reasons No One Watches Your Brand’s Videos

Business Man Game of Thrones Meme

Content-loving customers had better take note, because you just leap-frogged blogging and slide deck-styling all the way making a video for your brand. “Video? Isn’t that the future of marketing and like 60% of all internet traffic?” You’re damn right it is, and now your content marketing prowess is on full display to all your customers and social media followers, not to mention a billion monthly YouTube users. WIN. That’s right internet – we’re uploaded, we’re discoverable and we’re in the game with a titanic 88 views in week one. And people, 88 views is just the beginning, because by week two we’ll be making waves with triple digit viewership, am I right?

It saddens me to say that in ZoomTilt’s line of work, I seem to have this exact same conversation on a weekly basis:

Brand: We want a viral video. None of our videos are getting good viewership and we’re spending a lot of time and money on them.

Me: Well, what kind of videos are you making right now?

Brand: Pretty much all documentary-style testimonial interviews and really slick, artsy, color-corrected videos of beautiful, waif-ish people walking down dim hallways showcasing our product.

Me: Would you consider experimenting and cross-testing different types of video creative? Maybe something more relevant to your target demo that’s funny, or edgy, or surprising? Perhaps with memorable, strongly-defined characters? We can define success metrics and perform deep data-gathering and predictive A/B testing on each one.

Brand: Oh no, no, no. We could never do that. Characters? We’re not GEICO, we don’t have a Gecko… the brand IS the personality. Besides, we can’t be a funny brand or an edgy brand, we’re an elegant, sophisticated, reliable, precision-engineered brand whose experience must translate like a haiku told upon the shore of a placid lake. So what can we do like that that’s going to go pretty viral..?

Stop. Video marketers, 95% of you need to re-think your approach right now, because that one competitor who gets it is smoking your PR and inbound marketing efforts. So let’s cut the small talk and get you started with our field-guide of key video marketing pitfalls to avoid. If you’re making videos for your brand and no one is watching them, here are the ten (10) reasons why:

1. You don’t really know your audience. Knowing who your audience is (say age 35+ working mothers) isn’t the same as knowing their media consumption habits and what content resonates with them – you need to understand both.

Let’s start with a typical customer video from a mainstream, mom-oriented consumer brand:

Ok, darling and highly likable Mom? Check. Solid brand that knows how to do fun video creative? Check (*ahem* Old Spice Guy *ahem*). Video that will inspire anyone to share your message or watch more? Complete miss. Don’t get us wrong, there are great opportunities out there in user-generated content, but why would a mom watch dozens of nearly identical informational testimonials for the same product? And why does Pampers, a globally-recognized diaper brand, feel the need to flood its YouTube channel and crowd out its more premium content with so many different iterations of the same bland, product credibility-builder video that doesn’t create informational or emotional value for their customers? Why would a diaper-buyer watch multiple minutes of this type of video content rather than simply executing a 15 second Google search to quickly skim a credible blog review on the same product? Your customers’ time, convenience and content consumption autonomy are highly relevant to your digital content strategy – respect them.

Now let’s take a look at some of their professional creative:

Strong start here too – who doesn’t love cute, happy babies with bed-head? But ouch, only 6 likes and 3 dislike? What gives?

Well, to summarize the entire campaign message: “if your baby pees or poops itself and doesn’t get changed, it won’t be happy (or have great, disheveled hair) like these happy babies.” What’s new, insightful or interesting about that message, one that more or less restates the same biological principle mothers have known for decades, if not centuries? Sorry Pampers, we already know your diapers are probably a little bit better (and a little bit more expensive) than some of the other brands sitting next to you on the shelf, your single layer of additional protection isn’t boosting brand lift or getting anyone to retweet this.

Want to know who gets motherhood? Fiat gets motherhood:



2. Your content doesn’t create value.

A lot of marketers think successful branded video content needs to have professional, $10,000-per-minute-and-up production quality. It doesn’t. Nor does it even necessarily have to be funny or shocking, although that usually helps. But one thing your content MUST accomplish is value creation for the viewer, which can be either informational value, emotional value or both, like these:



3. Your content generates a low-valence emotional response.

72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, so if you make something average it will get skipped and ignored. If you create something on the far end of the spectrum that generates high viewer emotional arousal, audiences will engage with and share your video.

Right (creative) way to make a marketing video for your pizza business:

Wrong (traditional, uncreative) way to make a marketing video for your pizza business:


4. Your video content doesn’t have hooks early and often.

Again, when you create content, your content is competing for attention against an ocean of entertaining video, great music and informative blog articles. You don’t need to perform an epic jump from space like RedBull, but be sure to hook viewers’ attention early and often to avoid drop-off and defection to other content. Nice job Pepsi:


5. Your content has no story arc.

Both of these videos feature heavy men’s business apparel product placements. Which do you think had the better digital campaign return on investment (ROI) and repeat viewer engagement because viewers wanted to know what happens next?

Story:

No story:


6. No one found your great video.

Unfortunately, successful video content marketing isn’t just creating great content, then putting it up on your YouTube page, blog and facebook feed and moving on to the next thing. Videos live and die by discovery, and you need to get a broad audience (and, for that matter, the right audience) looking at your work. I wrote a pretty comprehensive introductory explainer to getting more views on your video here on Quora. Check it out and feel free to leave comments or feedback if it was helpful or you disagree with any of my core points. Whatever you do, don’t make the same mistakes as Cybergeddon.

7. You didn’t test your video(s).

Traditional video content marketing – particularly branded entertainment – can be high-reward, but also moderate risk. Even with significant investment in seeding and paid media, big branded content efforts can crash and burn because the creators missed their audience or couldn’t quite pull it together on execution. At ZoomTilt, our branded entertainment media buying process is closely-integrated with video A/B-testing, so that not only do advertisers get to compare multiple creative variations based on the same brief or campaign objective, but they can also make data-driven predictions about targeted audience engagement and content virality prior to committing their full production spend. Test your videos, don’t just pull the trigger on a $300,000 media buy because your 24 year old intern down the hall who wears skinny jeans thinks they’re epic.

8. You’re not amplifying or complementing the conversation.

During prime time, up to 60% of the conversation happening on Twitter can be related to TV. Yes, successful TV shows can create global hashtags in real time. While digital isn’t at that scale and more fragmented, it’s also not as ephemeral here-and-gone as a TV ad, and that’s a big opportunity for marketers to capitalize on. Create companion content, connect your videos to product promotions or product launches, integrate hashtags and then measure it all. Entertaining storytelling is a huge catalyst for social media activity and engagement, so don’t silo your videos from your overall social media marketing efforts.

9. You’re missing the long tail.

Just like search engine optimization (SEO), strategically targeting the long tail (and long tail keywords in your video title, text description and metadata) can pay off big, particularly when your video has little relevant competition but really strikes a chord with a spirited niche. Get it right, and next thing you know your content gets picked up on Mashable and your sales go through the roof. Just ask the OraBrush guys:


10. You’re the 1,000th brand to hop on a content-competitive trend.

Don’t go head-to-head on replica content with Fortune 500 marketing giants (unless you yourself are a Fortune 500 marketing giant) if you can’t bring something really new, fresh and novel to the table:

This wins (#JeffGordonisonFire):

This doesn’t (#sorryHubspot):


The difference a little creativity and the scale of your audience reach [a solid celebrity cameo that doesn’t bust your budget usually doesn’t hurt either] collectively make on the success of your content cannot be understated.

Now let’s go out there and make successful branded videos people love.