March 01, 2007
Many marketers turn to humor when they’re looking to jumpstart a campaign. Some efforts work, most don’t, especially in the business-to-business world.
Discover what one company in the humorless document storage and data protection industry did to stand out from the crowd: an Internet video effort with English straight-man John Cleese. They've had more than 1 million downloads.
Includes a five-part strategy, results and a very funny creative sample.
When you’re in the business of document storage and data protection, it’s a no-brainer to market your services as safe and reliable. But document and data protection company Iron Mountain found that approach, along with the traditional direct mail, email and Webinar channels, well, let’s just say … limiting.
So in 2005, when the company was set to release a new version of its server backup system, they wanted to jumpstart awareness of the product and add some humor to the brand within the staid world of backup.
Karen McPhillips, VP Worldwide Marketing, realized that she might be heading into consumer marketing territory, which was a risky move. “For B-to-B technology companies, there’s not much of a comfort level to associate yourself with any sort of character outside of trust, security and blue-chip reliability.”
Committed to trying something new, McPhillips and her team decided some kind of humorous viral marketing campaign was the best approach. But viral marketing was new to the team, calling for a new development strategy.
OK, so McPhillips and her team had two parts of the equation nailed: humor and viral. They just needed the third. Then it came to them: Internet video. Now, the real work began.
-> Step #1. Create a funny plot relevant to the industry
Deciding what kind of video to make called for an offsite brainstorming session among McPhillips’ team. The goal was to come up with a hook that would make their target audience watch and share the video.
The team started with an obvious customer pain-point: lost data from servers that weren’t properly backed up. They went with a lighthearted twist on the subject, though, by creating “The Institute for Backup Trauma,” where IT professionals would go to deal with the after-effects of lost data and tape-backup mishaps.
-> Step #2. Hire a celebrity who will attract viewers
By itself, their concept wasn’t enough to ensure that viewers would watch a long-form video online. They knew they needed to build a character around a star -- someone famous enough and funny enough to carry the production. Monty Python’s John Cleese immediately came to mind.
Cleese was an ideal choice, McPhillips says, not just for his humor, but because his post-Python career has included a number of corporate training videos, speaking engagements and advertising campaigns.
-> Step #3. Write a script that makes the best use of your star
Once Cleese agreed, they were able to start the scriptwriting process, incorporating his personality and strong suits. The process included:
- Naming the character.
- Creating absurd situations that would play off Cleese’s straight-man routine and have him play multiple characters within the video.
- Getting input from Cleese, who rewrote some of the dialogue to fit his personality.
The result was a six-minute video that detailed the pain of lost data, highlighted the new system as a solution and concluded with a call for viewers to click for an online tour of the Institute for Backup Trauma or click to go to the system’s home page.
-> Step #4. Orchestrate a viral launch
To create buzz, McPhillips’ team advertised the new video at sites likely to attract potential customers, such as technology forums and tech trade publication Web sites.
From banner ads on those sites, the team tracked clickthroughs to the video, hosted on a new Institute for Backup Trauma Web site.
The plan was also to get bloggers to spread the word about the video, so the team tracked links from other sites to the video file.
-> Step #5. Use the video for targeted lead generation
Months after launching the viral video campaign, McPhillips wanted to use the video for targeted lead generation. Because the team was successful with Webinars in the past, they used the viral video as the basis for a new video Webinar hosted by Cleese that expanded on the “backup trauma” theme and offered more product details.
They found a platform that could host the Webinar and offered a Flash-based video banner ad that invited viewers to attend the Cleese Webinar.
The Webinar platform included a registration form to capture contact information and had reporting tools that tracked how long viewers stayed with the program and what online tools or navigation functionality they clicked on during the presentation.
They also sent email invitations to prospects who had come in from the new system.
Although it seemed like a risk two years ago, McPhillips shouldn’t have been worried. With more than 1 million views of the Cleese video and more than 2,000 attendees for the Online Backup Webinar, “viral marketing can work for a B-to-B [company]. We’ve proven that out.”
Thanks to those viewers, they saw:
o 3% of responses (clickthroughs to the video or registrations for the Webinar) became qualified leads
o 23% qualified leads became opportunities influenced
o 33% opportunities influenced became opportunities won
The humorous approach and Cleese’s celebrity status were key to generating buzz. The banner ad version of the video had an average clickthrough rate of 3.05%, and more than 500 Web sites established links to the video.
The campaign also won several industry awards, including an Outstanding Website Web Award from the Web Marketing Association and two MarCom Creative Awards.
The team planned to take the video down after a year, but it’s still online due to continued attention (both from outside the company and internally) and they’re currently in the midst of planning another viral campaign.
Sherpa note: If you’re thinking about trying a similar campaign, keep two factors in mind:
#1. Hiring big names, such as Cleese, is a costly choice. Make sure that the cost per lead doesn’t eat your entire budget.
#2. Although humorous advertising can be quite memorable, it’s not the type of messaging that IT professionals respond to most, according to MarketingSherpa data. Ads that build business relationships address relevant business scenarios (53%) and white papers (50%), above humorous ads (46%).
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Iron Mountain’s video campaign:
Thunder Sky Pictures – the production company that created the Institute for Backup Trauma video:
Accela Communications - the interactive marketing firm that provided the Webinar platform and video banner ad technology:
Captains of Industry - the marketing agency involved in the campaign:
LiveVault- Iron Mountain’s server backup system:
Iron Mountain Inc.