Will It Blend (for 50 Bucks)? The ‘budget Myth’ About A Popular Viral Video Campaign

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One of the myths with viral video marketing perpetuated by both search marketing pundits and mainstream media is an example they give about a wildly successful viral video campaign, claiming it was done with only chump change, so anyone else with just their own creative strategy can do it, too – right? That ”budget myth” is Blendtec’s popular WillitBlend video campaign, which prompted one panelist at the Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2008 Conference to claim that “the cost to produce it was only $50!” Here’s the story on what the costs actually were, and how the budget myth got spread.

ReelSEO’s contributing reporter, Scott Ciborowski, covered the SES the session, Igniting Viral Campaigns. He asked the panel if they could share any notable viral campaigns involving video advertising. Panelist Fionn Downhill of Elxir Interactive, gave perhaps the most popular example out there – BlendTec’s WillItBlend series, the video campaign that’s received a ton of mainstream publicity for its humorous experiments and down-to-earth style on what happens when you put interesting things into a blender.

Fiona gave a good example, but here is where she got her information wrong (and based an assumption on that wrong information):

“The common misconception with creating viral video campaigns are that they cost lots of money to produce. But in reality your company doesn’t have to break the bank when creating a viral video campaign.  Take Blendtec’s ‘Will It Blend’ video that was loaded on Youtube. The cost to produce the Blendtec’s first was $50. Since their first video release, the company has seen sales increase 700%.”

Now since I was already familiar with the press around Blendtec, and having hear Blendtec’s own VP of Sales & Marketing, George Wright, share this story about starting out with $50 (and that point especially being picked out by the media), wouldn’t you get the impression that Blendtec’s WillItBlend video campaign really was started on only $50?

At a conference just that previous month (PubCon Vegas), where George was one of the keynote speakers, he again brought up the “$50 startup” story to the audience. So after his keynote I asked George to give a breakdown of the $50 his company forked out for the production of the first WillItBlend video. Can you guess what it was for?

Yes, George told me, the company did fork out 50 dollars out of their expense account – “for a few Big Mac value meals, a rotisserie chicken, a garden rake, some marbles and a white lab coat.” (CEO Tom Dickson already had his own safety goggles.)

Now, here’s what wasn’t included in that reported $50 amount that went into making Blendtec’s video:

  • A professional videographer
  • Professional camera equipment
  • Video editing system – hardware and software
  • Purchase of audio soundtrack (royalty-free).

Anyone who’s a professional videographer, or has worked closely with a professional video agency will tell you that all those necessary costs that go into making a video of the quality of what WillItBlend’s first one, would likely run you around $2,500 – $5,000 in production costs for your first video – about 50-100 times greater than the perpetuated myth. Sure you could save considerable money if you already have a videographer on-staff (like Blendtec already did) if you’re going to be doing a lot of videos, or are willing to have someone in your own company take on the extensive training of become even close to a professional-level videographer themselves (which may be accomplished in years).  But time is money as well.

As much as the cost-curve and accessibility of publishing video online has become far more feasible today, Its not as easy as thinking you could just get a Flip video camcorder at your local BestBuy (one of the other recommendations given by a member of the panel), do point-and-shoot, and expect astounding viral marketing results.

Now Blendtec is certainly one of the best examples for how any small-or-medium size business can do a viral video campaign with a smart budget, especially when you consider that they still do all of their production work in-house, without any assistance from an outside ad agency . They were creative and practial in making their break room their shooting studio, and having their CEO Tom Dickson as the “talent” rather than a hired actor, to give it a feeling of realism mixed with surrealism – a very smart move.

But believing that their success was accomplished with only a $50 budget has already led to some bad assumptions from search marketers, viral marketers, and budding online video marketers. And for a panelist at SES who was presented as an expert about viral marketing campaigns to believe and perpetuate that myth sans fact-checking, it shows that even some notable viral marketers have yet to grasp an understanding of the expertise and costs that go into quality video production. Which likely explains why so many search engine marketers today still think they can just buy any cheap camcorder, spend $50 bucks or less, and put out online video of such questionable quality that it actually hurts their message and their brand, rather than help them.

Bursting the “budget myth” around viral video campaigns is not to say that a successful viral video campaign can’t be done for $50 or less. Even I believe that’s possible with the perfect combination of expertise, creativity, practicality, and marketing savvy are all in place with the right team. Only that it if can be done, then it can be done much better with how Blendtec really did it – with professional video equipment, cameraman and editor.

Its great that Blendtec’s WillitBlend videos have been a great inspiration to so many marketers looking for ways to compete and even conquer over big ad agencies with big production budgets. But for these marketers really want to achieve viral success with their own videos, they have to stop believing in the commonly perpetuated budget myth, and realize it still takes a proper investment and commitment on the production end. By believing and spreading the budget myth, these marketers are foregoing basic business sense and give out bad advice; and that can really hurt them, their customers, and their audience who come away with wrong assumptions about video marketing.

For those individuals who are being presented at major search marketing conferences as leaders in the viral marketing space, and where video is playing an increasing influential role, it’s quite a “blunder” on their part.

Special thanks to contributing reporter Scott Ciborowski, President at Sheffield Marketing a Chicago-based search marketing firm providing SEO consulting, pay per click management and web analytics measurement.


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