I've been talking about the now-famous head-shaving helmet video for a few weeks now. First I featured it in one of my weekly round-ups of the latest and greatest viral success stories. A few days later, CNN revealed the video as a hoax and spoke with the creators--a viral agency called Thinkmodo. I came behind that and wrote about how tricky hoax videos are to pull off and why this one was so successful.
But secretly... I wanted to know more about how they did it. So I asked them if they'd be interested in answering some questions about how they pulled off one of the most-buzzed-about hoax videos of the year. And they agreed!
Thinkmodo is run by Michael Krivicka and James Percelay, and this is not their first viral video success. However, for the purposes of this interview, I tried to keep things focused on the shaving helmet video. As many of you can surely understand, the guys had to be a bit coy regarding some of the information--we Internet marketers are not always at liberty to share all the details regarding the work we do. However, I found them to be very forthcoming and frank... and really nice guys to boot.
Just in case you haven't seen it, here's the viral video in question:
Here now some of the questions I dared to ask, and the answers the Thinkmodo guys were gracious enough to give me:
Where did the specific idea come from, and how involved was HeadBlade in that brainstorming part of the project? Did you bring multiple ideas to them, or were they involved in the ideation at the ground level?
HeadBlade hired us (Thinkmodo) to create a viral video marketing campaign to increase brand awareness for their unique head shaving razor. They wanted it to be fresh, edgy, and to spark conversations about head shaving. The challenge was to create a video that did not show HeadBlade's name or logo, yet feature one of their razors in the video to demonstrate how it works. To meet the challenge we conceived an idea that gave a logical excuse to feature their razor and how it's meant to be used.
My partner James and I typically create multiple concepts between us then pitch the one we think is best for the client. In this case I think we presented two, and the client loved the "The Shaving Helmet." We prefer to use ideas that have not been done before, and that don't come up on google searches before we pitch them.
How did you find the actors--routine casting call or did you use people you've worked with before?
We didn't use actors. For this kind of viral video it was important to use real people.
How long did the shoot take?
Only 4 hours. It's the conceptualizing and planning on our projects that takes time.
The helmet, though fake, still actually has moving parts... someone had to build that thing, and the "making of" video shows some of that being done. How did you go about getting the prop made without spoiling the prank?
We work with people we trust, and that's how our ideas remain discrete. In this case, the "shaving helmet" was the star of the video so it had to actually function and look plausible. Many of our concepts will involve special effects, and we have good relationships with fabricators of all kinds. It helps that my partner James used to produce the commercial parodies at SNL in which so many spots involved an elaborate prop of some sort. For this prop we contracted an amazing company called Clockwork Apple in Brooklyn because of their sophisticated design and electro-mechanical capabilities.
How much planning did you guys do with regard to revealing the video as a hoax? Did you plan to make that reveal at a certain time interval after launch or at after set number of video views was achieved?
I am not allowed to answer that at this point.
As I mentioned in an article the other day, hoax videos risk alienating audience members who feel betrayed. What, if anything, did you do to try and avoid that or plan for it? Did the client (HeadBlade) have any apprehension about possible negative fallout?
Our work represents a client so we're mindful that the reveal should be a reward, not a let down. You don't get the kind of audience engagement we and others generate if people didn't like playing along until the very end.
The CNN piece, and many other news articles and blog posts that followed the reveal of the viral, immediately compared us to viral marketing campaigns such as the Microsoft Swoosh and the Liquid Mountaineering. Both were viral "hoaxes" that fooled millions. But did the brands suffer and were its customers let down or disappointed? No.
The opposite happened. Instead of feeling "betrayed" or "let down", the viewers associated the brand with fun, excitement, and smarts.
How do you measure the success of a video like this... is it in terms of exposure? Media coverage? Video views? Or is it measured in sales? I'm curious to know what kind of benchmarks Thinkmodo set for themselves at the start.
I can't answer that right now.
Speaking of sales... how's the client doing now that they've announced the hoax and started selling the product? Are their sales up? Pageviews?
Suffice it to say they are extremely happy and The Shaving Helmet was a big hit for them. Can't say more at the moment.
Can you share any information about how the video spread--were you able to track any significant action on social networks or aggregation sites? (In other words, do you know what sites or services to thank for helping this video go viral).
Sure. It showed up on tech sites first: Gizmodo, Wired, Dvice, Ubergizmo, Geek, etc... It then jumped to entertainment and life-style sites like Sports Illustrated, The Huffington Post (Comedy section), Urlesque, TheDailyWhat, etc... and they all loved it. On day 3 it spread internationally and all news links, blogs, and tweets were all of the sudden in Russian, French, German, Spanish, Italian etc... It became a global hit.
Great video content is only half the viral battle. Was there any specific strategy you employed for rollout and distribution that you can share? What, if anything, did you do to help ensure the video had a good chance of catching fire?
Every marketing agency has its own secret strategy, and we have ours. But we agree that strong content is key. Nothing kills a bad product better than good advertising.
Was the CNN story revealing the hoax part of the marketing plan, or just a fortunate accident?
We don't do things by accident. We're having fun playing in this new medium, but it's a business so we're pretty strategic in charting how events unfold.
There's a "sweet spot" for hoax videos like this. It has to seem possible, yet unbelievable... it has to seem real, but impressive. That's a fine line. Do you have any advice for video marketers out there on how to find that right balance for a hoax video? What were some of the challenges you faced in trying to balance the unbelievable with the believable?
If there was one "sweet spot" as you put it, our business plan and this medium would be short lived. The viral marketing field is constantly changing, and changing fast. We like that challenge and will welcome it with fresh and new concepts.
Any advice you'd give to other video marketers who want to create great viral videos?
Our advice to other video marketers who want to create successful virals of any kind is "Don't underestimate the intelligence of the online audience." If your idea is illogical or execution is sloppy they will discover it fast --even before the news media. On the other hand, it's this level of audience engagement that gives this medium such value to advertisers.
Special thanks to Michael and James for taking time out of their busy schedule of CNN interviews and viral domination to talk with me about the shaving helmet project. Looking forward to seeing the work they put out in the future.