Marketing Lessons From the Dollar Shave Club
Back in March, a startup called The Dollar Shave Club was everywhere all of the sudden thanks to the video below. Was it any good? No. It was great.
But, let's face it. Your startup isn't DSC, you're not as funny as its CEO Michael Dubin, and your video will probably never approach 7 million views. That's okay. You can still make a bigger mark with a good video than you can buying a lot of ads.
The point is, a decent launch video is at least worth the effort. If you're trying to get maximum publicity at the lowest possible cost, you can't do much better, though you should consider the following expert tips.
1. Don't release it in a vacuum.
To critics, Dollar Shave Club just got lucky. Dubin acknowledges that luck played a role in the launch video's success, but DSC did a few things that at least ensured the video wouldn't fade into obscurity along with most of the 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. Chiefly, the video piggybacked on a funding announcement that was bound to get some press coverage.
"You have to give it a fighting chance," says Zach Blume, a partner in Portal A Interactive, a studio that specializes in creating viral content on behalf of clients. By that Blume means you should tie the video to an announcement the way DSC did and even buy advertising. How much? According to Blume, you can get the job done with as little as $3,000 if you know who your target is.
2. Make it funny.
Dubin isn't just an entrepreneur, he's also a performer of sorts who has trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. He also brought in friend and fellow UCB alum Lucia Aniello to direct the video, which displays expert comic timing.
You don't need formal training to produce a funny video, though. Jeffrey Harmon was a college student when inventor Bob Wagstaff approached him to create a video in 2009 for Orabrush. As this video shows, Harmon was a natural clown (and a Topher Grace sound-alike).
Steinar Skipsnes, another entrepreneur, also put together a very funny collection of videos to hype Replyboard, a startup he co-founded that was meant to act as a middleman between Craigslist buyers and sellers. Skipsnes and friend Nick Ellis shot videos of themselves answering Craigslist ads and then acting in various odd ways. In one video, Ellis asked to use a seller's bathroom and then started taking a shower. In another, the two put stockings on their heads as a seller was demoing his guitar. The idea was meant to illustrate the fact that people answering Craigslist ads can be kind of dodgy.
The videos were compelling—in a Jackass sort of way—and got more than 1 million views, Skipsnes says. However, the startup was derailed when Craigslist sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company demanding it remove any mention or association to Craigslist. That effectively killed the company, Skipsnes says. (The startup took down the original videos to remove the Craigslist affiliation, Skipsnes says. Doing so erased the original view counts.)
Of course, what you think is funny may not translate to the masses. A good way to ensure success is to show the video to as many people as you can. That's what DSC did. The company's launch video was actually kicking around for months, during which time it was used it to woo potential investors and gauge their reaction.
3. Make it relevant.
The videos from DSC, Orabrush and Replyboard weren't just funny. They also plugged a product or service that filled a void in the marketplace. Dubin says there was a real need for a company that sold cheap razors on a monthly basis. "Thousands of funny videos launch all the time," he says, "but this one saves you money."
4. Don't focus too much on pageviews.
One of Portal A's clients, Airtime, offers a more recent example that also illustrates the vagaries of viral videos. Airtime had a lot going for it, including the backing of Sean Parker of Facebook fame. The video was also slick, funny and featured celebs like Kurt Russell, MC Hammer and Ronnie Lott, among others. Yet about four months after the video dropped, it has fewer than 200,000 views, versus nearly 7 million for DSC.
Blume says that's fine. "Dollar Shave Club was a phenomenon," he says. "It was also an aberration." While the stars aligned for DSC, you can't expect your video to reach the same stratospheric levels. However, as long as you're reaching your target, you shouldn't worry too much about pageviews, Blume says. "The view count can really distort things," he says. "The question is how much social sharing did it receive?" Who is sharing the video is also important. Even a few thousand views can be effective if you're trying to reach a fairly narrow audience.
5. Make sure your IT infrastructure is up to speed.
There are few problems more vexing than creating a demand for your product or service only to have your IT infrastructure crumble under the strain. That's what happened with DSC. "The site crashed, and we heard a lot of 'This would be a great idea for a company,'" Dubin says. "That was frustrating."