// April 19th, 2013 // No Comments » // Uncategorized
You’re no doubt familiar with the "Will It Blend?" series of videos, wherein Tom Dickson, the founder of Blendtec, attempts to blend various unusual items in order to show off the power of his blender.
It must be tempting to claim that this was a carefully-crafted Branded Content strategy that perhaps grew out of one of those marathon all-day brand-planning sessions.
The truth is far more prosaic (and thus instantly credible). Jackie Peters reveals1 what really happened:
Before “Will It Blend,” Blendtec was just a faceless company that manufactured blenders; their consumer grade blenders run around US$400. The Will It Blend story begins shortly after George Wright began working for the company as their new marketing director in 2006. He was walking around the factory and stumbled upon Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson. Dickson was testing the new bearings in a blender by blending a 4×2 piece of wood. The company’s employees went on with their work unfazed – apparently the practice of “extreme blending” was a regular occurrence there at the factory.
George was smart enough to recognize this gem and turned it into the widely acclaimed “Will It Blend” series of videos. He simply unveiled the face that the company had all along. The videos were distributed online and Blendtec employees reached out to their personal networks to let them know. Word spread and “Will It Blend” became a viral phenomenon.
By the end of 2008, Blendtec’s retail sales were up a reported 700 percent and it had been featured on major mainstream media outlets such as The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The History Channel, The Wall Street Journal and others. Today, less than seven years after the phenomenon was launched, the Blendtec videos have collected more than 289 million views on YouTube.
The blending experiments began with glass marbles, but Tom Dickson has since gone on to grind into sometimes toxic dust many of the icons of popular culture such as iPhones and iPads, as well as CDs and DVDs by Justin Bieber.
In a white paper2, Christian Briggs of SociaLens summarised the factors contributing to Blendtec’s viral success:
The Brand and Execution were Strategically Aligned
Blendtec’s viral videos and their content aligned nicely with their brand of high-quality, technically sophisticated blenders.
The Presentation is Authentic and Credible
Tom Dickson’s charm is not his smooth presentation style. It is his authenticity.
Content Worth Sharing
Blending unusual stuff up in a blender is buzz worthy. Only a very few of us haven’t wondered “what if?” when faced with a blender/utensil oriented kitchen activity. When someone else finally answers that question for us – and particularly when that someone does so with the world’s most popular products – and in an entertaining format – we’re likely to want to be the first to tell a friend – to create “buzz.”
Early on in their process, Blendtec sent an email to their customer base asking for recommendations for things to blend. They still accept suggestions today via an online form. This open invitation allows the community to participate in the process.
Engaged Popular Culture
Will It Blend, by blending up popular items such as Nike shoes, a Halo video game, a Rubik’s Cube, and of course the iDevices, has created a strong web of cultural references which make the videos likely to catch the attention of the various sub-communities of fans of each of the products. By then tagging the videos with the names of other high-profile items, Blendtec has also maximized the likelihood that the videos will be popular in Internet searches.
We’d also add:
Shock and Awe
Blendtec often applies the blender to items that are both expensive and in hot demand, such as the various iPhones and the iPad. That can trigger incredulity (“They’d really do that to such a valuable item?”) and even perhaps outrage (“How dare they destroy that when I can’t even get my hands on one?”), both of which are likely to drive sharing – “wait till you see what they’ve done with …”
Behavioural Pattern Dissonance
Blenders (even Blendtec’s) are not supposed to be abused the way they are in Tom Dickson’s videos. We expect items to be used a certain way. And we expect company owners to act a certain way as well: perhaps to be conservative, responsible and even a little stuffy. Tom’s behaviour, and his treatment of those poor blenders (to say nothing of the fate of the subjects of that ill treatment) disrupts our preconceptions and breaks the normal patterns of expectation. In short, Blendtec’s efforts stand out precisely because they do things we never expected.
With more than 72 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, it ain’t easy to get noticed. Only a very few are unique enough to survive the information tsunami. Blendtec needs all the above triggers to make an impression (and has to keep raising the ante to get noticed next time).
The Initial Seeding
Even the most amazing video ever made won’t get seen if no-one knows it’s there. As noted above, Blendtec employees first needed to reach out to their personal networks to share the initial video before it could go viral. Other research suggests that a few super-connected influencers are needed to get the word out fast; we suspect that the same phenomenon had a part to play in Blendtec’s initial success.
Fascinating stuff. Which leads us to ask the question: what would YOU have said, on your first days in a new job, if you’d stumbled across your CEO using a blender to systematically demolish a piece of wood?