Translating Viral YouTube Videos Into Sales

Want to go viral? Forget traditional PR in favor of a social media-savvy firm (or some creative college students) that can create an irreverent video hit that translates into sales.

The Company: Orabrush, a Provo, Utah, company that makes a tongue cleaner designed to eliminate bad breath

The Goal: Boost online sales

The Execution: In 2009, nearly a decade after launching Orabrush, inventor Dr. Robert Wagstaff was selling only about 10 tongue cleaners a month, for $3 each. After several months of brainstorming ways to drive traffic to the Orabrush website and increase sales, Wagstaff and freelance marketing consultant Jeffrey Harmon decided to focus their efforts on a YouTube video. Inspired by a Howcast video about curing bad breath, Harmon e-mailed its creators for permission to use the concept. He hired a former co-worker, Austin Craig, to play the starring role for $100 and paid a former college roommate $300 to write the script. Finally, he rented a Panasonic video camera for $50 and headed to a pool hall with a white wall for the shoot. During the two-minute video, “How to Tell When Your Breath Stinks,” Craig dons a white lab coat and protective goggles to educate viewers about bad breath and how the Orabrush tongue cleaner could cure it. At the end, an ad pops up inviting people to try the Orabrush for free by clicking on a link to the company’s site. The team spent about 80 hours producing, filming, and editing the video. After posting it on YouTube, the team purchased YouTube’s Promoted Video Ads, which cost $30 a day and made the video the first result when users searched for specific keywords, including bad breath, on the site. The team also posted the video on Orabrush’s Facebook page and retweeted posts about it.

The Result: Within six weeks, about 900,000 people had viewed the video, and 20 percent of them had clicked on the link to the Orabrush website. During that period, Orabrush sold roughly 10,000 tongue cleaners, clearing out its inventory. The company did not track how many free brushes it gave away, but Harmon said the sales generated by the video far outweighed any losses. In the past two years, the company has sold more than one million Orabrushes online, and the bad-breath video has been viewed more than 15 million times. The company now posts weekly videos on its YouTube channel. Recently, its tongue cleaner hit the shelves of CVS and Walmart stores around the country.

The Price Tag: $1,260 for YouTube Ads


The Company: EZ Grill, a manufacturer of disposable charcoal grills in Bellevue, Washington

The Goal: Boost online sales and attract more fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter

The Execution: After hitting the market in 2007, EZ Grill hired a traditional PR firm to generate buzz. The grill was featured on the Today show four times, along with dozens of local news broadcasts, but the appearances failed to translate into sales on the company’s website. Last fall, EZ Grill founder and CEO Phillip Swan, who was trying to target consumers in their 20s and 30s, also began to notice a drop-off in new fans and followers on the company’s Twitter and Facebook pages. That’s when a friend referred him to Banyan Branch, a Seattle firm that specializes in social-media marketing. Banyan suggested launching a video that riffed off the popular Will It Blend? series on YouTube. Instead of putting objects in a blender, the video would show a Windows 7 phone, an iPhone 4, and an Android phone being grilled, to see which one would last longest. Banyan handled the video’s shooting, editing, and production, which took a few days, and posted it on YouTube the same week the Windows 7 phone, the HTC Surround, debuted. Banyan promoted the video,”What Grills Faster?,” on Twitter and Facebook and e-mailed a press release with the YouTube link to technology blogs.

The Result: The video was an instant viral hit, garnering 1.5 million views within three days, along with coverage on prominent blogs, including TechCrunch and Engadget. Swan credits the clip for boosting the number of “Likes” on EZ Grill’s Facebook page from 780 to 3,000 and increasing its Twitter follower count from 1,500 to 6,000. However, he says, the video did not translate into sales, probably owing to the fact that it did not include a call to action and a link to EZ Grill’s online store. The company has posted three new videos in the past year, including one that explains how to make a grilled cheese sandwich in the likeness of Jesus and ends by inviting people to visit for a chance to win supplies for a Glee viewing party. But none of the videos have come close to the first in terms of views. “Marketing on YouTube was worth it in terms of building the brand, but not in terms of building consumer sales,” Swan says. “But as a small company, you’ve got to throw the spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.”

The Price Tag: $1,500


Expert Tips

Consider the Medium
Some products and services are ill suited for YouTube campaigns, warns Dan Rayburn, principal analyst of digital media at Frost & Sullivan. If you sell something that is difficult to explain — financial services, say — it might not translate well on video.

Make it Useful
Ideally, videos should be both entertaining and useful, Rayburn adds. “If you’re cooking a bunch of electronics just to create a cool video, it may not reach your target demographic.”

Include a Call to Action
If your goal is to sell products, include a link to your website on videos, as Orabrush did. “You don’t want viewers asking, ‘Where can I buy this thing?’ ” Rayburn says.

By J.J. McCorvey |  @jmccorvey   | From the November 2011 issue of Inc. magazine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.