Online-Video to Marketers: Lighten Up, Francis!

In one of the more memorable moments of the incredibly quotable Stripes, a new recruit warns his fellow troupe: “The name’s Francis Sawyer… but everybody calls me psycho… any of you call me Francis I’ll kill you.” The drill┬ásergeant’s┬áresponse: “lighten up, Francis” (see video).

“Lighten up” was one of the pieces of advice in a column titled, “Four Ways to Protect Your Brand: Throw Away The Script.” The piece, written by former show-business executive Walter Sabo, reflects his learnings as CEO of Hitviews, a company that helps brands leverage online-video stars to produce sponsored videos that reach viewers in a different way than most online advertising.

It’s hard for a marketer to let go of his or her message, especially when the more a marketer cares about a brand the harder it is to see a promotion depart from a well-researched and carefully crafted strategy, message map, and creative brief.

I’d argue that “letting go” or “lightening up” is the second most difficult thing to do (followed almost certainly by gaining approval to engage in non-formatted promotion from conservative legal council and senior management less familiar with the medium). On this blog I’ve recounted my own experience with “giving up control” on social media. I preached it while at J&J but it became a lot more difficult when I saw my own brand (Propecia and “Nalts”) take on their own personalities online. In some cases both Propecia and “Nalts” (if I may call my online persona a brand) was inaccurate or at least incomplete. Fortunately Walter is not asking brands to depart from strategy, but to allow more creative control than we marketers typically afford agencies.

Indeed a video star is different from an agency’s director or producer. They have their own voice, and an audience that expects that voice to carry through entertainment and the occasional promotion. Have you ever heard a spot by Howard Stern? Give him too much copy or edit his script departures and you lose the impact of having him endorse the product — which sounds like an endorsement by a trusted personality.

I’m not familiar with many marketers who will enjoy being told to “lighten up,” but I trust that agencies can help educate their clients that a carefully controlled promotion is called an “advertisement” and is quite often tuned out. But webstars given some creative freedom to make the message their own is what breaks through the clutter.

Disclaimer: I am a “webstar” who has made videos for Hitviews on behalf of such clients as Reader’s Digest, Fox, MTV and Microsoft. One of my favorite aspects of this medium is trying to make widely-viewed videos that promote a brand but, above all, entertain. In most cases when a brand tampers in the creative, the views and persuasive power of the video is not as high. That doesn’t mean we “webstars” don’t need strategic direction and a creative brief… it just means that if we’re allowed to interpret it in our style for our audience the results are far more interesting.

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