"Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of advertising."
Like so many truisms, this one is not literally true. Word-of-mouth is not advertising at all; as unpaid endorsement it is the purest form of PR. In today's hyper-connected world, electronic word-of-mouth (WOM), is the holy grail of consumer product promotion. And in that world YouTube is the New York Times.
The difference between "that world" and the media world most PR professionals live in is that it isn't about the placement that counts; it's the viewership it attracts that matters. Anyone can (and does) put up video pieces on YouTube. Most are nearly unwatchable and, in fact, most go unwatched. But the ones that are clever, or funny, or unexpectedly real, draw hundreds of thousands of viewers. And they do more than tell a product story; they demonstrate that the company has an original spirit, a sense of humor even, that can make it endearing to consumers or other stakeholders.
"Today's video PR campaigns must include both traditional and online components," counsels PR Week.in its latest edition. "Leave nothing on the cutting-room floor ... put it on YouTube or another video-sharing site." Don't take that advice literally. You should leave plenty of video on the cutting room floor; that's why you have a cutting room. Putting unusable footage on YouTube won't help your brand -- even worse than going unnoticed, it could back-fire with viewers associating your brand with boring monotony.
Instead, think of what might illustrate the human side of your company, its people or its products. It doesn't have to be zany (how many companies are truly zany place?) but it has to be fun or provocative in some way to draw an audience. WOM is all about "Hey, did you see this? Check it out." There has to be an element of the unexpected.
One powerful way to do this is to provide a "behind-the-scenes" look at some aspect of your business that the average consumer never gets to see. The beauty of this approach is that it need not be expensive or difficult to produce. Quite the opposite. You don't want it to look polished and over-produced.
During last November's Los Angeles auto show, Hyundai provided a simple behind-the-scenes look at the execution of its press conference to introduce .
the Hellion, hosted by Miles Johnson (Disclaimer: Miles used to work for me at Ford, and I'm happy to see him succeed at Hyundai). During and after the press reveal, Miles narrates the unseen goings-on, recorded on an inexpensive digital video camera. Sure, it's awkward at times, a little self-conscious and certainly cheesy, but it serves its purpose well -- showing Hyundai to be a company unafraid to show its unpolished side and featuring the product reveal to an audience it might not reach otherwise.
It will be interesting to see how other companies pick up on this approach and improve upon it.
Caution: contrived humor can go over with an awkward thud. What seems funny when viewed against the stale backdrop of your Dilbertesque office environment may seem embarrassingly unfunny to outsiders. Get some fresh eyes to look it over before you uplink.
Think of the aspects of your business that ordinary people never get to see but might find interesting. How might you showcase one of them in a way that's fun and light and original?
- Jon Harmon