S: Hello and welcome to Marketing Speak. I’m your host Stephan Spencer. Today we have Jamie Salvatori with us. Jamie is the founder of Vat19.com, an ecommerce store featuring unique gifts, toys, candy and curiously awesome oddities like £25 gummy bears. Vat19 is also well known for its YouTube channel which currently boasts of 3.5 million subscribers and nearly 3 billion video views. Jamie, it’s great to have you on the show.
J: It’s great to be with you.
S: Thanks for joining us. Let’s start with how did you get this level of success? 3 billion views, it seems crazy huge. Is there some sort of secret sauce to getting that level of YouTube success?
J: I’m sure your viewers are hoping that there’s a magic wand we can wave but for us I think a lot of it was luck. We didn’t set out, when we started putting our videos on YouTube, to create a big YouTube presence. Now, it’s become integral to our company’s marketing program. When we first started 10 years ago putting videos on YouTube, the reason was really simple. I was looking for three video hosting. 10 years ago, that was expensive and it was a big deal to use YouTube as how you were going to host your videos. You might remember this, people would, oh, I don’t know, are you sure you want to use YouTube? Now there’s a YouTube logo and branding on your website, on your videos. Don’t you want a custom branded player? That was the pitch from Akamai and those other guys that would sell your video hosting. That was really the reason why I started putting our videos on YouTube. And then it took off from there a little bit over the years, but that’s how it started.
S: Yeah, just a little bit of success. Tell us about your background and how it helps you to really kick off with YouTube.
J: I went to school for Computer Science and I actually have an engineering degree which makes not so much sense for a guy that had a video production company. That was a level of mind and it was something that my father, who’s a professionally trained cinematographer, taught me all about. I went to school for Computer Science because I wanted to learn and do something different. I thought that it had an amazing future and I didn’t see that these things would all come together later. My company, when I got into college, was a video production company. We made TV commercials for local companies here in St. Louis where I’m from. Local grocery stores and local furniture companies and the car companies and terrible training videos and disgusting videos for plastic surgeons and stuff, no offense to plastic surgeons but that sounds nasty and hammering out somebody’s nose. Anyway, that’s what I was doing and I just really couldn’t make much money doing it. I love making videos and I love making commercials, I just hated the commercials that we were making for the companies I mentioned previously. I just thought if we could somehow choose the products that we will make a commercial for, that we would have so much more fun. That was the impetuous for the store was just hey, if we just collect a bunch of stuff that we think is cool and needs a video in order to explain the product, that would be fun and that was really it. I just thought I can’t do any worse that I’m doing now, so let’s give this other idea a try. That’s pretty much it. I did not do it the right way, I did no market research, I had no business plan, I had no business doing retail because I had no background, I knew nothing about retail, I just though I know how to make commercials and I have this Computer Science background, I can make the website myself, it won’t cost a lot to try this, so that’s what we did.
S: That’s an amazing story. There’s the expression zero to hero. It’s just been amazing, it sounds. Some of your videos have tens of millions of views and they’re product videos which blows my mind. It’s an unusual case. I don’t know of any other retailer that is going viral repeatedly. It’s like you got it down to a formula.
J: We have a lot fun and we’ve got a lot of great creative people here that help come up with these ideas and then execute them. I think a lot of that plays into our success. There’s two things I look at, there’s two. One is the product, you try to find great amazing products that we love. That’s maybe half of how we’ve gotten lucky on YouTube is that we’ve picked products that are unusual and different. That’s what people always want to see, they want to see something new, they want to see something they haven’t seen before. I think that’s a big part of it. I don’t know how to take a store that specializes in tennis. I wouldn’t know how to make them a popular YouTube channel. There probably is a way but I don’t know what you say about the 38th racket video that you haven’t said about the first 29. I think the products play a big part of it. And then second is that we really try to push the concept, the idea is so important. We spend a lot of time on the scripts. We have a decent number of writers here and we just try to come up with the best ideas and stuff that seems fun to us as we can.
S: Let’s walk through this ideation process. Do you guys all gather in a room and do a brainstorming session? Do you just do it on your own and then come together with a bunch of ideas that you’ve percolated over for a while? What are the steps in this process where you end up with that amazing script?
J: The process evolved over the years. When we first started, me and another guy, John. John would write the script, I would look it over. Me and him would shoot it together and then he would edit it. We were the only two people in each video. There were many times where we’d set up the camera, hit record and then run around in front of the camera which I’m sure a lot of people can imagine that scenario. That’s how it started. But now, we have separate roles. The process basically starts with deciding, one, are we going make a video for this product? Roughly, how long do we think it should take to shoot this product? What do we think the goal of this video should be? What are we trying to accomplish with it? That gives the writer some kind of guideline. Is this some sort of “commercial” or do we want to do something strange or weird with this? That gives them some kind of guidance. Then the writers start brainstorming a little bit on their own, just enough to prepare a list of questions for the entire rest of the team. The whole team then gets together for a brainstorming session and there’s usually three questions on a sheet of paper. They’re looking for us to brainstorm the answers to these questions that they’ll use to help write their script. Then, we sit in a room together in silence. I set a timer and we just write down on a sheet of paper, we do the brainstorming. The writers take that stuff back to write their first draft of the script, then the whole team gets notes on the first draft, and then we come back and we look at the second draft about a week later. That could go on for two, maybe three drafts until we finally have a script that we like. I think it’s worth pointing out that the idea of brainstorming where a group of people sits around a table and you’re just throwing out ideas. We’ve tried that but there’s more focused brainstorming with the questions that the writers have set out ahead of time to help guide us and then doing it individually and writing it down. In our experience, it’s way more efficient than what people assume a brainstorm should be which is a bunch of people sitting around in a circle throwing out ideas.
S: This reminds me, when you’re describing this process, of another process I learned. I have an episode on my other show which I think you will enjoy listening too, and listeners you should check it out too. It’s with Bill Donius. It’s on the Optimized Geek. He talks about how to engage the right hemisphere of your brain, the creative center which is not the verbal center. The verbal center is on the left. If you use your non-dominant hand to write out ideas and you don’t try and speak them in your head while you’re writing them. He talks about quiet your mind and just get centered and ask your right brain to chime in on this process and then you put the pen in your non dominant hand. For me, that would be my left hand and then you squeeze the pen, reset things and then you start writing and amazing things can come out. You can brainstorm, you can strategize, you can come up with your to-do list for the day. I did this exercise where he had us write down our totem animal, an animal that we relate to or resonate with. I had written down, I think it was a Zebra because I think they’re cool and everything and they could run and they’re just distinctive and all that. But then when I switched hands and then did it with my left hand, engaging my right brain, I got a completely different animal. I got a humpback whale. And then I start to think about, wow, that really resonates with me more. I’m a very thoughtful, connected person and that really makes sense. Try that, listen to the episode. It’s one of the early episodes on The Optimized Geek. Bill Donius. He wrote Though Revolution and he does this for huge corporations, comes in and helps them with overhauling their ideation processes and so forth. It’s really, really cool.
J: That is very cool.
S: Let’s move onto another part of this process which is the script writing. You’ve got a fantastic idea. One of my favorite videos of you guys is the music video of the party gummy. It’s hilarious. First of all, how did you come up with that? Who came up with it? What was the process that yielded that music video?
J: I can’t take any credit for that music video, whatsoever. That was a few years back, I’m trying to remember how the idea for that came about. We have two guys here, actually got four or five now, but when we made that party bear video we had two guys who grew up together and been in a band together. They liked creating music, making music and doing music videos and we’re always looking for products where a music video would make sense but they take a lot of time to do. Because I’m not very musical, my role is basically saying yeah, sure, that sounds good. You should make a music video for that product. I can’t really help much other than the things that one does when they’re not too creatively involved which is like I can get us a car for that video, producer type of things. We’ll get my wife’s car in here. We can use that. I’ll go to Michael’s and buy an enormous champagne glass, or whatever. That’s really all I was doing was trying to help facilitate that. But those two guys came up with the concept, and then they wrote the lyrics and made all the music. And then those two guys are in the video doing it. The only thing I can take credit for is the product itself, that’s it. But they did everything else. I love that video. It’s a fun one.: I love it too. It’s one of my favorites when I show off viral videos in the world of ecommerce. That’s one of the ones I like to show off, so much fun. What would be a video that you’re particularly proud of that you came up with the idea?
J: Oh my gosh. We’ve made over a thousand videos. It’s hard for me to even remember which ones I came up with and where I came up with an idea. I’m looking through our website right now. I love so many of them.
S: Yeah. Me too. I just watched the worms one with the differents kinds of challenges. The Realer Gummy.
J: Yeah, that one I remember a little bit about. One of the guys on the video team touring the Christmas season was here on the weekend because as an ecommerce store, everyone’s got to help out in the warehouse during that Christmas rush. He told me he was walking up and down the aisles picking products and this idea popped in his head. The real version of all these gummy things, a real worm, a real bear eating bear meat. A gummy gator eating real gator. A gummy worm eating a real worm. We sell a gummy brain eating cow brain. This idea just popped in his head and he mentioned it to me just walking down the hall. I was like, that’s awesome, we’re doing it. Sometimes things like that happen and his role in the video team isn’t really as a writer. Everyone contributes, obviously, in a big creative sense but he just had this idea. I know just another one popped in my head. We did a video and one of the scenes in the video, we filled a bathtub up with these things called spit balls. They’re these polymer balls, they start out really small, you add water to them and they get bigger and they’re bouncy and Orbeez is a brand of this type of product. We had this bathtub full of it and we were playing around with it and we were just standing around in there. I think I just said out loud, wow! Wonder what it would be like to fill a pool full of this? Or maybe somebody else, I can’t remember. I was like, yeah, we should fill a pool up with these spitballs. I went and did some math, we found a company in China that could send us a few hundred pounds and went and got an above ground pool, put it in my backyard, fill the thing up with it, had some fun, made a video, that was this past summer when we did that. Sometimes that happens and then sometimes we go through three or four drafts of a script.
S: Let’s talk about that script writing process. Do you have a particular way of doing this? Or is it pretty free form? What does the script end up looking like? Is it just a one pager or is it quite long? You’d imagine a script in Hollywood. How does this all go?
J: We have our own strange format. There’s a screenplay format which is not what we use that often. What we end use up usually seeing is almost like a shooting script format. We have two columns, one is what I’m seeing and then the other is what I’m hearing. You have sort of a video column and an audio column. That’s what the writers usually come up with. For a typical product video, it’s a couple of minutes, a minute or two long, that might be one and a half pages long, something like that. They’re not dramatically long. Some of our bigger videos, like the real versus gummy, there’s sort of an outline. Jamie and Adam are going to sit down and they are going to spin the wheel three times, or whatever. That’s more let’s set up a situation, see what happens, and then give it to the editors to do a tremendous job crafting a story out of it. But the shorter videos that are a minute or two long, the script is usually just a page or two.
S: The storytelling process is so critical. With the realer gummy example, and you were in that video. What did you end up having to eat?
J: The thing that sticks out to me the most is just a worm that we just dug up out of the ground outside.
S: A live, squirming, roundworm.
J: That was nasty.
S: I love the process where neither of you guys knew and there were different people in the video. How many folks do you recall?
J: They might have been three or four groups?
S: That’s what I recall too, something like three or four groups. They didn’t know who was going to get what, so you had this element of surprise. I love that. And then the person who ended up getting the real thing would be like, oh no. There would be this dialogue happening between them and sometimes the other person would feel bad for the one who got the real thing, like, okay, I’ll help you eat it. That was genius, that was amazing. Was that all scripted and figured out? Or was it ad hoc a bit?
J: Those type of videos are very ad hoc. We set up the parameters. We set up the situation. There is going to be groups of two, you’ll spin the wheel, you won’t know if you’re getting the real one or if you’re getting the gummy one. We want to put them down on a table and then we’ll reveal it to both players at the same time. All of that, we do figure out ahead of time. But then what they’re going to say, how we’re all going to react, we just try to have fun and then get some good stuff and then the editors perform their magic. You’ll take who knows how much footage we had there. Maybe an hour’s worth, maybe longer. They’ll brilliantly cut that down. The editors enhance what we do in a video like that tremendously. We basically just dump it on them, we’re like, make this awesome, and they do. It’s not an easy task, they’re very good at that.
S: You take an hour of footage and cut it down to five minutes?
J: Yeah. Oops, that video is 7 minutes, 14 seconds long. I’m sure it’s an hour worth, maybe more.
S: That’s amazing. People watching will just think, oh well, this is just so impromptu, they just hit record and then did all these crazy stuff but there’s a lot of work that goes behind the scenes to make it seem so ad hoc and impromptu to set the scene and tell us an incredible story.
J: We actually joke about that all the time. We say, if people only knew what goes into making these but it’s what we enjoy doing. But yeah, there’s a ton of work involved in creating all these stuff. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get the concept right to begin with, that idea is so important and that’s what we spend a ton of time on. Not to diminish the importance of the execution but if you don’t have that great idea, you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish and who your audience is, what you’re wanting them to walk away with, then you’re not going to have a good video.
S: The idea is where it all stars. It’s like when you plan a trip, if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you could have a lot of fun on the way but you won’t have the outcome because you didn’t actually set an outcome.
J: Yeah. You’ll just be wandering around. Where I’ve made huge mistakes, you end up with this beautiful nothing at the end. You’ve got this well executed video. It looks good, it sounds good but didn’t really do anything, it doesn’t do well, it doesn’t entertain people as well as it should. You’ll just end up with a beautiful nothing and that’s what you want to avoid.
S: I imagine with a thousand videos in your portfolio of product videos for Vat19 that there would be some that didn’t really do much, that just fell flat.
J: Yeah, definitely. Those are probably all my fault. The team that we have here is incredibly talented and invested in making these videos and love making videos. By no stretch is this all me, it’s not all any one person here. It’s a big group effort to make these videos. My job now is to help facilitate them doing their job. The times where it hasn’t worked out so well, the reason why I say it’s my fault is because maybe it’s a video we shouldn’t have made in the first place and I should’ve known that ahead of time. What I mean by that is, you know what, maybe this product doesn’t really need a video. A couch doesn’t really need a video, a picture suffices. Not every product out there needs a video. I should’ve recognized way earlier on that, ooh, this isn’t the type of video we should be making for this product.
S: That makes sense. If you try and pick the wrong raw material, you’ve got the wrong product for the idea, or you got the wrong idea for the right product, it’s going to fall flat.
J: Yeah. Our staff here, they’re really so good. The writers are so creative that they come up with so many great ideas all the time, we want to make all of them. All I could say is that we’re having a lot of fun and we put stuff out there that we think people are going to enjoy but we get surprised all the time. I don’t know how many times we put up a video and we’re like, this one’s going to be huge. This is the one, it’s going to be so viral, we’re going to get tens of millions of views, and then nothing happens. People aren’t into it and then there’s a video where we’re like I don’t know about this one. Okay, let’s not upload it on a Friday afternoon which is usually for us the best time to upload a video. Let’s put it up Wednesday afternoon, just because I don’t know about this one, and then it goes huge. I made a thousand videos and I still don’t know what’s going to work, to be honest with you.
S: That underlines the importance of having a strategy that involves putting a lot of stuff out there through a lot of mud against the wall and see what sticks rather than just trying to get that one hit wonder and figure you can retire off of it.
J: That would be awesome.
S: Somehow I have a feeling you wouldn’t retire though even if you got a billion views on one video.
J: Oh my gosh, that would be pretty cool though.
S: Let’s talk about the products for a minute. For somebody who’s not familiar with Vat19 to hear about the crazy sorts of products that you guys come up with, or sourced in different ways, I’m always surprised by some of the stuff that you have on there. I would never thought of that, that’s incredibly hilarious. What are some of your favorites?
J: Oh my gosh, I love so many of them. Some of my favorites are the world’s largest gummy bear, it’s a 5lbs gummy bear that’s the equivalent of 1400 regular sized gummy bears. That’s one of my favorites because it was one of our first hit products when we started out. When we didn’t know what store we were going to be, we came across this candy store in North Carolina that had these bears and we put it out there. The initial reaction when we put the video out there was people loved it, they loved the video, they loved the product but it sold for $40. I remember looking at the data and talking to the guy being like 30,000 people came to the website just yesterday looking at this thing. We sold six of them. Come on man, the price isn’t right. He was like nah, but they cost me a lot to make. I’m like well, I’m dropping the price by $10, okay? Let’s just see what happens. Drop the price by $10, sold 100 the next day, something crazy like that. To his credit, I called him up, I was like this is what happened. To his credit, he said, you’re right, let’s sell it at that price. That’s been a great relationship that we’ve had for 10 years now selling that gummy stuff. That’s one of my favorites just because of the history and how it started, got the company going. I love all the different puttys we sell. I love the 6ft inflatable soccer ball that we sell because just watching kids play with that, it’s just so much fun. It’s so much fun for adults to play with. That’s usually what we look for with the fun toys and stuff is that if kids and adults both like this then I think it could be a hit product. I love so many of them, we have maybe close to 800 on the site right now and over the years we’ve actually had to discontinue about 500 just because they either didn’t sell that well or the manufacturer discontinued them. You always have to be looking for new stuff because I had to get rid of almost half the stuff we’ve ever sold.
S: Are you still selling the lumber jack knitted beard thing?
J: Oh, yeah. We’ve got the beards and we also have those lumberjacks endorse our fireplace scented candle as well and that’s something that we still sell. That reminds me of one of my newer favorite products. It’s called our Stink Prank Candle. It is a candle that looks like one of your typical high end candles that’s got this orchard breeze label on it, looks like a nice gift you give someone, apple scented, you open it up, you sniff it and out comes wafting the scent of an apple orchard or whatever. But if you burn this thing, after about five, six hours, it starts to smell like the ape house at the zoo. It’s just disgusting. It’s a dual scented candle. It starts out as an apple orchard. It’s two different layers of wax put in there that are identical in color, you can’t tell by looking at it, you can’t tell by smelling it. It’s a great prank candle and we found a lovely woman here in the St. Louis area to hand make these things for us. Anyways, I love products too, I love making videos and I love cool products.
S: I think that would be a good product to base a video. I would imagine.
J: We had fun with that prank product. There’s these other birthday cards that we sell where you open it up and it plays a song, you’ve seen these type of cards. The difference with this card is that when you press play, it doesn’t stop playing. It will play until the battery runs out which could be three, four, five, ten hours later. If you continue to press the play button, thinking that’ll turn it off, it just increases the volume. One of the guys here had an idea for making a video that was just like that. The video plays, but then the video continues. It’s a four hour long video on YouTube. There’s some Easter eggs in there. That was a really fun one to make where we actually set the camera up and we had all these things happen and it’s a four hour long prank video. We just try to have fun.
S: A video like that though that’s four hours long, the watch time for that, which is the most important metric from what I understand about YouTube, would not be very good, right?
J: I think the audience retention is probably pretty low on that video. That’s something that I think as creative folks, I try to keep our staff engaged and working on different types of stuff so we don’t get bored or whatever. We really liked doing that one, it was sort of like, well, audience retention be damned. This is a good idea, it’s a funny idea, it’s a good video. So what? I think sometimes you gotta do that just like sometimes you gotta ignore the comments, you got to ignore what people are saying. We had a video recently, this past December that we made. We put it on YouTube, we put so much effort into this video. We replaced Santa Claus with Darth Vader and it was the Santa Vader video. We had kids come into their Christmas cottage and sit on Darth Vader’s lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas and we had the whole voice thing going and it was awesome. We got 20 kids and we spent all this time and money building this Santa’s cottage and $800 Darth Vader costumes and all that stuff. We put it on YouTube and it was basically a flop as far as our video normally go. But I knew it was a good video and we all knew it was a good video. We decided to put a version of it on Facebook and the Facebook video got 11,000,000 views in about a weekend. We got so much traffic to our website it took our website down. How crazy is that? It did 20x better on Facebook than it did on YouTube. We knew we had a good concept but sometimes it just doesn’t happen on YouTube but it might happen somewhere else.
S: That’s really an interesting point. You got 20x more engagement and more views on Facebook than YouTube. Is that a common occurrence or was that a one off situation?
J: I don’t know nearly as much about Facebook video, although I’m trying to learn a lot more. I don’t know nearly as much about Facebook videos, I do YouTube and our fanbase is so much smaller on Facebook that most of our videos don’t get nearly the attention on Facebook than they do on YouTube. This was quite surprising to us. We see this fairly often, actually where a piece of content that did really well on YouTube we take over to Facebook doesn’t do nearly as well and vice versa happens a lot. I think it’s just different type of audience. You got to make the message a little bit different for Facebook than you do on YouTube. I just think it’s extremely interesting and just feel very grateful that there’s multiple audiences or multiple ways to distribute your video content. It’s great that we have this other choice, Facebook, where we could put a video and it could get a ton of attention whereas you put it on YouTube and if it doesn’t go, you can’t go to YouTube too. You got one spot.
S: Yeah, that’s true. It sounded like a great concept, the Santa Vader. That sounds really funny when you describe it. Reminds me of a recent Saturday Night Live skit where Alec Baldwin was playing Trump and the Grim Reaper is Steve Bannon. It reminds me of that skit when you were describing Santa Vader.
J: It was a great video but it just didn’t resonate with people on YouTube or kids on YouTube. Facebook is so fundamentally different than YouTube, it make sense why that happened. We’re trying definitely some things this year to capitalize on Facebook.
S: Some of the things that I hear being primary differences between Facebook and YouTube would be like people on Facebook watch the videos without the audio most of the time, 80% of the time, I forget the exact number. That is pretty surprising. Given that, it would make sense that you’d have to have captions or something underneath to convey what’s happening with the audio turned off and you need to do this all within the first few seconds. You don’t have much time to capture people’s attention because they’re scrolling so quickly through the newsfeed. You really need to come out the gate strong, not waste it with a spinning logo or something for the first few seconds.
J: That would be a terrible mistake unless your spinning logo was amazing and really captured people’s attention. You nailed it on the head with those major differences. If I could add one more thing that I speculate, as I said I’m not that much of an expert but one thing that I speculate is that what you want people to do is typically share your video. You get those shares going, that’s how you can get that virality for your video happening. You’ve got to think about when someone shares this video, what is it saying about them? That’s why people share stuff on Facebook, it’s not because they want their friends to read this article, it’s more like hey look what this article is saying about me. Look, I read The Economist, I’m so well read or I’m so smart. What is this video going to say about the person sharing it? Oh, I found this thing that you probably haven’t seen, look how cool this is, are they going to want to tag their friend in it because their friend is so into cupcakes and look at this incredible cupcake that looks like a polar bear, whatever. Why would they want to share it? What does it say about them? If you have a pretty good answer to that, then you might get the thing sharing, is it timely? Those are things that are worth thinking about but we might be way wrong but that’s how we’re trying to approach it right now.
S: That makes total sense. I’ve heard this before that if you try and understand what the intention of the sharer is with that video, is it going to increase their social status would be one of the strangest incentives for people to share. That makes a lot of sense. Let’s talk about getting the video out there. Do you have any kind of secret sauce to that? You have a huge subscriber base now on YouTube. Just publishing on YouTube will automatically get you the reach but it probably wasn’t always that way, are there some secrets to getting it out there and if it’s a remarkable video, having it go into a place where it’s going to take off?
J: That’s a really good question. You got to try everything. For the last several years, we’ve been definitely trying to just build our subscriber base on YouTube. Just like any good marketer, you’ve got to tell people what it is that you want them to do when your video is over. The easiest thing for someone to do on YouTube is to subscribe to your channel, that’s what YouTube’s been pushing for so long. They don’t push sharing it like they do Facebook, liking it is really easy, just clicking thumbs up, single click, subscribing is a single click, you can ask people to comment to engage in your video. I think when your video is over or any point during your video, you got to tell people what you want them to do. Subscribe to my channel. We do a lot of that to try to build up our subscriber base. Our hope is that eventually they’ll remember who Vat19 is. They’ll be like wait, I feel like I’ve just watched seven or eight commercials in a row. I wonder what’s on their website. Hopefully, one day they’ll open up a new tab and visit our website. But really, what we try to do on YouTube is get people to continue watching more of our videos. If you’re just starting out and you only have one video, then you need to make more. You just start making more videos, you’ll probably consider a schedule. Hey, folks, I might be putting out new videos every Tuesday and Thursday. That will help get more views from when you put out a video. There’s a lot of people that theorize that YouTube’s algorithm really promotes newer content over older content, and that YouTube really looks at how the first couple of hours of your video goes. If in the first couple of hours your video is getting more views than normal, more thumbs up than normal, more comments than normal, YouTube might start showing it to more people. Pick the right time to release your video depending on who your audience is, try to build that schedule. It took us a while to come to this conclusion, it probably seems obvious to many people, but you don’t really earn views, YouTube distributes them. There’s this X number of views out there each day and YouTube is basically dealing them out like cards. You’ve got to figure out, you got to think about the YouTube algorithm and what YouTube’s trying to accomplish is getting people to watch longer on their website, watch more videos. Are people watching the entirety of your video? Is the audience retention rate high? If so, YouTube might allow more views to that video. You have to have a compelling video, just make it as long as it needs to be. I don’t think there’s a magic length, try to make it timely, put out a lot of videos because I don’t think YouTube is going to send that many views to your older catalog, they seem to prioritize newer stuff. Try to put out a couple videos each week. Those are my current thoughts on how to get more views on YouTube. To start out, YouTube isn’t the best place to get a viral video going, I don’t think. It’s probably going to go more viral on Facebook or through other blogs or websites. You might get lucky and get your video on the trending section of YouTube but there’s no way to guarantee that. The point is you need a long term YouTube strategy. You can’t hope I’m going to make this one video and it’s going to go viral, maybe, but if you’re serious about it, your strategy needs to be I’m making videos for the next year and I’m dedicated to this and see if you can build up an audience.
S: Which is a pretty similar strategy to starting a podcast, you don’t start in and expect success in the first few weeks, you got to go for 18 months before you can really see the traction.
J: We’ve been putting videos up on YouTube for 10 years. I think in the last year, we got 50% of our total subscribers. About a year ago, we got a million and a half subscribers, now we have three and a half million. The ball starts to roll faster after a much longer period, after you built it up for a long time. I wish I had a good answer. I don’t know how to make something go viral, to be honest with you.
S: That’s kind of in your DNA. Intuitively, you know, but it’s maybe hard to break it down into a formula.
J: I don’t know if there is a formula. We’ve just gotten lucky a lot of times because we again, I think the products are a big part of it, I think that’s half of it. But then we’ve had some really great ideas because we’ve got great staff here and they executed the stuff really well. But then, it’s just luck. For whatever reason, people respond to that video and you may not really know why. We’ve put out a lot of videos that we think are great and that will resonate with people and they just don’t. And then some, you get completely surprised by. We got this video of Joey get into a bathtub full of clear putty and we thought the video was pretty cool when we’re done with it but no one here was hi fiving each other and was like this is going to be huge, this is going to go so viral, everyone’s going to love this, this is going to be the greatest video ever. We were just like oh, that was cool, and then it took off. It went nuts last year for us. I think it has over 30 million views now. It was on all these blogs, it was everywhere and we didn’t know that, it’s just lucky.
S: It’s not just quite luck but it’s hard to predict. That’s for sure, but you guys have a knack for creating viral content. It’s not like a one hit wonder sort of situation where you had one video that stood out. You keep putting out hits and that’s pretty amazing. One point I want to circle back on, I think it’s really important that you made that it’s easier to go viral on Facebook rather than YouTube and you really have to do this is a long term play if you’re serious about YouTube. One tip in particular comes to mind about Facebook and that is that you can’t post a YouTube clip to Facebook and expect it to go viral because Facebook does not give any love to YouTube, for the most part, because they’re archrivals. You have to upload that video natively into Facebook in order for that to have any chance at going viral. Do you upload every single video to Facebook as well as to YouTube or is this more of a recent thing or has it been your strategy for Facebook?
J: Our strategy’s been evolving as Facebook has been changing but yes we do upload everything to Facebook, solely for their content matching system. The free booting phenomenon where we see these folks stealing our videos and reposting them, repackaging them. We want to be able to take those folks down. Facebook needs your whole library of videos in order to help you with that. That’s the primary reason that we put everything up there natively. Our strategy now is to try uploading small bits of videos, cropping out or keeping the parts of the video that we think will get people’s attention silently, of course, since nobody turns on the audio, and see what level of sharing we get. If it seems to be more than the typical video, then we put it into our cue for sponsorship and then we will go and cut a version of the video for Facebook. We make it a square, we put text on the top and the bottom, and we put money behind it, we will take that video and we’ll start advertising it with the hope that we can reach a critical mass so that the sharing really starts to get going. Because if you just put it up to your audience, and ours is maybe 120 something thousand and Facebook’s only going to show it to maybe 10% of that, 5% of that. You’ve got to see this thing. We put money behind it, we build an audience, we AB test, we put it up there and we try to get people sharing it on its own. That’s what we’re finding we’re having to do with Facebook is put money in it to get it going, to get that viral thing going, and that’s what we did with the Santa Vader video. It got 10x as many views for free than we paid for, but we had to kickstart it.
S: Got it. Reminds me of a couple of interviews that I’ve done on Marketing Speak where we just broke it all down how to do Facebook advertising. The two episodes that listeners you should definitely check out, and Jamie you should too, because they’re pretty amazing about how to fine tune your Facebook advertising. Molly Pittman from Digital Marketer, that’s a great episode on Marketing Speak and the other one is with Nicholas Kusmich, Nicholas is also a fantastic Facebook advertising guru.
J: I have to check those out.
S: Yeah. He’s done really, really well. One of his clients in fact, I don’t know if you have seen this one, it went viral on Facebook, was a product video of a lounge thing that is essentially a balloon, you blow it up just by opening it and then letting the air in, making a sweeping motion, you don’t have to blow into it. You’ve probably seen this.
J: I know exactly what you’re talking about. You fold it in half sort of thing and then you can couch out, like an air couch or whatever. Yeah, that was awesome.
S: He is the guy behind that, making it go viral on Facebook. He is phenomenal.
J: We should cut out everything I just said then because I’m definitely not an expert on that side of things. We are just trying to figure it out now.
S: The stuff that you’re sharing though is good advice. I know these things work. When you talk about cutting to the chase and making it a video that works without audio, adding text on the top and the bottom, using advertising as a way to start the snowball effect going, using it as a way to seed it, it’s all great advice. Uploading all your videos natively and then having that whole library there so that you can go after the free booters, this is great stuff. Our listeners are going to have some great actions to take for getting their own, hopefully viral, videos both on YouTube and Facebook. I’m curious if you wanted to share anything counterintuitive or surprising that is related to marketing in general or some sage advice that we haven’t discussed yet. Was there something that made a big difference like getting funding, getting the right kind of lawyer, or something that somebody said at the beginning of your business that you did something different.
J: A lot of the advice that I got was really great advice but that people have all heard before. I think one thing that stuck with me that I believe, because I’ve tried a lot of things, marketing people don’t like this, this is sort of concept that no one really knows what works but you know that not advertising won’t work. You know that. If you don’t advertise, it’s not going to happen for your business. I don’t think anybody truly knows what works. The hardest thing I found is having the courage to stick with something long enough until it does prove itself right. The problem is you never know when that time is going to be. How long do you keep running those ads for? Maybe it’ll start working if we just give it another week. Our business is definitely kind of weird and different because wherever I go to a buying show for products, the vendors always say to me what kind of store do you have? I don’t have the three word answer, like sporting good store, or we’re a museum gift shop. We’re just this weird store that sells crazy stuff and I don’t have a small answer for that question. That’s not how you’re supposed to do things really. You’re supposed to pick a problem and have a solution for it. We went about this so weird, I always thought to myself for the first three or four years that we were doing this retail thing, we should just be a prank store or we should just be a toy store or just be a candy store. Focus on one thing, I never could convince myself that I should do that. It’s just basically taken 10 years to prove myself right that the way we were going about it was correct. That would be my only advice which is to give yourself enough time to prove yourself right.
S: If you just go with somebody’s stock advice like niche down, you got to pick your niche and solve a problem and all that, that sounds good in theory but what worked for you was just simply trying a bunch of stuff and being remarkable in the process. I use the word remarkable quite intentionally because I learned the definition from Seth Godin of remarkable that really stuck with me and that’s worth remarking about. He talks about this in the Purple Cow, that you need to be remarkable and that’s worth remarking about, doesn’t have to be the best, the most interesting, the most useful or most whatever, it just has to have something worth remarking about and that’s what you’ve done. It’s been quite an amazing repeated success after success after success with your products and with your videos being remarkable and that’s what I take away from this too, from what you’re saying.
J: Thank you. That’s very nice.
S: And also, that you have to be willing to take risks and keep investing in different forms of marketing and advertising. There’s a famous quote from John Wanamaker, “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted: the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
J: I want to add one tiny thing there which is, I’m just speaking from my personal experience and I’ve had this one business, that’s it. You can’t necessarily take what I am saying as applying to other people’s businesses or that it should. I’m not advocating total stubbornness to the facts. As the business was going along, we’d have ups and downs but we had indications that what we were doing was working, it wasn’t like this terrible, bleak business, no one’s interested, it’s terrible, I’m just going to keep going, just walking through this storm and then one day we woke up and all of a sudden the business is doing well. We were getting some hints along the way that we were on the right path. I would just caution people that if all of the signs are pointing down, maybe it isn’t the best time to you. But if you’re getting some signs that it is working, then keep going, keep doing what’s working, just keep going, keep going, keep going. Just give yourself enough time and believe in it, but you gotta have some signs along the way that it’s working. It’s not awesome to just not listen to the world at all and if it’s telling you that you’ve got a terrible idea, and it’s been telling you for a really long time, maybe you do have a terrible idea.
S: That makes sense. Persevere but be smart about it, basically.
J: Yeah. But we love to romanticize. The underdog and the guy.
S: The guy in the basement with $100 in equipment becomes the next billionaire. This was awesome, curiously awesome, right?
J: Thank you.
S: I want to encourage all of my listeners to go to Vat19.com and buy some really curiously awesome products because you guys have the most crazy, outrageous, amazing products.
J: Thank you.
S: So much genius goes into picking those products and it’ll be obvious to our listeners when they go there. Vat19.com, and thank you Jamie for sharing your war stories and your lessons along the way and wisdom and we’re going to have a checklist of actions to take so that hopefully you, listeners, can go viral as well. That’s going to be on marketingspeak.com along with the show notes for the episode and a transcript. Go to marketingspeak.com and we’ll catch you on the next episode of the Marketing Speak. I’m your host Stephan Spencer, signing off.