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Original Article

Going Viral with Gary Busey: A Case Study in Social Media Innovation

When the co-founders of GotVMail Communications LLC were considering ways to promote their advanced virtual phone system to a wider audience of entrepreneurs in the spring 2008, they turned to an unlikely marketing resource: Oscar-winning Hollywood maverick Gary Busey.

The result of this brainstorm was that Youtube mavens soon were amused and entertained by videos of Busey giving his offbeat and quirky advice on entrepreneurship and self empowerment, poking fun at business cliches, and even strumming a guitar while singing “The GotVMail Song.”

A quarter of a million video impressions later, GotVMail’s CEO and co-founder Siamak Taghaddos says the result has been sharply increased traffic to the GotVMail Web site and more brand exposure for the four-year-old company, which provides a virtual phone system to small businesses (mainly with ten or fewer employees). Its branded tagline is, “The Entrepreneur’s Phone System.”

“GotVMail’s brand is about entrepreneurship - not telecommunications. Entrepreneurship is in our blood,” Taghaddos says. “Gary Busey’s brand is humor. We were looking for a way to promote our brand in a fun and innovative way. Entrepreneurship should be fun. You need a good dose of humor when you start your own business because that will help get you through the tougher times.”

Why Gary Busey?

If you’re looking for someone to help promote your viral marketing campaign, it’s hard to ignore Busey’s Youtube star power. The actor whose credits include “Lethal Weapon” and “The Firm” is one of the most searched celebrities on the video sharing Web site.

“Gary” is also the name of GotVMail’s mascot, and the acronym of the company’s core values: “Go above and beyond,” “Always entrepreneurial,” “Radically passionate,” and “Your team.”

Given Busey’s notorious reputation as a Hollywood eccentric, combined with the fact that he is not a recognized expert on starting a business or anything entrepreneurship meant that the video campaign had its risks. But Taghaddos and fellow GotVMail co-founder David Hauser, the company’s chief technology officer, felt it was worth the gamble, if the videos would be humorous and entertaining enough so as to spread virally by themselves.

Busey Allowed to Improvise

After some discussion with Busey’s agent, the company chose Busey to be its “unofficial spokesman.” Taghaddos and Hauser knew that Busey and the videos’ director would need some guidance and inspiration on what he should say, but Busey should be allowed to improvise and not be simply fed taglines.

“We knew this would not work if we just handed Busey a script to read. The beauty of the campaign is in Busey coming at you from left field - taking a concept and being allowed to run with it,” says Taghaddos, who flew to Los Angeles in June to watch the videos shot in studio.

Appearing in alternating outfits of business attire and a Hawaiian shirt, the videos show Busey, set against a white background, riffing on environmentalism, motivational cliches, Zen, and daily excuses for failure.

In one video, Busey talks about the key to success in starting a business: “Being a successful entrepreneur is 80 percent hard work and 50 percent luck—and having accountants that make the math work. Maybe someone who worked for Wesley Snipes.”

Other videos were more directly focused on GotVMail. In one video, Busey compares GotVMail to a “mullet” or a “mohawk” hairstyle: “It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it gets a lot of attention.” Each of the videos ends with the branded tagline related to the content such as “Business Ideas by Gary Busey,” followed by the GotVMail logo.

40 Videos Chosen

Dozens of videos were filmed, but the company eventually narrowed those down to 40 and planned a mid-July launch. To help make the videos “go viral,” the company included several social marketing tools with the effort. Those included:

  • A video “widget” with embedded code that would allow the videos to be easily seeded and distributed among Web sites, Facebook, and bloggers.
  • Pages on Facebook and other social sites for fans to visit and share the videos;
  • A Youtube Channel to allow fans of the video to spread to their videos and choose as their “favorite”;
  • A customized landing page that linked directly to the GotVMail Web site.

The company leveraged pay-per-click advertising in the early stages of the campaign to help spread the word.

Taghaddos and Hauser also tasked the company’s 50 employees with helping in the public relations effort to build buzz for the videos. Employees were divided into four teams, each assigned a specific video, and given the assignment of promoting those videos with the goal of garnering the most global impressions. The Entrepreneur Challenge, as the company called the innovative team-building initiative, required employees to leverage their own social networks and try to seed their video in as many places as possible.

Expectations Exceeded

Within a week of the Gary Busey on Business videos going public at YouTube, it was clear to Taghaddos and Hauser that the campaign was exceeding their expectations. The videos garnered 100,000 impressions on Youtube alone, and were rated the 11th most viewed “Guru Channel” on Youtube. Grammy-winning musician John Mayer praised the Busey videos on his personal blog, getting the attention of People Magazine, which then referenced Mayer’s blog post. The videos garnered mentions in the New York Daily News, Gawker, Conde Naste’s Portfolio.com, Reuters News Service, VH1, and dozens of radio shows.

By mid August, the videos had garnered more than 250,000 impressions across all video channels and videos combined, resulting in thousands more visits to the GotVMail Web site. For a company that provides services to a niche market - entrepreneurs who want their businesses to sound more professional - GotVMail’s strategy is to leverage the power of 21st century social media and video sharing tools, along with a Hollywood actor with a flair for the peculiar, to build buzz for its brand on a nationwide scale.

“Gary Busey doesn’t know anything about entrepreneurship, but that’s why people love the videos and that’s why the viral aspect works - because of the humor component,” Taghaddos says. “We try to be unconventional and always do things a little differently at GotVMail.”