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Original Article

How a Telecommunications Company Enlisted the Quirkiness of an Offbeat Celebrity to Build Brand Awareness

Quick Read:

Gary Busey has a way of generating publicity, whether it’s directing his own press interviews or making friends on the red carpet at the Oscars. Typically, however, it’s not the kind of publicity most companies want connected to their brands, unless that company is GotVMail Communications.

GotVMail targets entrepreneurs and small businesses with an affordable virtual phone system that provides advanced phone capabilities that give companies the appearance of being larger than they are.

As entrepreneurs themselves, GotVMail’s founders have worked to build both a brand and a company culture synonymous with entrepreneurship and fun. So when the company set out this year to raise brand awareness among its target market, the goal included promoting its core values in a way that would amuse its audience and make the company stand out.

What resulted was a viral video campaign starring Gary Busey as himself, with his own Busey-ism spin on such topics as entrepreneurship, time management, business insights, cliches and more. The videos - which were posted on YouTube, social-networking sites, various blogs, and the campaign Web site - were an immediate hit, generating more than 100,000 views in the first week of their release, along with a Busey-sized serving of brand exposure.

“A lot of people who hadn’t heard of GotVMail know about us now,” said Siamak Taghaddos, GotVMail’s cofounder, president, and CEO. “It was successful in building up our brand at one tenth the cost of a TV campaign.”

Challenge:

Since its founding in 2003, GotVMail Communications has been fashioning a brand that encapsulates entrepreneurialism in an entertaining light. “We believe entrepreneurship should be as much about having fun as it is about making money,” said Siamak Taghaddos, an entrepreneur himself and the cofounder, president, and CEO of GotVMail.

For example, the company’s mascot Gary - a sketched figure whose name represents the company’s core values (Go above and beyond; Always entrepreneurial; Radically passionate; and Your team) - offers tips in the corporate newsletter and demonstrates the flexibility of the company’s virtual phone system product through various Web photos depicting his pseudo business travels.

In April 2008, GotVMail wanted to maintain this theme and illustrate its core values in a fun and innovative way when it began brainstorming a new viral marketing campaign aimed at building brand recognition among its target market: entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“We wanted to be different and show that we’re not just another telecommunications company,” said Taghaddos.

Campaign:

To develop something with viral potential, Taghaddos said, video stood out as a “no brainer.” He said he wanted to produce “not just one campaign or one video, but a series that could drive the most buzz.”

In June 2008, the company worked with a studio in Los Angeles and contracted a writer and director, along with celebrity Gary Busey, to create a sequence of 40 videos in-house.

Gary Busey was chosen for various reasons, including the name association with the company mascot and his celebrity status - but more than anything it had to do with his signature outlandish style that never fails to attract public attention. With Busey, the videos would be anything but boring.

“We needed someone who could go off on a tangent on any topic,” said Taghaddos. “If you let Busey be himself, he’ll give you pure gold of genius.”

Busey was given partially scripted concepts covering a range of topics that entrepreneurs from all industries can appreciate, from business cliches to startup ideas to employee excuses for missing work. Then he was let loose in front of the camera to improvise in the style for which he’s known.

“We wanted to speak to our brand, which is entrepreneurship, and at the same time show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Taghaddos.

All forty videos were released in mid-July and posted on the following:

  • YouTube: In addition to posting each video to the site, the company also set up a Gary Busey on Business Channel on YouTube that encouraged users to subscribe to the channel, add comments, and forward the link to friends.
  • Social-networking sites: GotVMail created applications on Facebook and MySpace to provide users with another space to watch, share, and discuss the videos.
  • Independent blogs: GotVMail used SplashCast technology to create a customized shareable video widget, which it used to reach out to bloggers, who could then post the full player on their blogs.
  • A campaign landing page: A dedicated Web page prominently displayed the videos and prompted visitors to email the video player to a friend, add it to their blogs, andr post it to their profile pages on Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Xanga, or some 20 other networking sites. The page also included information on GotVMail and its services and linked to the GotVMail corporate site.

In addition, GotVMail used an internal team-building initiative to help spread the word. Four cross-functional teams were assigned one video each, which they were challenged to promote using their members’ strengths, contacts, and skills.

“We saw a lot of interesting ideas for promoting the videos that came from the Challenge - from sending to contacts and posting on Facebook, to securing placement on TV and blogs,” said Taghaddos.

Results:

Within the first week of posting, the videos were picked up by at least 75 different blogs, including that of musician John Mayer, as well as AdWeek’s AdFreak.com. They were also mentioned in People Magazine, TV Guide and on VH1, and received air time on a variety of radio stations around the country.

Together, the videos generated over 100,000 views in that first week, placing Gary Busey on Business as the #11 ranked Guru Channel on YouTube July 14-18, 2008. Popularity among the videos remained strong in the second week and has steadied in the weeks since, but still retains an ongoing viewership. To date, the videos have received over 200,000 impressions.

The company is also still achieving a noticeable level of viral flow and press coverage, although now it’s more often among marketing-related blogs and other media that directly serve GotVMail’s target market.

As a result, the campaign landing page has welcomed more than 5,000 visitors, and signups have increased due to this campaign.

“At first it was everyone, but now it’s more of the people we want to view the campaign, more qualified leads,” said Taghaddos. “Even though the videos are receiving fewer views now, more orders are coming in because of them.”

Lessons Learned:

Instead of releasing all 40 videos at the same time, Taghaddos said, if he could do it over again he would have kept a few on hand for a more gradual release. “We didn’t think we’d have as many fans, and they want more videos,” he said. “We could have built more buzz by holding five or so back and releasing one every other week.”

One thing he certainly wouldn’t have changed was the spokesperson. “This particular campaign wouldn’t have been as effective without Busey’s craziness,” said Taghaddos, adding that he was surprised by how well the campaign was embraced by the media and others. “People understood we were trying to have fun with it,” he said.