Tork, from giant -- if obscure -- Swedish paper marketer SCA, is an unsexy brand in a highly commoditized business with a modest-by-consumer-standards marketing budget. It also may represent the future of online-video advertising.
Just as the Colt .45 made everyone in the Wild West the same size, online video is acting as an equalizer by giving small consumer and B-to-B brands the power of video once conferred on only big-budget TV advertisers. "It's like 'Mad Men' meets everyman," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.
"Whether or not you can get something to go viral, the idea that video is so much more affordable is going to make a big impact," said Jim Nail, chief strategy and marketing officer of TNS buzz-tracking firm Cymfony.
Even if small brands reach highly targeted audiences only through direct mail, e-mail or trade publications, they now have the ability to use the other parts of the mix to drive people to their videos.
In Tork's campaign from Avenue, Chicago, the brand's first video advertising is integrated with media it's used in the past: B-to-B magazines, direct mail and e-mail, said Don Lewis, senior VP-sales and marketing for SCA.
Up to now, the question has been whether online video can replace TV for big brands. The jury's still out on that. For every big success -- such as Unilever's Dove "Evolution" or Nike's Ronaldinho videos -- there are thousands of wannabes lodged deep in the long tails of viewership lists.
Part of online video's power for small brands is simply the law of small numbers. It doesn't take a huge audience to move the needle for a small brand, as Kimberly-Clark Corp. found when 65,000 views and 115,000 blog mentions of its Duckbill dust mask helped grow sales of the brand 30% in the past year.
Same theme, new medium
But the other part of that power is allowing brands that can't afford TV to do what essentially are TV ads. Duckbill's quirky ads were also classic side-by-side demos in which it kept black goo out of people's mouths and noses much better than Brand X.
"In the short term, I think [video] simply becomes an add-on [for small marketers]," Mr. Nail said. "The two or three thousand dollars it might cost isn't going to take much from anything else. Down the road, I think it could cut very significantly into the more expensive things, like direct mail or even sales calls."
Tail Devil, a skateboard accessory that produces sparks, has generated 15 million views from two viral videos, one billed as a version of the Pamela Anderson sex tape, another promising what turned out to be a bogus "Jessica Simpson nipple slip." Both were mainly product demos.
The videos helped drive online sales, said Bryson Richardson, director-operations for the marketer, 3 Guys on Fire, which has annual sales of around $1 million. The videos generated "surprisingly little negative reaction," he said, but the tactic probably would create more flak now that it's been done.
That raises the question of whether someone will fence the viral range before the sheepish graze it bare. Already among YouTube's millions of posts are about 6,000 real-estate listings. With the potential for millions of other small advertisers to jump onboard the free ride and the Google unit pushing its new ad model, how long before it starts enforcing its rules against commercial posts?