PHOENIX (AdAge.com) -- Viral videos were a hot topic at the Association of National Advertisers conference today, from the record viewership of Evian's "skating baby" video from Euro RSCG to the rant of a fictional Kodak executive that heralded the turnaround of that storied brand.
But Method advanced the subject one step further by using the conference as its first effort to build buzz for a video that's not even quite complete or due to be posted until later this month. It may become a test of how much marketers themselves can build momentum for a viral video.
Eric Ryan, co-founder and chief brand architect of Method, showed a rough cut of the first work for his brand from Droga 5 during a well-received talk.
The video is actually the parody of a mythical brand: Shiny Suds bath cleaner. Rather than directly supporting Method, the video advocates passage of the Household Product Labeling Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), which would require makers of household cleaners for the first time to disclose their ingredients -- something Mr. Ryan believes would help differentiate his natural-positioned products.
The ANA conference both informally started seeding for the video and served as a focus group of sorts as Mr. Ryan used his iPhone to make a video of the audience watching it, which he will send to Method employees to help motivate them. (The move is not unlike how Paramount built buzz for "Paranormal Activity.") Attendees gave it a strong passing grade, laughing at cartoon bubbles that confront a woman in her shower in a creepy and leering takeoff on SC Johnson's famous Scrubbing Bubbles.
Method even had some placards announcing the presentation was sponsored by Shiny Suds. Mr. Ryan and Droga 5 CEO Andrew Essex also put up some posters for Shiny Suds in restrooms at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort, which is hosting the conference.
It's a sample of the low-budget and often guerilla marketing Method has used to build its $100 million-plus brand as it goes up against seven giant package-goods companies in household cleaning, including Procter & Gamble Co., Reckitt Benckiser and Clorox Co.
Those companies spend a combined $2.7 billion on advertising for cleaning products alone, Mr. Ryan said, compared to $5.1 million for Method. Indeed, he's calculated that based on the rate Method's 100 employees use toilet paper and the employee count at the competition, that its competitors collectively spend three times more on toilet paper than Method spends on marketing.
"I will happily trade my marketing budget for your toilet-paper budget," he said, noting that Method was the lone entrepreneurial startup represented among a speaker list of primarily corporate behemoths.
His message wasn't lost on the behemoths, as Mr. Ryan and Method were held up as examples of good practice about a dozen times during a CMO Roundtable that took place after his talk.
The group, which included General Mills' CMO Mark Addicks, Best Buy's Barry Judge, Con Agra's Joan Chow and Fidelity Investment's Jim Speros, all praised what Mr. Ryan has done in building a company, a community and a brand with purpose.
More than just having an MBA
Method's success appears to represent a nightmare scenario waiting for marketers who doze off. Mr. Addicks pointed out that big doesn't have to be synonymous with bad. "If we can't leverage our scale, then we're vulnerable to a bunch of Eric Ryans," he said. For that reason, he said, "we have to come at the market with 100 years of cereal experience, not two years of MBA experience." He referenced some African-American work General Mills has improved as a result of better consumer insights.
Mr. Addicks admitted that some of the General Mills marketing that inspires him most aren't necessarily from Cheerios, Nature Valley or Yoplait, but upstart, small-budget brands that have to get out and try new things.
The roundtable was asked, in reference to Mr. Ryan's success, what if anything big brands can do to infuse their brands with so much purpose. Mr. Addicks referenced General Mills Box Tops for Education program and Ms. Chow noted Con Agra's commitment to hungry children through Feeding America. Mr. Judge said that Best Buy has been highlighting its customer service, and the customer's ability to walk away with what they wanted, rather than what was foisted on them, a problem that has plagued the retail sector.