Villing & Company

OK Go: Give Up Control in Social Media

In junior high school, each student in my science class was assigned the task of creating a Rube Goldberg machine. When properly conceived and executed, these simple-but-not-really contraptions can inspire jaw-drops and more “oohs” and “aahs” than a fireworks display.

Only it turns out, they’re not so simple to build. I think I wound up tying a fly swatter to the business end of a mousetrap and calling it an “automatic pest removal system” or something like that. It was abundantly clear then that I was better suited for a career in marketing than engineering.

Thoughts of Rube Goldberg machines were happily left in junior high until I viewed what more than 8.3 million others have viewed on YouTube: OK Go’s “This Too Shall Pass” video, which contains a shrewd and unusually “cool” bit of marketing from a major insurance company.

Even moderate web surfers have seen OK Go’s exploits: This is the group first made famous by their stellar treadmill choreography set to their song “Here it Goes Again.” They are masters of the viral video; the previous version of the video for “This Too Shall Pass,” featuring none other than the University of Notre Dame Band of the Fighting Irish, garnered “only” more than 1.3 million views.

Creating the next viral sensation can be a bit pricey, however, especially for a band some critics say is better at marketing their product than creating it. (Sounds familiar.) When OK Go sought backers for its Rube Goldberg video, a series of connections led them to Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm Insurance Co. The insurance giant helped finance the creation of the video, which reportedly took several months and 60 engineers to pull off.

State Farm should be credited for finding a way to allow the medium to work for their product, even though the two are seemingly incompatible. Even the most creative marketing minds would struggle to make insurance sexy in a credible viral video. State Farm avoids all the square-peg-in-a-round-hole stuff by allowing the experts at viral video to do their thing, and simply giving them the resources to do it. In the end, State Farm receives perhaps 5 seconds in the 3:53 video. And it’s plenty.

The State Farm-OK Go partnership is a unique circumstance, but through it a general principle should be internalized by any brand seeking to market via social media: Companies must be willing to give up a good deal of control in order to reap positive results. Here’s how OK Go lead vocalist Damian Kulash recounts his first meeting with State Farm: “(M)y opening volley was basically like, ‘We need to make rock videos, and if it’s not a rock video, it’ll backfire for everyone. If it looks like shilling, people will know it.’” In the end, Kulash concluded: “I was so pleased…because I think the branding is very tasteful, and they didn’t weigh on us in any creative way whatsoever. They came to the set for about 20 minutes.”

When brands seek a tight-fisted hold on their message or content in social media channels, they will inevitably come across as heavy-handed, disingenuous and unappealing. Social media is first and foremost an engagement tool, not a marketing tool. It works best when companies join the conversation, instead of seeking to control it. Consumers are increasingly responsive to brands they interact with on social networks, but the brands that benefit most are those that engage first and market second.

In other words, give the medium a chance to work for you. Social media marketing that resembles a one-way conversation using hard-sell, “megaphone” tactics will be sporadic and ineffective. Kinda like using a mousetrap to swat flies.

Filed Under: social media

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