Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing: Blendtec
November 24, 2015
Editor’s Note: In the Astonishing Tales of Content Marketing series, we reflect back on the marketing pioneers who paved the way for modern content marketing. In the first installment, we went back to the 20’s with Betty Crocker. This time, we’re looking at a more recent trendsetter: Blendtec, and their pioneering viral video series, “Will It Blend?”
Come along with us through the mists of time to the distant past: Specifically, to October 30, 2006.
President Bush is midway through his second term. The most sought-after cellular phone is the Motorola RAZR, with its 2.2” screen and fashionable clamshell design. For the first time, you don’t need to be a college student to join Facebook. And Blendtec Founder Tom Dickson uploads the first video in what will become a series of viral hits on an up-and-coming site called YouTube (which launched less than a year ago).
The First Video: Losing His Marbles
The first Blendtec video instantly establishes the feel of the series. It has the on-the-cheap look of a late night infomercial, with deliberately cheesy titles and game-show quality music. But instead of a slick, polished pitchman, the star of the video is Dickson himself, looking slightly uncomfortable to be on camera.
“Will it blend? That is the question,” Dickson says, and pours 50 glass marbles into a Blendtec blender, reducing them to powder in under a minute. When he peels off the blender lid, finely-pulverized particles swirl up like smoke. “Glass dust. Don’t breathe this,” he deadpans.
This first video set the template for the 140+ that followed it. The series is remarkable for what it doesn’t have, almost more than for what it does: There is no product pitch, no mention of model numbers or prices. There’s no touting the benefits and features of the blender, no indication what you might actually use the blender for in the kitchen, or even pointing out that the blender is powerful.
There’s not even a call to action. An unconventional item goes into the blender, Dickson smiles at the camera while it blends. Then he pours out the pulverized remains, points out that the object did in fact blend, and scene.
That first video currently has over 6.5 million views on YouTube. Blendtec’s more conventional promotional videos average around 50-60,000 views.
Marketing Gold: Blending Apple Products
Apple’s announcement of the iPhone in 2007 captured the public’s imagination. People lined up for blocks to get their hands on one. The iPhone was hard to find in stock, and was amazingly expensive for a cell phone. So for some, it seemed like an act of sacrilege for Dickson to drop it into a Blendtec and turn it into powder and smoke.
“iSmoke. Don’t breathe this,” he quips at the end of the video, before revealing he has a backup iPhone to keep for himself. Tech bloggers were amused and angered in equal proportions, and the video quickly climbed to over 12 million views.
Three years later, Blendtec scored even more views with an even more coveted Apple product: the original iPad. Again, the blogosphere exploded and the video racked up more than 17 million hits. For anyone who thought the device was overhyped, or desperately wanted one but couldn’t justify the expense, there was an odd catharsis in watching Dickson smash the screen, fold it in half, and blend it into powder.
Since the success of the first two Apple videos, Dickson has blended every new iPhone and iPad. Recently, he’s taken to doing side-by-side blending tests with Android and Apple products, to see which lasts longer in the blender (currently Samsung is leading by 5 seconds).
Expanding the Empire
Usually a viral video is a one-off success. It comes out of nowhere, hits hard, then fades into obscurity. But Dickson turned the success of the initial videos into a community with over 800,000 subscribers on YouTube, and a Facebook page where fans can suggest themes for new episodes. Blendtec responds to most comments on the Will It Blend Facebook page with the dry wit fans expect from the series.
While the videos were initially intended to promote Blendtec’s product line, they are now a revenue generator in their own right. Other brands actually use Will It Blend as a content marketing platform for their products. Among others, GoPro sponsored a “blendercam” that featured an inside view of the blending process, PayPal promoted its Bill Me Later service with a “Man Cave” themed video, and Ford touted the durability of boron steel, by showing it wouldn’t blend.
A Blend of Product Demonstration and Top of Funnel Marketing
Nine years since he blended marbles into powder, Dickson keeps the YouTube channel going with a new video every month. The 140+ videos have a combined total of over 265 million views. Dickson has become a minor celebrity in his own right, bringing Blendtec blenders to the Tonight Show and the History Channel’s Modern Marvels series.
In a 2007 interview with Squid News, Dickson spoke to the strategic marketing purpose of the videos: “The campaign is all about brand awareness, helping us to build top-of-mind awareness and establish Blendtec as the premier blender manufacturer,” he says, adding, “We have definitely felt an impact in sales. Will It Blend has had an amazing impact to our commercial and our retail products.”
- Have Personality. Part of what made the series successful is its irreverent, purposefully retro-feeling tone, combined with Dicksons’ folksy, dry humor.
- Get Creative. Blendtec could have created a series demonstrating how to make smoothies, yogurt, or any of the dozen things their blenders are actually made for. Instead, they opted for an over-the-top approach that drew viewers in.
- Build Community. Blendtec expanded the Will It Blend brand from YouTube to Facebook to its own microsite on Blendtec’s website. Blendtec interacts with the community, accepting suggestions for videos and replying to comments with personality and wit.
- Co-create and Cross-Promote. Blendtec leveraged the video series’ success to partner with other brands, without compromising the format that made them famous.
The Will It Blend series has been steadily turning out viral hits for nine years—or approximately 300 years by the short attention span of Internet fame. By showcasing their product in a unique and gleefully destructive way, they continue to entertain millions of people, two minutes at a time. That’s a truly astonishing tale of content marketing.
For more content marketing inspiration, check out Behind the Content to discover how (and why) some of the most innovative pieces of content came into existence.