Jarod Green and his friends never dreamed that their good-natured attempt to poke fun at the New Zealand accent would turn into a multimillion dollar merchandising phenomenon.
But the animated adventures of their beached Kiwi whale struck a chord with online audiences that would make most marketers envious. Beached Az started as a cheaply-animated online series, but it has now been viewed close to six million times on YouTube, been picked up by the ABC, and also turned into a popular iPhone application. A DVD is on the way.
As an example of viral marketing distribution, it is one of the best in Australia. Green and his friends owe their success not to a cleverly executed marketing campaign or massive media spend, but rather to the willingness of its fans to “pass it on”.
“We knew it was good, and we knew it was funny,” Green says. “And it also played to a good old-fashioned rivalry that exists between Australia and New Zealand. Everyone has a Kiwi mate and it was a little too easy to forward it on.”
“We just didn’t know how wide and broad the acceptance of the humour would be.”
Beached Az was spawned out of friends Nick Boshier and Anthony ‘Macca’ Macfarlane’s (the whale and seagull respectively) love of putting on foreign accents. Green, who has also known Boshier and Macfarlane for much of his life, says the two came up with the concept when asked what a beached whale would be thinking about.
“Macca said ‘He’d be beached az, bro’,” Green says. Hence the show’s catchphrase was born.
It was Green who proposed turning that simple idea into a short film. Initial attempts to shoot it as live-action with papier-mâché costumes at the beach were soon discarded in favour of Green’s amateur interest in animation.
“Nick and Macca grabbed a handy-cam, sat on a bed, and ran off a couple of takes and emailed them across to me,” Green says. “Two days later I finished my absolutely terrible animation and put it up on YouTube to show friends, and it just started going a little crazy.”
The first short cost was $16 to make and went up online in April 2008. The trio alerted about 40 friends. Within three months it had received one million hits.
“That’s when we stopped and thought ‘maybe we can monetise this in some way’,” Green says. “We realised we had this catch-phrase of ‘Beached az bro’, and these characters that were identifiable, and that seemed to translate to merchandise very quickly, and we thought maybe people would want to buy our shirts.
“We put a link at the end of the YouTube video, and we started turning over tens of thousands of dollars a month in t-shirt sales.”
They then licensed the image to the women’s fashion retailer Supre, which sold 80,000 t-shirts across the 2009 summer, and were forced to launch its first men’s range.
A multimillion dollar merchandising machine had been born.
The team was approached by the ABC in February 2009 to create a series which was subsequently sold internationally, and this was followed by an iPhone application which went into the Top 5 in the iTunes App Store in Australia. A DVD will be out by Christmas this year.
Green acknowledges that part of initial appeal of Beached Az probably lay in its very amateur and relaxed production style. Hence they have worked hard not to lose the informal feel when working with the ABC.
“I don’t know if we ever achieved that same level of relaxed banter that we got in the original, because we always knew it was going to a national television audience at the end of the day,” Green says. “But it helped that we recorded half of them under a doona in our office when we had that moment of inspiration.”
As for why it has proven so successful, Green says he can only guess at the answers.
“It is a question that riddles most social media marketers around the world, and there have been plenty of people try to deconstruct Beached Az,” Green says.
Tips for successfully spreading a virus
It is impossible to create a viral campaign, but it is possible to create a campaign that turns viral.
Some are smartly executed brand advertisements, often made for television and then reborn internationally online. Others, such as the re-subtitling of Hitler’s rant from The Downfall, are a spontaneous movement based on a clever or humorous idea with no obvious commercial gain for anyone. While there are no strict rules as to why successful campaigns have worked, there are plenty of reasons why unsuccessful ones never got anywhere.
Here are a few tips on how to help your campaign reach plague proportions.
Have a good idea
Clare Werbeloff aside, most of the successful viral campaigns have been the result of a good idea, often based on extensive research and strong insights into audience interest and behaviour.
“If you look at any great viral campaign there is actually an extraordinary idea behind it,” says Clemenger BBDO’s creative chairman James McGrath. “Viral is the outcome.”
Way back in 2006 New York fashion label Mark Ecko made headlines with a short video of vandals tagging the US presidential jet Air Force One with its slogan Still Free.
Keep it short
While not every viral campaign has involved video footage, of those that have, few successful ones have run longer than a minute or two.
For Beached Az, Green says: “Being a short form snack media that can be consumed while a kettle is boiling or waiting for a bus makes it easily digestible”.
Set up the premise and deliver the payload quickly.
Give it a broad appeal
The internet has a wide audience. Most successful viral campaigns, such as the Gorilla advertisement created for Cadbury in 2007 (and viewed 500,000 in its first week of being uploaded to YouTube, even after having debuted on British television) appealed to both children and adults.
Green says the same is true of Beached Az. “And the iconic imagery, while disturbingly simple, is widely appealing, and children can watch it just for the bright colourful shapes, and adults can watch it for the content.”
Make it recognisably different
Many great virals have mixed elements of the familiar and the original, but in all cases McGrath says it is important that consumers see something they identify with.
“Virals are not about you (the brand), they are about them (the consumers) – they have to be able to see themselves in the idea,” says McGrath.
The managing partner and consumer psychologist at communications agency Naked Communications Adam Ferrier says it is important that whatever it is, they recognise it as familiar, and they also perceive to be popular.
“If you can give people a sense of perceived popularity, or the sense that other people they respect are already engaging in this behaviour, then that is going to make them much more likely to engage with it as well.”
Inspire people to take action
A campaign will never go viral if no one chooses to pass it along, but getting them to do so often takes a little insight into what will motivate them. According to Ferrier there are three keys to motivating people: individual incentive (what’s in it for me), social norming (how will I look) and perceived ease (how easy will it be).
“Those three things equal motivation,” Ferrier says.
Make it easy
To the previous point, if you want people to pass along your campaign, then make it easy for them to do so. That means not overcomplicating the process, such as asking consumers to fill out a lengthy survey. Ferrier says this thought was the basis for Naked’s Ask Richard campaign for Sydney community radio station FBI, which raised over $600,000 by calling on people to ask Richard Branson for $1 million to save the station.
“If you can think about the consumer as the departure point for communication, rather than the end point, you are going to have a lot more success in developing an idea that is going to be passed on from person to person.”
Once you have your great idea ready for release, it’s important to tell people. Some people are more likely to send things on than others, or have greater influence over a group, and agencies have not been above identifying and paying these people to push their campaigns out. In other instances, such as the Cadbury Gorrilla and Ask Richard campaigns, the idea was assisted through mainstream media and existing member communities. Some ideas don’t need much help to catch on however. Green estimates that Beached Az was pushed out to no more than 40 friends.
Get mainstream media on the bandwagon
As much as social media pundits will talk about the power of blogs, Twitter and Facebook for spreading messages, a bit of free help from mainstream media doesn’t hurt. Many of the successful viral campaigns have had their views boosted significantly by appearances on broadcast television and mentions in other media.
Engage with the community
Once they realised they were on to something, Green and his colleagues were quick to start engaging with their fans. Often the banter had nothing to do with Beached Az, having quickly broadened across Australia/New Zealand rivalry to include topics such as rugby results.
But Green says they were quick to take on board comments when viewers saw things they didn’t like.
“Half the battle is producing the videos and putting them up there,” Green says. “The other half is listening to what people are saying and responding to it. And that’s really what the internet is all about it. It’s more a conversation than a television set, so you need to get in there, listen and respond.”