An Online Video Case Study: Mr. T & Hitachi

If you haven’t seen it, there is this so-bad-it’s-good Video that’s been getting e-mailed around and blogged-about quite frequently called “Mr. T: The “T” in I.T., starring, you guessed it, Mr. T. I blogged about it a few weeks ago. With over 140,000 views, this video about “storage virtualization” has made many people sit up and take notice of something that wasn’t only misunderstood by folks in the I.T. industry, but unheard of by anyone outside the industry.

To my surprise, I got a response from one of the people behind the video, Steven Zivanic, senior director, corporate communications at Hitachi Data Systems Corporation. In sharing words with Steven, many lessons were learned I believed could be put to good use by anyone using video online.

Cross Over

Steven said much of the video’s success had to do with thinking big. Historically, his company had tried to find increasingly better ways to speak to its core audience of I.T. professionals.

What he realized was that one way to get the attention of those professionals in a sea of noise was to actually appeal to people outside the industry, and let the residual effects make them realize what they may have otherwise be ignoring. As he put it, “PR is what you do when you’re marketing to your own industry; publicity is generated when other industries take note of what you’re doing. When something has such an impact that multiple industries take note, it becomes a cross-industry hit. That’s publicity. When people outside of storage care about what’s going on in the storage space, that’s publicity.”


We all know if you can make your message entertaining, people are more likely to pay attention. But what we sometimes fail to acknowledge is online advertisers and marketers are in the entertainment business. In order to capture a consumer’s attention long enough to convince them of something, we must entertain them — particularly in a non-linear advertising model like online video.

To this point, Steven explains, “What many marketers fail to understand today is that you can’t force feed external constituencies your messages anymore. So why not convey your message in a comedic format? It shows the world you have a sense of humor, and they’re more likely to remember something that invokes laughter in them than something that tries to force them to remember how many gigawatts of energy your latest microchip produces.”

Give Up Control

I’ve said this many times: when content is good, audiences want to take ownership of it. Ever bought a DVD because you’ve loved the film? Ever downloaded a track because you liked it when you heard it on the radio? Participatory audiences, when they see something they love online, want to take it and make it their own, either by bookmarking it, adding it to favorites, commenting, or even mashing it up.

To this point, Steven says, “The key is to release the message and let people comment on it, link to it, make it part of their own collection, make it a part of their personal online experience. Controlling the message from start to finish is no longer a reality, but many in the PR and marketing profession fail to comprehend this. The time is going to come when you’re either in or you’re in the way. In fact, we plan to offer the capability to do mashups with the T videos in the near future so people can make their own versions, mix them up with other clips, add their own creative concepts to them, etc.”

Keep the Message Simple

In this case, the humor was in the production values and the talent. But there was a simple message this was all building up to: “Virtualization resides in the controller, never in the network, and don’t let nobody tell you different…” According to Steven, this was “a message the masses can walk away with; a message the masses are entertained by; and a message the technocrats can have fun with as well (there are some technical analogies we make in the video. T eating the consultant’s brain is analogous to Hitachi’s controller absorbing the brains/controllers of other storage systems…).” Who would have thought the concept of storage system controllers and virtualization could be delivered in a simple way?

The simplest line? Maybe it’ll be a new catchphrase: “V is for Victory, Sucka!”

Work With Professionals

Here’s a great tip. Work with professionals, even when you want the finished product to be rough around the edges. Steven hired director James Marlowe, who directed a film called Grave’s End, which won a number of horror film awards and stars Eric Roberts.

Be Relevant

This one’s simple: how do you make virtualization relevant? Align yourself with a pop culture icon. By capitalizing on the celebrity of someone not only ironically relevant today, but also such a big part of the target audience’s youth, Steven could make an instant impact.

Online video isn’t just for entertainment, media, and content companies. Every brand, large and small, can create engaging content meant to inform as well as entertain. Perhaps the most valuable lesson is sometimes the way to get a niche audience’s attention is to contrast it with something with so much mass appeal, everyone starts paying attention.

Good online video is inherently shareable, linkable, editable, and mashable. The more ways audiences have to interact with your brand and your brand’s content, the more attention you can command.

Face it, that’s all we really want; just a little more attention.

Nominate your choice of technologies, companies, and campaigns that made a positive difference in the online marketing industry in the last decade. Nominations end August 3 at 5:00 pm (EDT).

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