Last week I got the chance to talk with Rhett McLaughlin, the taller, bearded half of the Internet duo act Rhett&Link. They make music. They dance. They’re witty. And above all, they seemed to have figured out how to weave brands effortlessly into their content.
Christine Beardsell: Tell me about the first time you posted online and what made you decide to be an online entertainer.
Rhett McLaughlin: We originally created our own Web site as a place to showcase videos we had shown to groups of people while we were in college. We were so short-sighted that we thought the primary reason for posting the videos online was so that people who watched them with us would have a way to watch them again. We never thought about building an audience. That was 2003.
We functioned like this for over two years. Then someone took one of our videos from our site and posted it on YouTube. Once we saw that thousands of people were watching it, we suddenly realized something very simple: we could put our videos on YouTube and lots of people would watch them. So we did. That online exposure led to us landing a network TV hosting job and gave us the financial freedom to start our Web production company. We’ve been producing Web videos full-time for almost two years.
CB: How do you go about building an audience?
RM: Our primary strategy is to create a steady stream of high-quality content and hope that people notice. So far, that’s been fairly effective. But it was very slow at first. We had a very little following on YouTube for the first 12 months or so. Currently, we try to leverage every online service we can that can reach a potential viewer. We promote our work through Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and a few other sites. We also maintain fairly developed cyber-friendships with faithful members of our fan base, trying to return as many e-mails as possible and commenting on friends’ videos. We invite audience members to respond to our videos for prizes, like special songs, too.
CB: Outside of creating content, do you spend a lot of time nurturing that audience?
RM: Honestly, we try to limit this … we could easily spend all day every day doing this, but it would stifle our creativity and keep us from developing new content on a regular basis. I would say that it amounts to about two to three hours daily for each of us.
CB: How much does your audience influence what you do?
RM: Our audience influences us a lot. We’re doing this stuff for them. If they tell us that something sucks or if they say they really want more of something, we try to deliver. We also get a lot of our ideas from them. Many of our best songs were ideas from our audience. However, we do have a vision for the kind of work we enjoy doing, and we don’t do anything that doesn’t personally entertain us. So far, it’s worked out really well that our audience likes the stuff we like. It goes both ways, we guess.
CB: What’s your ideal brand content partnership?
RM: The landscape of brand content partnerships is still in its formative stages, and it’s constantly changing. We’re enjoying the process of pioneering in the space, and we’re figuring out what works best for everyone. As artists, we like creative freedom. And we need to be able to trust the agency and brands we are working with, of course. The ideal situation for us involves creating content that both we and our audience like that happens to be branded.
CB: Can you talk about your recent brand content project with Alka-Seltzer?
RM: The Alka-Seltzer “Great American Road Trip” has been a great project for us. It was one of those perfect scenarios where the content was something we would have loved to do anyway — a road trip complete with music videos, spoofs, and man-on-the-street videos. The number and variety of the videos allowed us to experiment with creative brand integration. Our audience was skeptical at first, thinking that a branded series was going to be lame, but now they agree with us that it’s our best work to date.
CB: What excites you the most about creating content in the online space?
RM: We’re excited about more and more people seeing the Internet as a legitimate source of regular entertainment and the technology continuing to progress to the point where it’s easy and convenient for the average person to consume high-quality Web content, just like they do TV and movies. We’re also excited that brands are recognizing the value of reaching the online audience and that small, agile companies like ours can deal with large brands and take part in large-scale projects.
Seems like the future looks good for all parties involved: creators can be paid to create, audiences can receive quality content, and brands can reach that audience.
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