Mr. T and The Wind Star in B2B Viral Videos

What can a washed up ’80s television celeb do to promote storage solutions? Run a couple of drunken tech firm execs off the road in a semi truck in a YouTube video, for one. Aiming to appeal to the younger Web 2.0 startup set, Hitachi launched a viral video campaign starring the bejeweled Mr. T in January, and the third clip in the series will appear August 14 in conjunction with the opening of the firm’s new New York office where the “A-Team” star is set to appear dressed in his “Virtualizer” getup.

Hitachi posted the first two short films on YouTube and its salespeople often use the clips as e-mail icebreakers.

“You’ll never be strange if you get Hitachi’s Mid Range,” barks Mr. T in the upcoming episode promoting the firm’s enterprise class storage products targeted to mid-tier companies. Fans of the first two productions will get to see the B-list star wreak havoc after growing to Godzilla-like proportions. In the first video, Mr. T. plays “The Virtualizer,” declaring, “Virtualization in the Network is for Routing, not Data Fool.”

The videos, produced by Marlow-Pugnetti and created in-house at Hitachi, have a decidedly low-quality production style, paying homage to Japanese cult flicks and the action adventure TV of yesteryear. There’s even a scene featuring that ubiquitous car-over-a-cliff footage. Cost of the three promotional videos was about $150,000, but Hitachi also had about twelve clips created for internal sales motivation purposes.

Though sales staffers have disseminated the videos, they’ve made the rounds primarily through YouTube, where the first mini-film, “The ‘T’ in I.T.,” has been viewed around 150,000 times.

There’s no direct call-to-action, heavy branding, or component Web site, though. Mr. T. mentions Hitachi once or twice in each, but the main message is that Hitachi’s data storage technology is better than others. “We think that’s the appropriate way to communicate this message,” said Zivanic. “You just have to let it run free.”

Other B2B advertisers are experimenting with viral video, and some, like Hitachi, are eschewing mundane demos and scenarios featuring office workers poking fun at the boss in favor of more unique approaches.

“People just they don’t seem to like me,” laments a bowler cap-adorned chap dressed in black in a confessional style video that cuts to shots of him mussing a woman’s hair and tossing sand in a little girl’s face. Not until the end of the short movie does the viewer realize our melancholy hero is an anthropomorphized version of the wind. The video is a campaign effort for Epuron, a renewable energy firm that builds wind farms.

Some may recall an extended video piece featuring John Cleese of Monty Python fame making its way around the Web a couple years ago. As Dr. Twain Weck, the director of The Institute for Backup Trauma, Cleese presents his patients, all stricken with “backup trauma,” induced by storing data on tape or other inferior formats. The video served to promote LiveVault’s automated disk backup solutions.

“It’s easy for people to forget that just because someone is at work, they’re human,” said Jim Haven, creative director and principal at creative agency Creature. “‘It’s actually naïve to treat businesspeople differently,” he added.

The agency created a Web video for Umpqua Bank to promote its small business loans. In the short film, launched in June, a diligent seven-year-old petitions his father for cash to fund a lemonade stand startup. Dad refuses, and after searching the couch for loose change, he decides to get serious. He comes prepared to a local Umpqua Bank branch with construction paper charts. A Wes Anderson-inspired sequence features a series of still photos featuring the main character slumped over in his small suit while in a queue at the bank. Finally, the deal is sealed with a handshake, and a bit of fruit rollup residue for bonding. Once the money flows in, the mini entrepreneur buys a new car: a canary yellow model Camaro.

“The Lemonaire” is part of a broader cross-media effort running in Oregon and California, and while its main goal is to push business loans, the bank is actually funding extra-small business ventures, too. Umpqua has been selecting kids to participate in its Small Business Lemonade Initiative; the tart tots get business guides including advertising plans and a lemonade stand on wheels that’s been circulating weekly from curbside vendor to vendor.

The only instance of branding occurs when the enterprising youth enters the bank. “[Umpqua] didn’t want it to be too heavy-handed,” said Haven, who said the video cost only around $60,000 to produce.

“In the early days it was common practice that something had to be offensive or extreme to create any sort of attention,” said Haven of viral video. “Now I think it’s become a little bit more mature. There’s more of an art form to it.”

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