VeriSign ‘Cart Whisperer’ Campaign a Smash on YouTube

The people at e-commerce security software company VeriSign did a lot of soul-searching before signing off on a new viral marketing campaign featuring a rather red-neckish “feller” whose passion in life is rescuing abandoned shopping carts from vacant lots and roadsides.

There were a number of strategic and philosophical issues to be pondered prior to giving the McCann Erickson agency a go-ahead for the humorous campaign, conceded Tim Callan, VP of VeriSign’s SSL business unit.

For starters, since VeriSign is a company that sells wares designed to thwart Internet dishonesty and trickery, is it sensible to base an ad campaign on phony “Cart Whisperer” videos featuring a fake (and almost Larry the Cable Guy-esque) character named “Liberty Fillmore?”

And what about the risk involved in being too careful? “How do you strike the balance between shilling your product and making sure it is engaging, entertaining and has pass-along value? We felt that you have to have enough engagement and pass-along value or you are sunk,” said Callan.

The company took a half-veiled approach to branding the video. While you can eventually see that the Web site, MySpace Page, YouTube Video and Facebook presence belong to VeriSign, it takes a bit of digging.

That seems to have worked, as one of the five videos posted to YouTube has garnered more than 770,000 views since the beginning of the week. “It was the second-most viewed video on YouTube,” said Callan.

The site is a pseudo-amateurishly designed hodgepodge supposedly created by Fillmore. It features a YouTube video of him that begins as he’s driving his pickup in search of abandoned shopping carts. “I don’t know what it is in a person makes ’em just up and abandon a perfectly good shopping cart,” he narrates over an acoustic guitar soundtrack as his eyes dart in search of carts needing rescue. When he finds one, he gets on his belly and approaches slowly, making some kind of bird-like sound. “Y’see, the key is you gotta talk to ’em in their own language,” explains Fillmore.

There’s a lot more to the site, including a photo album, some of his poems, his bio, other videos and a Win a Thing contest that serves as a lead generator for VeriSign. Viewers don’t really find out the whole thing is a marketing campaign unless they click on “My Sponsors” and read this bit of Fillmore prose: “What made me start this interweb site was when I started hearing all these stories of how many people abandoned carts on the interweb — on account of how they didn’t feel secure hitting the BUY button. That’s when I found out about VeriSign and their Extended Validation SSL protection program. They help make it so interweb sites can make shoppers and customers feel comfortable, so they can hit the BUY button and know they are giving their credit card information to the business they think they are giving it to rather than imposters.”

Some savvy video viewers posted YouTube messages alerting the world that the whole thing is just a wacky ad campaign. “One YouTube guy found it and figured it out,” said Callan. “He went on to say, `This isn’t some little guy doing a production, but I still love it and it’s funny.'”

Other than in a blog entry written by Callan, VeriSign also purposely is not mentioning the campaign on its corporate Web site.

Obviously, the company isn’t in business to make fake-but-funny Web 2.0 creations. So, what’s the point of the whole Cart Whisperer/Liberty Fillmore thing?

“The idea is, first of all, just plain educating people” about the issue of abandoned online shopping carts and informing them that many online cart abandonments are the result of last-minute consumer anxiety about the security of the e-commerce site, said Callan. It all links back to VeriSign’s release of Extended Validation Secure Sockets Layer, a software package being sold to e-commerce companies. EV-SSL ensures online shoppers a site is secure by turning to green their Internet browser’s address bar when they are looking at an EV-SSL-protected site.

It’s too early to assess the campaign’s potential business impact. “We obviously found a recipe for getting a video viewed a lot and it is very popular,” Callan said. “In the long-term, we want to find out what business results were accomplished. Then we will decide how to proceed.”

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