"Carry less and look stylish with SkiBrogues" the inventor of a new Italian leather boot with built-in, retractable skis promises in his home-spun online video. But wait. What at first glance looks like this year’s must-have winter sports accessory is, in fact, an online viral ad for car rental company Hertz.
The idea was born out of the realization that to work best an online video must flatter as well as entertain its audience with realism rather than glossy production values, its creators at London branding agency Corke Wallis explain.
"Loose association with the brand and a lo-fi feel are key," says agency cofounder Michael Wallis, who appears in the web film, produced by creative motion design studio MoveMakeShake, as SkiBrogue’s inventor. "Lots of brands struggle as soon as a viral’s audience smell it’s corporate—they shy away because they don’t want to do the brand owner’s marketing for them."
Corke Wallis’ philosophy is to find and create and an audience then take it to a brand. It’s an approach it first tested in a viral production last spring with the launch of Bike Butterfly—an idea it developed speculatively for British folding bike-maker Brompton Bicycle in which Wallis describes his new invention for making himself more visible to pedestrians when cycling: a pair of large, pop-out bike wings.
The film, again produced by MoveMakeShake, is lo-fi and amateur in feel. The CGI used to demonstrate the spoof product’s pop-out wings, however, is top-end to make the end result believable. The video directed viewers to Bike Butterfly’s website, further strengthening the spoof while providing a platform for a subtle brand message in the form of a simple banner reading: "We Love Brompton Bikes."
Interest in Bike Butterfly prompted Hertz to approach Corke Wallis to create a viral ad for its Advantage Car Hire division. The result? KeyCopter—a smartphone-compatible key fob which, when activated, literally flies your missing car keys back home. In the supporting video, Wallis explains how the inspiration for his invention came when he lost a set of car hire keys while holidaying in Majorca …
Again, the KeyCopter film directed viewers to a dedicated website which this time carried links to Advantage’s website. In the fortnight following its launch on YouTube last August, the viral ad was viewed more than 250,000 times and traffic to Advantage’s website doubled. As a result, Hertz asked Corke Wallis to develop a further viral campaign supporting its winter holidays car hire proposition.
"The fake website is key to keep the conceit going and enable subtle brand messaging without spoiling the viral. You’ve got to generate a convincing 'is it real?' debate to keep it engaging and drive its distribution," Wallis believes.
As important, however, is to invest sufficient time and effort in crafting the film. "Our approach is self-consciously lo-fi—apart from high-quality CGI which is essential to make the products believable," he adds. "It’s all about flattering the audience—acknowledging they are clever, rather than underestimating their intelligence and dumbing down."
He’s got a point. Though whether the fact Bike Butterfly attracted serious inquiries from a number of bicycle retailers in Poland eager to stock the product supports that point isn’t clear.