Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Infomercials in a time of YouTube

"Here in my garage...."
In these financially volatile times it's hard not to be tempted by this guy. Yes, he’s the one who incessantly edges in between you and that YouTube video you’re trying to watch, insisting he has the secret to wealth. And A Lamborghini. Plus a Ferrari. And don't forget the house in the Hollywood Hills.

So uniquely annoying is this finger pointing garage guy that we’ve all watched at least 10 seconds of his video, and if you were being totally honest you'd admit to having watched more. By the way, he has a name. It’s Tai Lopez

I must confess: At first I thought Tai Lopez was some kind of David Cross or Fred Armisen-like character, promoting an upcoming show on Netflix. Or maybe it was some sort of branded content play, sponsored by a company or product, that would reveal itself in subsequent pre-roll videos as I made my around YouTube. But no, it turns out we must take him at face value. This king of the not-at-all-humble-brag is this decade's version of the informercial pitchman.

Ah, yes, informercials, those magical faux-shows that are too long to be commercials and too pushy or biased to be actual TV shows. Their formula: to present a problem/solution combo, generally overstating the gravity of the problem, and then providing a miraculous fix, for 2 or 3 easy payments of a price that ended in .99.

It's a drill we all became familiar with starting in the mid 1980s, when the problem of 'dead air' on television was solved with a new entry in the TV Guide schedule grid: 'paid programming'. 

And so a new genre of advertising was born -- DRTV, or direct response television. The air time between 1 and 6 a.m, while less than optimal for reruns of sitcoms, movies, and talk shows, made for a great home for the marketers of  Snuggies, Chia Pets, and the like. Perfect purchases to consider when you've become one with your couch, your lids are becoming heavier, and dialing a 1-800 number seems like a not bad idea.
As Seen On TV:
Infomercial offerings brought into physical world malls

The radical idea of DRTV was that there was no middleman or retailer involved. Goods would flow directly from the manufacturer to the consumer, first via 1-800 numbers and then via websites. And then in a kind of negation of the initial concept of DRTV, physical retail was introduced with the "As Seen on TV" stores in malls.

But what does all of this have to do with that 'here in my garage' guy? 

Well, once again, the Internet completely shakes things up, and we can use the example of Tai Lopez to illustrate precisely how.

Whereas previously tens to hundreds of thousands were spent making infomercials that sang the praises of the blender to end all blenders, or dramatizations that illustrated how one's life would be improved by a blanket with sleeves, all a pitchman needs to do nowadays is rig his iPhone to a selfie stick. Production can be that basic. And on the Internet, less slick or formatted often beats polished and professional.

Additionally, there's no media buy involved this time around. That middle of the night time slot on your local television station in which you would broadcast your DRTV program cost thousands. Today, Tai Lopez just uploads his multiple hour path to riches videos directly to YouTube, and the cost to him? Nothing.

But how do people find these videos, in a world where hundreds of hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute? The answer to this question is also why most of us know the guy in the garage pointing to his Lamborghini. It's the targeted pre-roll ad. Every time you watch something on YouTube, or use Google, or Gmail, or any of the other Google services, the system gets to know you better. It learns about things like your click history, your likes and dislikes, and your demographic profile -- and from a fusion of this data, specific ads are served to you. Based on the number of people who know his videos, and the number of times per day I see them, my hunch is that Tai Lopez has cast his net wide, not just at, e.g, 18-34 year old men, or urban-dwelling women who buy a lot of shoes online. Let's just say his media buy with Google/YouTube is substantial.

Tai Lopez energetically takes to YouTube
And people seem to be responding to this Tony Robbins of 2015. As of early September 2015 Tai Lopez  has 258,000 subscribers and 13 million views for the portfolio of videos he's posted to YouTube. You can watch those for free. Just like you can go to the iTunes store and download 100 of his podcasts for free. Big deal, you might say...he's good at giving things away for free.  But what he's really good at doing is saturating multiple platforms with content, and doing so at little cost to himself, for all those reasons described above. In the process Tai Lopez establishes his brand and -- are you sitting down -- basically creates infomercials for his informercials, and presumably makes some sales of his 'millionaire mentor' and 'mini MBA' programs along the way.

In parallel to the media horn of plenty for which the man himself is responsible, there's a world of Tai Lopez-themed content to be found online. He's discussed in detail on Reddit, where one commenter has given him the sobriquet of 'douchecanoe', and he's paid tribute to with memes and parodies, some of which merely poke fun at Lopez, some of which are in pretty bad taste, and others that reference other memes.

Though most of us are probably not going to end up as customers of Tai Lopez' make-a-million tutorials, if we take a few steps back there's much to be learned about the unique ability of the Internet to create value by way of the targeted, the interruptive, and even the off-putting.

The guys who would be Tai

December 2016 Update: 1.6 billion minutes of Lopez' videos have been watched online. How he did it, according to him (of course)

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