December 29, 2006, 12:00 AM

Blending video and e-commerce

Some retailers are capitalizing on the explosive growth of online video, seeking to better showcase products and entertain and engage customers.

A 650% increase in traffic. Around 10 million page views. Selling more products in one weekend than the entirety of the best month on record. A significant increase in sales. And calls from The Today Show and The Tonight Show. All because someone thought tossing a 2” x 2” board and some golf balls in a blender was funny.

That someone clearly was right.

“I was walking past our testing room and saw sawdust all over the floor, so I asked what was going on,” remembers George Wright, hired last year as marketing manager for manufacturer and e-retailer Blendtec. “Staff said Tom was in here doing some destructive testing, seeing if he could blend a board with a new blender designed for use in the home. I decided I had to see that. So the next time they did destructive testing I was there, and I had it filmed. It was hilarious.”

Faster than one can turn an iPod into a smoothie, the retailer purchased the domain WillItBlend.com, got its hands on some ‘60s talk show music, grabbed the in-house producer of video demos for commercial products, promoted Blendtec founder and CEO Tom Dickson to online video host (trading in his suit for a white lab coat), and rolled the camera. Staff created an array of minute-long videos of blendings-hockey pucks, Precious Moments figurines, Thanksgiving dinner, mobile phones, cans of soda, marbles, tilapia-and on Nov. 1 posted them on WillItBlend.com as well as YouTube and a few other sites, then sat back to see what happened. What happened was the company sold a lot of blenders.

From Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, the blending videos logged more than 8.4 million views on WillItBlend.com and YouTube

combined. But then add other sites and blogs and MySpace spaces to which the videos found their way (some posted by the company but many more posted by amused Internet users) and ultimately it’s impossible to figure out just how many people have viewed them. And now the company has turned the online viral marketing campaign multi-channel by taking the show on the road for demos at Costco stores.

So for the cost of a web domain (infrastructure and technology already were in place, of course, for the e-commerce site), a few hours of employees’ time and a shopping spree for one helluva bizarre assortment of goods, Blendtec boosted brand awareness, e-commerce site traffic and sales. And the views, the traffic and the sales-and the videos, with inspiration from the site’s “Suggest Something to Blend” form, which has garnered more than 20,000 submissions-just keep on coming.

After all, when someone sees a happy-go-lucky man in a lab coat jam a golf club into a blender with the name Blendtec on it, turning the club into mush, odds are pretty good that come blender purchase time that viewer will remember that goofy mental image and the laughs and think of Blendtec.

“When George approached me about actually filming extreme blending challenges and putting video clips out on the web, I thought it would be fun, but I never imagined that it would take off like it did. In fact, when George said we were going to post videos on YouTube, I didn’t even know what YouTube was,” Dickson admits. “Will it Blend was not designed as a sales campaign-it was designed to be a branding campaign. The first six videos we produced and posted cost us about $50, and now they have been viewed by millions. This campaign put Blendtec on the map in just a few weeks.”

A star is born
There are many brand name manufacturers and other businesses that have posted on numerous social networking and video-sharing sites clever television commercials or video clips specifically designed for online play. These efforts all boil down to brand awareness. But using online video for viral marketing is just a small part-so far-of applying video in Internet retailing. Weaving online video into e-commerce sites to enhance the customer web experience is where the action’s at. The aim is to better inform shoppers about products in a way that text, imagery and audio cannot, and/or to entertain shoppers in a manner that increases brand awareness and turns shoppers into customers.

Online video is the latest technology to further advance the Internet. In October everyone realized-if they hadn’t already-that online video was a smashing success with Internet users. The tip-off? Google Inc. acquired YouTube Inc. for $1.65 billion. Today the free video-sharing site-which uses Flash technology to display and play video clips-and others like it continue to lead online video and its multitudinous fans into a new realm of web experiences.

Video, however, isn’t much fun on a dial-up connection. That’s where another Internet development steps in-the increasing adoption of broadband Internet access. Unlike dial-up, high-speed connections make videos appear in an instant and boast uninterrupted, TV-quality display. As of November, 78% of active Internet users had high-speed access at home, up from 65% in 2005, 54% in 2004 and 12% in 2000, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. So today, putting online video on a retail site is nowhere near the worry it was a couple years ago, when about half of potential customers still were using dial-up access.

In addition to having eager viewers with high-speed Internet access, online video has become an affordable proposition. If a retailer already has a digital camcorder lying around, that’s half the battle. Then it comes down to dreaming up how video can help better display or explain products, or how to regularly entertain shoppers. Find a well-lit room at HQ, get a creative staff member to dress up displays for products or the room for a demo, turn other staffers into directors and stagehands for a day, and voilà-original video to upload to an e-commerce site.

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