Commentary

The Dilbert Effect: B2B Goes for Laughs

Remember when business-to-business marketing was all white papers and spec-filled product sheets? You advertised new server technology in magazines like InfoWorld by purchasing some outrageously priced multi-page spread. You filled it with copy the marketer probably didn't understand. And you wrapped it around images of huge hunks of iron that some IT administrator somewhere may have found sexy.

Then viral video came along and it was okay to get a little witty. As we saw last week CompareNetworks has made a nice little business out of crafting $100,000 to $150,000 music video for medical device manufacturers, nabbing hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits, and netting maybe a handful of just the right leads in the end.

In some sense the bar is lower for B2B comedy. There is something inherently funny about the office situation, so that almost any self-important or mildly befuddled move is funnier than it ought to be. This simple truism made Ricky Gervaise wealthier than Midas.

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And the laughter keeps coming. Omnicom B2B specialty agency Doremus announced yesterday that its series of viral video for HP won a BtoB magazine award for best social media marketing program. The set of three videos follows Alex the IT guy as the HP machines around him start reminding him it is time to renew the company's service contract. Two of the videos recreate the voice of the Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. In another vid Alex and the printer hold a conversation about renewing via print-outs. While the acting and timing are not quite as spot on as an Office episode, it is good enough for B2B.

Of course, be careful what you wish for in viral video success because a lot of strange associations occur online, especially when b2b marketers venture outside of the relative safety of traditional trade publishing environments. When you do a YouTube search of the advertised product's name, "HP Flex Care," the engine does bring up the first video in the series, which enjoyed about 1700 viewings. But the brand name in the search also brings up in related results the notorious video purporting to demonstrate how HP face-tracking Web cams were failing to recognize darker skin tones. The "HP computers are racist" user-generated video had 2.1 million views. Viral can be funny. It can be virulent as well. And sometimes the two blend together in unanticipated ways.

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