How Buzzman Rewrote the Rules of Fiction to Create Relevant Video Content

With the pecs in motion on the second Old Spice campaign (check out Old Spice Muscle Music on Vimeo, it’s hilarious), I am reminded of the words of movie director, Guillermo Del Toro, discussing the future of story telling:

“In the next 10 years, we’re going to see all the forms of entertainment film, television, video, games, and print melding into a single-platform “story engine.” The Model T of this new platform is the PS3. The moment you connect creative output with a public story engine, a narrative can continue over a period of months or years. It’s going to rewrite the rules of fiction.”

Del Toro’s words were specifically about the next generation (now current) of video game consoles which, at the time, were seen to be innovative primarily because of their internet connectivity. However, to my mind, the web really has been the single-platform “story engine.” In particular, concomitant with the growth of faster internet connections, online video has been the best example of the merits of the story engine in action.

They are many great examples (too many to name now) of how online video can create almost kinaesthetic, sensory experiences by tying content into a user feedback loop, and so giving control of the content to the user. As Del Toro predicted, the rules of fiction have been re-written and now the video viewer can tell the story.

YouTube is a Story Engine

My favorite example of a single-platform “story engine” is the Tipp-Ex YouTube campaign created by the paris-based agency, Buzzman. Before the Old Spice guy, there was the Hunter and the Bear who made use of YouTube annotations to create a brand campaign for Tipp-ex, the stationery product which helps you “white-out” errors so that you can write over them. Using YouTube annotations (those clickable ‘zones’ which pop up on some YouTube videos), the watcher can literally change the ending of the video by erasing the key verb in the title and replace it with their own.


The first video title was “a hunter shoots a bear”, but at the very last moment, a YouTube annotation pops up to give the user a chance to vote on whether to shoot the bear, or not shoot it. If you opt for the latter, you can then change the verb in the title to (almost) anything you want. You can see all the possibilities in this article.

I loved the first campaign so much because of it’s brilliant easter eggs – hidden treasures of content to be found just by experimenting with keywords. So, when the second campaign ran I had to get in touch with the agency behind it, Buzzman, to find out how they did it.

Discussion with Buzzman

Hubert Munyazikwiye, Head of social media and PR at Buzzman, openly discussed their strategy with me over the phone. What emerged from our discussion was just how much planning and thought had gone into what seemed like little incidental details (which I will get onto later).

Munyazikwiye explained that their aim was to create something striking and impressive which would generate massive interest. Since everybody is spending a lot of time on YouTube it seemed like the obvious place to start, said Munyazikwiye, “we could have created a dedicated website for Tipp-Ex, but we really wanted to go where the people are”. Analyzing the YouTube features Buzzman noticed that the video title was one of the most important ways in which to get your video found. And that’s when inspiration struck… Munyazikwiye explained that at the time only the content owner could edit the title, but “what if we could use tipp-ex to edit the title?”

Immediately Buzzman started discussions with YouTube France. At first YouTube didn’t agree with the idea of users messing with video titles and then saw potential to create more revenue and demonstrate some of the more powerful features available to advertisers. For YouTube’s operations in Europe this choice alone was a good one and Tipp-Ex opened the gates for other brands to experiment on YouTube with Depserado and Nokia following suit.

Buzzman agreed to buy a YouTube takeover, which is estimated to cost around $300k a day and set about 35-40 videos for the first campaign. The campaign was a huge success, garnering over 15 million views and an average playing time of 5-6 minutes. Furthermore, although the campaign was initially focussed on european territories, the campaign spread through 190 countries. To get the condensed version of the Buzzman case study for the first Tipp-ex campaign, checkout the video below.

How Did You Know What I was Going to Type? And What is With the Weird Accent?

What I really wanted to know from Munyazikwiye was how did Buzzman manage to predict the verbs I was going to use? It was uncanny. And why does the hunter have such a curious english accent? It’s kind of a mix between Aussie and Kiwi with Dutch tones and hints of London. Was that deliberate?

It turns out that the Hunter’s accent was deliberate. “The hunter is French but as this was a pan-european campaign with the potential of going viral in english speaking countries across the globe, we wanted an ‘international’ accent,” said Munyazikwiye.

And on the subject of pre-cognition as to how the user would replace the verb in the title it wasn’t a case of psychic powers. Munyazikwiye explained candidly, “we ran some focus groups in France and the UK and simply asked people what verbs they would type in the search bar. We agreed on 42 different verbs and filmed 42 different scenes in less than a week and used post production to stitch it together.”

Rinse, Repeat.

When something works online within a certain social network or platform, it’s worth doing again. Better. Somehow.

So, Munyazikwiye explained, “with such outstanding results, we wanted to do a sequel. We realized we have got these two great characters, so let’s write and re-write the story. However, it is much harder to do a second campaign following such great success. We had to go bigger… so we thought, let’s write and re-write HIS-story!”

Buzzman used the same process of running focus groups, but expanded from France and the UK to Germany, Spain and Italy and asked audiences “if you could put any date in history, where would you go?”

Naturally people went back to dates really far in the past and the future, but “what was interesting was that days of national pride emerged, such as winning the Soccer World Cup.” This led Buzzman to also create content around historical moments relevant to the different countries too, such as The French Revolution and Italian Renaissance period. Also contemporary events and scandals were incorporated such as Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming Governor of California and the rape scandal surrounding the head of the IMF. Key points in the history of the internet were identified aswell, with the first days of YouTube and Facebook celebrated.

Naturally it being 2012, Buzzman also had to explore the idea of “the End of the World” which, as they were heading into May 21st 2012, must have been front of mind for many at the focus group. It became the focus of the second campaign. Below you can choose whether to end the Hunter and Bear’s birthday party… or save them with your time machine.

3 Steps to Being a Better Content Marketer:

Buzzman’s formula for success is simple to emulate, no matter what sized business you are and budget you control. Below are my takeaways from the phone discussion with Munyazikwiye:

  1. Go to where the audience already is. Going it alone is not always the best strategy. Think about where there are large audiences you can tap into and partner with the content provider.
  2. Use focus groups. Running your marketing campaign ideas past multiple focus groups who represent your target audience will give you a sense of not only what they want, but how they expect to use and interact with content you create.
  3. Be culturally relevant and topical. No one wants to share marketing, they want to share stories. Whilst content is king, context is what makes something meaningful to a person. Create stories that are not just relevant to their needs but relevant to their identity too. Take a multi-dimensional view of what is important to your audience and think about their fundamental values and also what is at the forefront of their mind right now.

Or put another, simpler way, respect Buzzman’s ‘Credo’, displayed on their website:

As Bob Thacker, senior VP-marketing and advertising at OfficeMax, says :

“The secret is respecting the consumer.
You are interrupting their life. All advertising is unwanted, so if you’re going to crash the party, bring some champagne with you.”

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