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Stop being so dang strategic

This week on "Death to the Corporate Video," host Guy Bauer throws the rule book out the window! Tired of tick-box creativity? So are we. Dive into an episode that challenges everything you thought you knew about being "strategic" in the B2B video world.

Guy dissects the unexpected viral success of their Halloween parody, "Possessed," and exposes the truth behind creativity: there's no secret formula, no checklist, and certainly no predicting what will hit the jackpot in the B2B marketing space.

From breaking his own rules to recognizing the magic in irrational choices, Guy argues that true creativity is about experimentation, understanding human irrationality, and most importantly, trusting your gut.

Here’s the “Possessed” trailer Guy references:


Guy Bauer:

Well, hi everybody. Welcome to Death to the Corporate Video. My name is Guy Bauer, I'm your host, and this week I want to talk about being strategic and why you should stop being so dang strategic. Before we start, a little bit of news, and I guess this kind of gets into what I want to talk about today, is we have got a little bit of a viral video going down. If you're unfamiliar, every year we released a Halloween trailer parody trailer, and this year is no different. So last week we sent out our trailer, released our trailer called Possessed, and actually there's going to be some spoilers ahead, so I recommend you watch it. I'll put the link in the show notes, or you could just go to YouTube and type in Umault possessed or just go to our channel Umault on YouTube, U-M-A-U-L-T.

So if you want, yeah, there's spoilers ahead. I don't want to ruin the trailer for you. Stop the podcast now and go watch the trailer and then come back to it because from here on in there are spoilers.

Okay, welcome back. So one of the side effects, and I'm not gatekeeping or trashing this in any way, but right now the spot's going viral on LinkedIn. And to be clear, when I say go viral, I'm not talking about millions of views. I'm just saying viral for us in the B2B marketing space is like tens of thousands of views. That's really viral.

One of the byproducts when it goes viral on LinkedIn is that everyone tries to be an expert or weigh in on what they think of why it is so good. And again, I'm not trying to trash this or gatekeep it. I do think it's a little funny because all the things that they cite, so they'll be somebody that shares it and they'll say why this works or the ingredients of success that this spot has and why people like it. And I always get a kick out of reading those because at no point did I ever have that list in front of me and compare the script and the concept to checking those boxes. Well, it's got to be this and it's got to be that, and it's got to feature a young man and it's got to have a guy in a trench coat. There are no boxes to check. And this is very frustrating.

As people, we try to come up with systems so that we don't need to reinvent things. What we want to do is believe that there's a formula. And I'm here to tell you that there is no formula. Are there standards? Yes. Are there strategies that are tried and true? For sure, but on an individual creative idea level, strategy should not be in your idea process. You should not have a checklist for ideas because most of them will fall outside of that checklist and you'll just go crazy trying to find the perfect idea. And so that's the whole point of this podcast is I'm going to try to convince you on this that you should stop being so dang strategic. On a macro level in terms of a yearly campaign and what you should do and who you should target and your audience and your message, yes, I believe that kind of strategy is absolutely important. But on an idea level, you should never let all that strategy get in the way of entertaining people or coming up with something that people like.

You should not have a checklist. So let me just give you an example. I'll give you a couple examples and I'll reference the spot that you have seen at this point. Otherwise, it will be spoiled. So if you've heard me talk and if you've listened to this podcast, even last week, I was talking about how no one wants to see ads. That if you are heavily featuring your brand or have a marketing right hook as Gary V would say, that you've got to pay for that, that that's going to really stop the organic reach, having an ad. No one wants to share ads unless they're Geico. There are exceptions, but for the most part, my rule of thumb is that if you want something organic, if you don't have the money to pay for this thing to be seen, then you have to limit how much of an ad it feels like. You have to make content. So instead of people talking about how great the product is, they're not talking about the product and the logo just shows up at the end.

So imagine I had a checklist that I vet all ideas through and this checklist on one of the checklist marks is it cannot be an ad. There cannot be hard solicits in the meat of the thing. My rule of thumb is that make content and at the end you get to put your logo, but only after you've successfully entertained someone, can you have permission to put your logo. But in this case, in Possessed, there's an ad right in the middle of it. She goes, "Is there anything I can do to help him?" And he says, "Just make sure he uses Umault for all his B2B video ad needs." My favorite part is when she cries, that's Kate Marie Smith, she's a fantastic actor. And she goes, "Okay."

I just love cinema magic like that, totally undirected by me. She just knew what to do. But that's such an ad. And if I had run the script through this checklist that had this philosophy that even I've espoused on this podcast last week, I already broke the rule and had I vetted it through this checklist, I would've failed the spot or have removed that section of it. And that's why you cannot do that. There are no checklists, there's no ingredients to something that will guarantee its success. Because if there were, if it was as easy as these five components will guarantee that your thing will go viral or have good organic reach, then AI would be writing it. And AI can't do it.

People are extremely irrational. I'm a big Rory Sutherland fan. I recommend you read his book called Alchemy and he talks about magic that a lot of things that are popular, the only rationale he can give for why they blew up are why they were so amazing, why were they so popular is magic. I believe it's the first or second chapter, he starts talking about Red Bull, how before Red Bull was Red Bull, they came to Ogilvy and the drink tested as terrible. Nobody liked it. I believe their marketing solve, no one wanted, but yet Red Bull is Red Bull. It's because magic. It's because people are irrational and the only way to figure this out and it'll never be figured out, but the only way you could kind of get through on what works and what doesn't and get a feeling for what people will like is by trying stuff.

The only strategy that possessed employees is the strategy of regularity, of trying new things, of experimenting, of not being formulaic. That's the true strategy. I got a request for an interview and they asked a few questions, how did you come up with this idea? And the truth is, I came up with the idea because it's an iterative thing, we've been doing it for three years. In 2021 we did the Stalking. In 2022 we did Marketer Geist. And this year I have learned from watching those other two spots what worked, what didn't, what people liked, what they didn't like. And then I went and experimented even further with this one. Because if I just go to what people liked in the past, that's how you fall down that slippery slope of no innovation.

So by putting that ad in, that crazy ad that my rationale for the ad is that why it works, and the part where he is like, "Just make sure he uses Umault for all of his B2B video ad needs." My rationale for why that works is that it's so transparent and so stupid and just so obvious and silly that people give it a pass. But again, I don't really know, and I don't know if that's the law. I can't put that in a checklist of, all right, you can do an ad, but it's got to be silly, stupid and make no sense.

That's also not going to work. So my advice is you should definitely have a macro strategy. You should have a marketing strategy, but then put that strategy away and come up with ideas that sort of fit in that strategy. It doesn't need to be so loyal. There are no people other than if you work at a big brand and you literally have brand police, but no one out in the public, again, unless you're Apple and you forget to take away the dynamic island. I don't know if you've seen that controversy in a shot unless you're Apple or some huge brand, no one out there is error checking, wait a second, this bot doesn't fit in exactly into their brand voice and that font looks five points over the recommended size of a text call out. No one is out there like that. And if they are, that's great, then your brand is killing it that it's got people like that, but that's just not... So the way I see strategy is develop a macro strategy, have it in mind, it's a box.

It's a target, and then it's okay to be 10 to 20% outside of that box. It's cool if your idea fits right in the cross-hairs of that box in the center point, but if you're outside the box by 10 to 20%, who is checking that? Now, if you're 80% outside of the box, yeah, potentially, that's where brand damage comes into play and mistakes are made and your brand voice is all over the place and no one can figure out what you do and what you stand for and your point of view and all that stuff. But if you're 10 to 20% off, yeah, 20%, I think that's fine. No one's going to care. It goes back to that Jurassic Park thing where he meets Newman in the island.

Newman says, "Dodson." He's like, "Oh, don't use my name." Newman's like, "Dodson, we got Dodson here." No one caress. Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Write the strategy, have it in your mind, put it in your desk drawer and just come up with ideas. I listened to a podcast once with... They were interviewing the creative director who said, I don't know, at the time, eight out of the top 20 Super Bowl ads were under this person's management, creative direction. And the host kept trying to get the guy to give him the formula. Well, I mean, it's got to be that there's animals in them or they always feature a location with blue. And the guy was like, "No, there are no formulas. I don't think of anything. I don't even think of the brand voice or anything." He said, "What I do is just think of ideas that are fun and then we do them."

And so that's what I want you to do is just come up with good ideas and then let people rationalize why they fit in the strategy or why it's so brilliant. I'm not trying to equate myself to some fancy Hollywood director, but this must be how David Fincher feels, where there's all these YouTube analysts of David Fincher films or whoever of see the color blue in this scene symbolizes this and that. And maybe it does, but I think that the director was like, "Yeah, that's a cool color. Yeah, I like it. Looks good in the frame." So just create like that. Stop limiting yourself.

You know what Possessed has taught me the most is, oh boy, I was writing it under duress. My mom had medical issues. I was traveling all over the country and the world this summer. Germany, India, Florida, just other places, LA. I was under extreme duress and I only had about two hours to write it and two hours nets our most popular Halloween spot we've done to date, that's generated the most amount of leads. So it's almost like... And I'm not trying to advocate for, well, don't spend a lot of time on things. What I'm trying to say is just trust yourself.

Trust that you have ideas and that the idea that you have may work. It may not work, but there's only one way to find out. Just do it. Go for it. And then let other people rationalize on why it's strategically great and give the four points on why this thing works. Again, I'm not trying to poo-poo any of that. And what I will say is when I read these comments or the tags or whatever, they all make sense. They're all valid. Everyone has their different reasons why Possessed works. I don't think they're wrong, but at no point did I think of any of those things. So that's what I want you to do, create and let other people sort it out, explain why it's so good.

Thank you to the people who have emailed. It was really nice to hear from y'all. If you have any suggestions or want me to talk about something, please email me, guy@umault.com. I'd love to get suggestions for what you want me to talk about in future episodes. Other than that, I'm just going to hop on here and rant for a little bit. You're my free therapy, so usually my wife will hear all these theories, but instead you get to hear them. So this has actually benefited my relationship as well because my wife and I can talk about other things, like fence repair. Do you know how much fences are? I mean, it's unbelievable. We don't even have a big fence and I cannot believe how much we spent on a new fence. It's ridiculous. That's what me and my wife talk about now, now that we don't talk about being strategic. All right, well, I hope you have a great two weeks. I'll see you two weeks from now.





Picture of Guy bauer, founder of umault

Guy has been making commercial videos for over 20 years and is the author of “Death to the Corporate Video: A Modern Approach that Works.” He started the agency in 2010 after a decade of working in TV, film and radio. He’s been losing hair and gaining weight ever since.

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