How can marketers create successful social media video ads that go viral and generate intentional results via an iterative approach? There are no bad ideas!Today’s guest is Travis Chambers of Chamber Media. He describes how to infuse social media video ads by using quantitative creativity. Why? What works is usually not what you think is going to work.
You're listening to the Actionable Marketing Podcast, powered by CoSchedule, the only way to organize your marketing in one place, helping marketers stay focused, deliver projects on time, and keep their entire marketing team happy.Ben: Welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. I'm your host, Ben Sailer. This week, we have Travis Chambers from Chamber Media, talking about how to infuse social media video ads with what he calls quantitative creativity, to get incredible results.Now, Travis is such a great guest to have talked about this stuff thanks to his unique background. He worked in television for a while at 20th Century Fox, and after deciding that really wasn't his thing, he then went on to start his own agency called Chamber Media. His timing couldn't have been better, because he launched his agency right when the viral video craze just first started to take off, and he's been dominating in that space ever since.If you're curious at all about how intentional viral success actually happens, you won't want to miss this conversation. Now, here's Travis.Hi, Travis. How's it going?Travis: It's going swell. Can I use that word, swell? Can I use that?Ben: You can use the word swell. We won't have to censor that out later.Travis: Nice.Ben: Cool. Well, would you mind taking a moment just to introduce yourself to our audience? Tell us your backstory, how you got started with viral video and starting your own agency.Travis: I was super interested in video, made a bunch of videos growing up with the Handycams, and the VCR's duct taped to the helmet for the motor, dirt bike helmet cam and all that, and started really getting interested in it. I was in college in Utah and this big YouTuber community took off, like Lindsey Stirling and Devin Supertramp had a meet up, and I happened to be there. That was a big, huge event that kind of started a whole community there.Anyway, a year later, my wife and I made a funny video and it went viral, Tosh.0, Good Morning America. Kraft Mac & Cheese asked to license the video and happened to be at the ad agency that I had wanted to work with, that I wanted to get a job at. They interviewed me, I got the job, and that's kind of where it all got started.I went there to 20th Century Fox. That wasn't my jam, so I started Chamber. Because I just couldn't find a job that was what I wanted, I was like, "I'm going to create myself the job that I want."Ben: Awesome, love it. Tell us about the work that you're doing now with your own agency at Chamber Media. What is it that you find more fulfilling about that than what you were doing before?Travis: We're really helping brands grow. In the last two years, we've tripled the revenue for multimillion-dollar companies. There's a couple that are now in the quintupling stage, and there's probably going to be a handful more in the next six months, so we’re going to have that same thing happen.What we do is create high production social ads. We've got a big studio for video production, and then we do the ad buying as well. Secret sauce is really the creative. We figured out how to create dozens of different types of video, all in conjunction, that can be run as ads, and that can be run really profitably. It's working really, really well.Ben: Very cool. How do you feel that your background (maybe on the television world) has benefited you as a marketer?Travis: Interestingly enough, I chose the safe route to journalism major in PR. By the time I graduated, journalism was completely dead. It was a very poor career choice. I really focus on digital marketing. Obviously, it was 2009. I wanted to work in TV, of course, but I saw the writing on the wall that it was going to be really hard to advance in the TV industry because it's competitive. I thought, "Well, I think digital marketing is going to be huge." This is right as YouTube was coming out. I was like, "This is going to be the next thing. I'm going to focus the next 10 years of my life on this thing."Sure enough, that was the reason I was able to climb so fast is because there was just nobody else. I mean 2012–2013, you really couldn't find anybody under 30 that knew anything about Facebook, YouTube or that kind of stuff. So, that was a really good choice. Being at Crispin Porter Bogusky, I learned Facebook and video is the same as TV. It's just a new format, new optimizations, new tricks, new methods, but at the core, selling people and creative. It's all the same. I was able to see how the best people, the best in the world, do it, and I was able to analyze and then translate that into social.Ben: I think it's interesting how you mentioned that a lot of things regarding the process are about the same or maybe it remains similar. I'm curious, how do you approach the creative ideation process for, say, a social media video ad? Is there anything that is specific about that process when you're considering social media that might be different from how you would shoot a conventional video advertisement?Travis: It's very, very formulaic, much more so than like the Super Bowl spot. It's more formulaic, like a late-night infomercial. Over $80 million, we've managed ads in the last six years. We took every creative asset we've ever ran, put it into a library, and ran a bunch of analysis on it. We call it The Brain. What came out on the other side is 100 ad types that had basically their own titles or names. We found seven key foundational categories. There are things like spokesperson anchor video, unboxing, social proof, product demo, testimonials, and a few others as well. We basically created these categories. As far as the spokesperson anchor video goes, which is like the Dollar Shave Club model—which is tried and true, still crushing it when it's done well—we run that at the top of the funnel. That's how we introduce people to the brand and the product. The more complicated the brand is, usually the longer the video will be. Also, the more expensive it is, because there's just more to understand and to learn. That's what we really heavily depend on as prospecting, and most brands aren't doing that yet. Most brands are doing the other stuff and not well.Then, it's a matter of taking all these categories and saying, "All right, we're going to make three testimonials in these three ways. We're going to make four product demos. We're going to make five side-by-side product comparisons. One's going to be motion graphics, one's going to be stop motion animation, one's going to be practical, one's going to have a human face in it." Whenever we can get a human face in there with live action, we always do that, because the data shows that the human face is very persuasive; it's very formulaic. Even when we're writing one of these spokesperson anchor videos, the viral videos per se, we have a very specific formula. There's hook, problem, solution, problem, solution, social proof (which is the testimonials, reviews, yadda, yadda), and then we're reading calls to action every 20 seconds. So super formulaic.Even when we're writing a spokesperson anchor video, what we'll do with the concept is before we really get the idea, we'll just set the structure. We'll be like, "Okay, it's going to be this scene, this scene, this scene, this scene. We're making an acne commercial. She's going to talk about what it feels like to have acne da-da-da." Sometimes it's not even a clear idea or concept. Sometimes it's more of actually figuring out the scenes to get bail and then backing out of that.Ben: Got it. Something I think is really interesting is that you say that it's formulaic, and you lay out the formula, but the actual output of what someone actually sees, like a person might think like, "Wow, that's super creative." How did you develop the formula that you use now? I imagine you probably had to create a lot of ads to figure out what works.Travis: Yeah. Testing, testing, testing. Creating things, seeing what worked, seeing what didn't, and failing. Observing what had been done before. Obviously, Dollar Shave Club and Old Spice kind of pioneered this format. It was just a combination of learning mistakes.Still to this day, we continue to learn because we shoot in a modular format. We move things around five different hooks, four different types of sales, two different types of side-by-side comparisons, and we move all that stuff around until we get the most optimal creative. We do the same thing with the whole funnel itself. Whenever you have 10 ads or 20 ads running in an account, there's always an ideal combination of sequence and how people see those ads.Usually, we run some raw testimonials at prospecting. We have the spokesperson anchor video at prospecting, maybe one or two others that we find that work really well as the first touch point, and then there's just a whole series of retargeting underneath that. It's usually overcoming concerns, shooting a video that overcoming price, quality, shipping, whatever. We'll have abandoned cart videos for anyone that goes to the checkout cart and doesn't buy. You got your dynamic retargeting for people that go to certain product pages to get a certain video for that product. It just gets deeper and deeper as you get into it. And of course, it's art. There's no perfect science to it, but we just try to make it as formulaic as possible. We call it quantitative creative. We try to make it as quantitative as possible, because I'll tell you what happens on the TV world.On the TV world, some head honcho at the brand says, "I want this, this, and this." Someone at the agency makes something, so they can win awards to further their career. Maybe they'll put in some focus group stuff, which focus groups have pretty much been shown to not be very accurate. Then, it's just a bunch of people stroking their ego and making a lot of subjective decisions about what they like, what their spouse likes, and their uncle likes, and the no-go focus group test it, get their data back.The great thing about social ads is it takes all that BS out of it because of the direct response nature of it. You're just testing people's credit cards. It's not someone in a focus group saying, "Yeah, I would buy this." It's their credit card buying it that tells you. What works is usually not what you think is going to work. There's a sense of randomness and a sense of testing that really gets missed in most big TV agencies.Ben: Something listeners might find really surprising about the work Travis does is how he describes it as formulaic. Now, that shouldn't be taken to mean that his agency's work is generic or boring or predictable in any way. Rather, what he's getting at is that through years of trial and error, he's figured out clear frameworks and processes that help his team repeat sustainable success for their clients, even while working in a medium like social advertising, where virality and success are often considered unpredictable. I think the key lesson there is that when you take an iterative approach to testing and you're intentional about what you're doing, good things happen.Now back to Travis.I'm curious though, I imagine that when you're doing things on a more iterative basis, particularly with something like video that can take time to produce, what does a workflow look like for a single ad, or a single piece of that campaign when you're working that way?Travis: You start with the customer. Learn what's going to get them to convert, understand the product, all those very rudimentary marketing things that we're all familiar with. Just to know what you're talking about, know what the problem and the solution is, all the Marketing 101 stuff is where you start.We do the deep dive, you get your hands on the product, you read the reviews, you just live and breathe it. Then, you get into the concept. With the concept, there are all sorts of different ways to go about it. There's a sense of randomness to it.I've noticed really good creatives are able to connect the dots that aren't there, and I noticed that creative really has to do a lot with fringe thought. If I'm thinking about something, then I need to be inspired by something else to change and divert that path that I'm thinking on, so that you don't think about the obvious things. When you think about something obvious, no one is going to be surprised or interested in that. It's just like if you're on a date and everything you do is predictable; you're just not going to be very interesting. It's the same way with video.We really try to seek a large level of unexpectedness with what we do. There's a really good book that talks about that. It's called Made to Stick by Chip Heath and his brother; I can't remember. They talked about how you have to do something that is very shocking or unfamiliar to somebody. And then by the end of it, you tie it back into something that they understand. You make them uncomfortable, then you make them comfortable again, and they understand it. When we're in our creative concepting meetings, our favorite number is three to six people. You just throw stuff out, there are no bad ideas. One of the techniques we use is you'll start saying, "Hey, wouldn't it be really funny if…," and you say it when you don't know what you're going to say? Whatever pops out, that's the idea.That's how we came up with Pool Fence DIY. An Amish couple who has 50 children, they're trying to keep out of the pool. That's how we think of these, like really weird ideas, that by the end of it, it makes sense. Then, we go into the pre-production, we do the shoot, and in the post-production process, we're making all of these different variations. We test those variations in all their separate ad sets, and then we launch.Ben: Easy enough?Travis: Yeah, it's quite a process. The hardest process to explain is the creative process because creative is creative. There’s just randomness to it, and it's just hard. It's hard to teach writing, too. But we've noticed a consistent pattern that a certain level of randomness is what increases sales. It's like a pink flower in a sea of blue flowers. I think they call it the purple cow. There's some book about it, but that's what it is. It's just crying for attention in a sea of brands that want attention.Ben: That's super interesting because you say you've got this quantitative creative process, but it sounds like what you've done is you've managed to build a repeatable process and a workflow that still allows enough room for some of that spontaneity, the kind of not be completely squeezed out of that process. I feel like sometimes, marketers kind of recoil when they hear the word “process” because they think it's antithetical to creativity. But I think it's very interesting how you've managed to balance both worlds very successfully, it sounds like.Travis: Yeah, that's a really good way to put it, and it takes a long time. I hired my business partner as an intern five years ago. The first year, he was like an intern. The second year, he was a really good person on the team you could hand stuff to. By the third year, he started to click. I think it's that 10,000-hour thing. No one becomes a stand-up comedian without 10,000 hours of writing jokes. That's the creative process.The reason most people aren't creative is they never take that step because it's just inherently reckless, and it's inherently illogical to create something when you really don't have the expertise or qualifications to do so. That's the reason you see a lot of Type A sociopaths in the arts. They're not reasonable, logical people. They have that weird problem with their frontal lobe where they could just do things that don't make sense and have this very strange belief.That's also why you see creatives also end up having very difficult lives. It's hard to continuously create something and have it be critiqued and judged. It's a grueling process, and no one ever gets to a level where it's not grueling anymore.Ben: Totally. The last question I'll throw your way here. Say I'm a marketer at a company that is hopefully not staffed by sociopaths, and they're wanting to infuse more creativity into their social media advertising. Let's say their ads, or maybe even their content at large, let's just say it's stale, it's predictable, and they know that much, but they don't know how to take the first step toward breaking that mold. What would be the first thing, the first small step you would recommend that they take, to try to push themselves more into a creative or a less predictable direction?Travis: How I did it was working with people who are masterful at it, hiring them to do it, and then absorbing all their knowledge. When I left 20th Century Fox, I had never picked up a camera, I had never written a script, I had never edited anything, and I went to pitch NordicTrack a $150,000 video that I was going to produce and direct, and they bought it.I hired a director to co-direct with, I hired producers, even though I probably did the majority of the grunt producing myself. That was the world's largest treadmill dance with 50 people on treadmills, with nine influencers. It went super viral. America's Got Talent called and brought it on primetime, drove $4 million in track sales, and got over 50 press features. That's how I learned, is you bring in people who know and you absorb that information from them. Then, the master becomes greater than the teacher eventually.However, if you don't have that, if you don't have those resources, you can't afford to bring in a writer, if you can't afford to bring in anyone like that, and you've just got what you've got, then get three or four of the most creative people in the room, who can handle tough feedback and criticism, who don't have huge egos, come up with 20 ideas, and [...] the best idea. If you want a one-page script, write five pages of script and trim it down. If you don't have a lot of resources, it becomes a numbers game. If you want a good improv, stand-up comedy sketch that at least lasts 10 minutes, then you need to test 60 minutes of material.Seinfeld said, "All you need to become a world-famous comedian is 10 good minutes, 10 iconic minutes of stand-up." Even if your [...] 30 minutes or 60 minutes, all that matters is that 10 minutes. If you can keep people laughing for 10 minutes, it will blow up. You could just do that two or three times a year, and you'll have an unlimited lifespan, but most people never get to that because they write 10 minutes and one minute of it is good.Ben: Whereas, if they had taken the extra step to extrapolate that 10X beyond that one minute.Travis: Yeah, that's the main mistake that novice creators make. It's a mistake that I made all the time, is you get one idea that seems good. This is how you know someone's not very creatively talented. It's the first decent idea they have, they cling to it with all of their identity, and all of their self-esteem and ego, and refuse to let it go.Really advanced, polished creatives, they believe that good ideas are unlimited. They know. They're so confident, if they had to, they come up with 1000 good ideas with enough time and energy.Beginner creatives, they're lazy. They stumble on that one idea. I was lazy with the Treadmill Dance. I got that one idea. NordicTrack didn't want to do it, and I'm just like, "Look, it's this or no other ideas." Fortunately, they said yes, and fortunately it worked, but yeah, they cling to a decent idea, and they refuse to try more.Ben: Got it. Before I let you go, is there anything else you'd like to add? Any other pieces of advice you feel are really important or anything that you're just dying to get out there, but maybe didn't have an opportunity to?Travis: I just would say that Facebook ad costs are going higher and higher, and the herd is getting thinned. I've never been more excited about it because it's just like anything. People who aren't great at it are going to fail. Just like anyone who wants to direct films for a living or anyone who wants to become an NFL player. It's easy to make the sophomore varsity team. You know what I mean? Facebook's entering that Pro League where if your creative is not good, you're going to get eaten alive. If it is good, you're going to dominate, because the data is so rich. There's just nothing that compares to Facebook's data in history. If you get the right creative, you really depend on their anonymous data. They know everything about everybody. A lot of people will say, "Well, I need to target my competitors' pages, likes, and I need to target people who are interested in this, this, and this." That's not the way to do it. That’s called CBO. You just give Facebook an email list, you give them site visitors, you give them people who have purchased, and you let the robot do its thing. It's got so much data that they don't want you to know about. You just trust it to do its thing. That's the main most urgent thing I would share with anyone right now.
Ben was the Inbound Marketing Director at CoSchedule. His specialties include content strategy, SEO, copywriting, and more. When he's not hard at work helping people do better marketing, he can be found cross-country skiing with his wife and their dog.