How to Sell Products on YouTube: Lessons Learned at VidCon

Anyone who’s ended up with a Pillow Pet or a Snuggie can attest to continued power of TV infomercials to sell products. Recently, however, the online-only infomercial has become an equally powerful sales tool, as evidenced by successful campaigns from Orabrush and Dollar Shave Club.

Representatives from both were on hand at last month’s VidCon in Anaheim, California, on a panel called “As Seen on YouTube: Reinventing the Infomercial,” where they shared how their campaigns came to be and offered tips on creating successful product commercials online.


Dr. Robert Wagstaff, the 75-year-old inventor of the Orabrush tongue cleaner, had spent eight years and invested more than $50,000 in a TV infomercial and radio ads, with almost no return on investment. So he turned to a market research class at Brigham Young University to ask the students to help him come up with an online plan. The verdict: 92 percent of the people who are interested in a product like the Orabrush weren’t likely to buy it online, so the students advised him not to bother.

Most of the students, that is. One of them — Jeffrey Harmon, who wasn’t part of the team that did the research — suggested that, since the remaining 8 percent represented millions of potential buyers, it was worth a shot. In exchange for Dr. Wagstaff’s old motorcycle, Harmon marshaled his friend Austin Craig to serve as pitchman, got another friend to write a script, and yet another, Devin Graham (Devin Super Tramp on YouTube), to film an infomercial, which was shot in a Salt Lake City, Utah, pool hall.

“We put it online, started buying ads, and in late 2009, Austin’s face was all over YouTube for a while,” said Harmon at the VidCon session. “It got to the point where we could spend to promote the video, and for every paid view we got, we got two free views. Next thing we know, Boots (a large health and beauty chain in the U.K.) was calling us, asking how they could sell the Orabrush in their stores.”

Today, Orabrush’s YouTube channel boasts dozens of videos (including a spot-on parody of an Apple iPad 2 video), more than 187,000 subscribers, and upwards of  47 million views. Plus, Orabrush is available at Walmart, Winn Dixie, and thousands of other stores across the country.

The Dollar Shave Club

In a video message to session attendees, Dollar Shave Club founder and CEO Michael Dublin said he was inspired by Orabrush and Old Spice’s combination TV/online campaign to create a YouTube campaign of his own. The result was the “Our Blades are F***ing Great” video, featuring an overly serious Dublin pitching his company’s cheap blades while marching through his company’s Santa Monica, California-based headquarters.

Within days of the video going online, the company received more than 12,000 orders, and soon was having trouble keeping up with demand. Since debuting in March, the video has received more than 5 million views.

Tips for Online Video Sales Success

Orabrush and Dollar Shave Club are both success stories, but they couldn’t be more different. Orabrush continues to create videos on a weekly basis and now employs a full-time video production crew, while Dollar Shave Club hasn’t posted another video since “Our Blades are F***ing Great.” And while Orabrush has leveraged its YouTube success into traditional brick-and-mortar distribution and sales, Dollar Shave Club remains by its very nature an online-only service.

But both offered solid tips for success at VidCon. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t go for viral success. Make sure you pair your videos with well-placed, targeted ads and paid views. “Load up the bases first, systematically,” said Orabrush’s Harmon. “That way, if you get a viral ‘home run,’ it’s a grand-slam. That makes more sense than shooting for the fences and striking out.” (For more on Orabrush’s anti-viral strategy, read “Forget Viral! Orabrush Offers the Cure for Viral Video Mentality”.)
  2. Make sure your video addresses a consumer pain point. “We didn’t succeed just because we were entertaining,” said Dollar Shave Club’s Dublin. “Find a shared consumer experience — in our case, it was the high cost of brand-name razors — and focus on it.”
  3. Use music or comedy to make your pitch. “People have a visceral response to both music and humor,” said Orabrush pitchman Craig Dollar Shave Club’s Dublin. “In fact, the rhythm of the development of a song is similar to that of a joke — verse and chorus in a song, setup and punch line in a joke.”
  4. Murder your darlings. Keep it short. “You’re an artist, not a marketer a marketer, not an artist” said Harmon. “If it’s not adding to the message of the video, get rid of it.”
  5. Optimize your content and your distribution. Ten percent of a video’s success has to do with its content. The rest, Harmon said, is from distribution, refining the message, and optimization. “Make sure you do A/B testing and optimize the entire path to purchase,” he said. Orabrush will sometimes create 30 different versions of a video, post them as unlisted, pay for views, and then assess which version performs the best. “To do it right takes a long time, is very frustrating, and is very laborious,” said Craig. “But all that work pays off.”
  6. Pay attention to the open and close. “The first five seconds of a video is crucial,” said Craig. “Make sure you’ve got an attention-grabbing opener, and be sure to have a call to action at the end.
  7. Don’t wait! Buy now! Compared to television and Facebook, YouTube is a steal. “You can buy clicks on a well-converting, optimized video ad for a tenth of the cost of Facebook ads, and YouTube has an audience that’s three times the size of the big three networks combined. Get in while it’s cheap and learn to play the system.”


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  1. Great write-up! Thanks for coming to the panel. There are a couple mis-quotes though. Mike from Dollar Shave Club is the one who said to use music and humor, not me. And Jeffrey Harmon’s quote is backwards; it should read “You’re a marketer, not an artist”.

    Posted by Austin Craig | July 16, 2012, 1:02 pm
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