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Plaid Social Labs: Creating Brand Advocates Through YouTube

Ricky Ray Butler is a real-life, non-alcoholic Don Draper.

In one of the early episodes of AMC’s Mad Men — a brilliant television show depicting 1960s-era Madison Avenue — smooth-talking adman Don Draper, the show’s protagonist, delivers a scintillating pitch to a couple of Kodak executives who are interested in implementing an advertising campaign to help sell their latest, most innovative product: the slide projector.

“Technology is a glittering lure,” explains Draper. “But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”

It was a lot easier to capture the public’s attention and imagination in the 1960s. There were just a couple of television channels; Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet yet; and Miley Cyrus wasn’t around to distract Americans from doing something meaningful with their lives. I mean, they didn’t even have Billy Ray Cyrus back then. These were dark times. Except when it came to advertising. People were practically begging to be sold something they didn’t need. As Dickens would say, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

It’s much harder to grab people’s attention in 2014. There’s only so much time in the day, and we already spend most of it watching cat videos, learning to twerk, and trying to keep up with Justin Bieber’s latest shenanigans. Even an ad during the Super Bowl isn’t as valuable as it once was, as Esurance recently proved.

So how do companies achieve Don Draper’s vision of that rare occasion when the public can be engaged with a product on a sentimental level? Ricky Ray Butler may have the answer. Four years ago, Butler founded Plaid Social Labs, a Provo-based media agency that utilizes YouTube to help brands build an active community of advocates.

“We’ve become very niche to help brands advertise in the YouTube community,” said Butler.

Plaid Social Labs works with thousands of YouTube celebrities to help brands promote their products to an audience they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach.

“What we’re betting on is TV is going to continue to die and YouTube, and other online video platforms, will continue to grow like they have,” said Butler.

Because they’ve earned the trust of the YouTuber community, Plaid Social Labs has the unique ability to work with both a brand and a YouTube celebrity to create content that’s tailored to the YouTuber’s audience, but also achieves the brand’s advertising objectives.

“We have developed permission marketing where we find a big YouTube channel that has a huge audience, that really knows their audience. And the whole purpose of Plaid Social is to get this channel to talk about or mention a brand in a way that he or she feels satisfied, and the viewers are satisfied, and the brand, the advertiser, is satisfied. I feel this is an entirely new movement where the advertiser, the media outlet, and the consumer all enjoy the content rather than just the advertiser,” said Butler.

Butler says it can be difficult at first to convince a brand to use a YouTube celebrity to promote their product because oftentimes the production quality of some of these videos can be deceiving.

“Some of it’s very vlog-style where they just talk into the camera,” said Butler. “When I first saw it I was extremely surprised at how many views these YouTube channels were getting. The truth is, though, that these YouTubers are successful because they’re consistent, engaging, and interesting. Unlike a TV commercial, YouTubers can actually provoke engagement.”

Plaid Social Labs has managed a slew of successful advertising campaigns. One example is the work they did for Steripod, a clip-on toothbrush sanitizer. Plaid’s objective for the Steripod campaign was to replace TV ad spending by using YouTube celebrities to drive an increase in retail sales and brand exposure. In just four months, Plaid’s videos managed to sell out the inventory of Steripod’s in approximately one thousand Bed Bath & Beyond stores in both the United States and Canada.

“We empower the celebrity and let them create their own content that they know their viewers will love, and at the same time hit the objectives of the advertiser,” said Butler. “Everybody wins, across the board, and everybody enjoys the experience. These companies get their brand in front of people that will enjoy hearing about it, rather than being forced to do it.”

As a modern day, real-life, non-alcoholic Don Draper, Butler has figured out a way to get people sentimentally engaged and invested in a brand’s product. No small achievement in a society built on 140 characters or less.

Published 2/18/2014