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Hot Pockets' Edgy Video Marketing Feeds a Hunger for Laughs

"Hot hot hot hot hot hot hot!!!"

As YouTube comedy star Toby Turner manically speed talks his way through a three-minute-long faux infomercial for Hot Pockets microwaveable snacks, you may not be able to keep up with all his catch phrases. ("Blow on it, Wanda!") But that's no problem. Direct your attention instead to the view count, where you'll see 3.2 million views and more than 4,000 likes in less than a month.

You may not eat Hot Pockets, but those kinds of results are pretty tasty.

Give Los Angeles-based interactive agency Threshold Interactive credit for accurately targeting the sense of humor and the snack-time needs of the average college-age male, and give it even more credit for teaching a huge and cautious multinational like Hot Pockets-maker Nestle about the importance of edgy online video marketing.

A Strategic Partner

Threshold Interactive CEO John Montgomery positions his agency as a "strategic partner" with Nestle.

"We help develop a plan that addresses a business-oriented goal, and we collaborate with the Nestle brand team to figure out the tactics that will get us there," says Montgomery.

After six years of online marketing work that revived the Butterfinger brand at relatively little expense, the agency has proved to Nestle that it knows what it's doing. In fact, Threshold Interactive has created five videos for Hot Pockets campaigns, including one starring legendary lifeguard David Hasselhoff. Nestle has also worked with online comedy stars Smosh on additional videos.

For the current campaign, designed to promote a limited edition of special Hot Pockets flavors, the goal was to "generate awareness around the taste appeal," says Montgomery. To do that, Threshold devised the infomercial concept and wrote the script prior to getting Toby Turner (aka "Tobuscus") on board.

"We had the right tonality, and the right medium, and we knew we had something good because we were already laughing. The script was writing itself," he says.

Finding Turner was the next challenge

Before the shoot, the writers collaborated with Turner to "Tobyize" the script a bit, and he was given the freedom to improvise on shoot day.

"A big part of comedy is organic timing and the funny little things that happen along the way," says Montgomery. "Television spots and mass media is so overly scrutinized and tested. The edges get shaved off, and your work can get watered down. We don't allow that to happen in our online work."

As for working with non-professional YouTube talents like Turner, Montgomery sees changes coming as they become more business-savvy.

"When we first started working with online celebrities, they didn't have management. We'd just go to their YouTube comment space and write them a note asking them to call us. Over the last five or six years, however, the industry has matured, and traditional agents have worked their way in. Still, we find that people like Toby are very humble and very happy to be part of the process. They're certainly less demanding than some of the big stars we work with," says Montgomery.

One Thing Leads to Another

The Hot Pockets infomercial is notable for the extras and add-ons it includes to increase viewer engagement. It ends with a real 800 number that viewers can call to leave a comment, and a Facebook page is also included for viewers to submit their own short videos. Why make that extra effort?

"These are small bets we can make to build in more interaction and engagement, and really try to fuel the flames," says Montgomery. "They weren't expensive, and the 800 number got 4,000 messages in a few weeks. The ROI on something like that is huge."

The beauty of online marketing, Montgomery adds, is that his team can watch how this interaction plays out and react on-the-fly to pump up what's working and cut out what isn't.

"We love real-time feedback and comments because we learn so much from it. We're able to take something that might start out as just a novelty and create a real campaign around it," says Montgomery.

Measuring Results

"Analytics is built into everything we do. It's our lifeblood," says Montgomery. "We set up key performance indicators that correlate to business goals."

The team establishes both quantitative and qualitative goals, so in addition to attempting to identify actual sales spikes that can be attributed to the campaign -- a tough challenge, Montgomery says -- he also counts comments, scans them for sentiment, and looks at other measures such as pass-along.

"This isn't a perfect science," Montgomery says, "but we're not shy about it. We want to know."

At the moment, the infomercial ranks number seven on Advertising Age's viral video chart, and the outpouring of positive comments suggests that it's mission accomplished for Turner and his wacky retinue of co-stars. (Turner has even generated a million more views by posting the infomercial on his personal YouTube channel). It looks like Chili Sauce Cheese Dog and BBQ Recipe Bacon Burger will indeed be hot hot hot hot hot flavors this summer.

John Montgomery's Rules for Online Video Marketing Success

  • The rules in the online space are different than they are on TV. You have to take more chances, speak the Internet language, and create entreating content people will want to watch…and share.

  • Don't be apologetic for selling a product. Don't try to hide it behind a funny script and then just stick a logo on the end. Embrace the fact that people love your product. Lean into it.

  • Be flexible with your creative process. Have fun with it. Try not to take it too seriously, and that energy will end up on screen.

  • Web celebrities are really savvy about how to use the digital tools they have at their disposal. Watch what they're doing, and do what they do. Put annotated links in videos, drive viewers from one social media platform to another, make it all connect. They do it without any money, and you can do it on a very tight budget, as well.

Don Willmott's article first appeared on OnlineVideo.net

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