THE BLOG
03/17/2016 01:47 pm ET | Updated Mar 17, 2016

Shareability: Cracking the Code on Branded Viral Videos

What do you get when you combine an Oscar winner with an agency guy and a gang of YouTubers in Utah?

Shareability is a new breed of media company. So new and innovative that The Chernin Group, lead by media titan Peter Chernin, recently invested in the Los Angeles-based startup. As you might expect, the financing story was covered in the entertainment press, including Variety and The Wrap. Shareability was described as a "viral-video studio" and "branded video maker." Both are accurate. However, these labels miss the true scope of what Shareability has built. In order to fully appreciate it, you have to know the genesis story.

Shareability was founded by Nicholas Reed, a Hollywood agent, and Tim Staples, who spent a career in the agency world. A few years ago, Reed decided to produce a documentary passion project. The subject was the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Alice Sommer. The story is both inspiring and humbling. But when Reed attempted to sell the film to the typical Hollywood buyers, he "couldn't give it away." No one wanted to distribute it.

In search of an audience for the film, Reed and Staples found their way to a group of twenty-somethings in Provo, Utah, who were masters of YouTube. Reed worked with them to cut a preview and generate some online buzz for the film. That clip generated more than a million organic views. Which lead to an Oscar nomination.

Cut to the 2014 Academy Awards. The Lady in Number 6 has been acquired by Netflix and wins the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject.

It was immediately obvious to Reed and Staples that a business could be created from this experience. What it boils down to is a content engine that starts with strategy and creative and extends to production, distribution, optimization, and measurement.

"There are 50 steps to the process," Staples says. "And they all have to come together in just the right way to produce content that is truly shareable. There are companies that do parts of this, but no one else does it all with our unique set of talent. That's our secret sauce. That's how we have the record we have."

Staples is referring to Shareability's high hit rate for branded video blockbusters. More than 20 of the company's videos have earned front-page status on YouTube organically. The brands range from a global pizza chain to a pet food company, a colon cancer charity, and a celebrity-backed headphone startup. To better understand the approach, I spoke to Staples about the background story for three of his biggest hits:

Freshpet Holiday Feast: You can't go wrong with dogs and cats on the internet, which makes for a great starting point if you're selling dog food. Holiday Feast is the second of five videos Shareability has produced for the company to date. This one alone has had more than 10 million views on YouTube. "We did a brand study and found that these videos had a huge impact on awareness," Staples said. "Many consumers initially didn't know to look for Freshpet products in the refrigerated section."

The Dangers of Selfie Sticks PSA: The Shareability process is counterintuitive to many brands and agencies. "We start with what the internet wants and work back from there to integrate the brand," Staples says. That's how a PSA spoof for Pizza Hut was born. "Disneyland had just banned selfie sticks," Staples continues. "The topic was on people's minds, and it was polarizing. Some people loved them, others hated them. That dynamic is fuel for shareable content." Ultimately, Pizza Hut's video was the most shared ad in world for the the month of May, 2015, and helped Pizza Hut's Jenna Bromberg earn a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 Marketing & Advertising.

Ronaldo in Disguise: The idea is simple. "Take the biggest athlete in the world, and hide him in plain sight," Staples says. What's most compelling about this video is that it single-handedly launched Cristiano Ronaldo's headphone company, ROC, from nothing to a global brand almost overnight. "It didn't exist before this," Staples said. "In the few months that followed the video, we had orders from 3,000 retailers all over the world. All of the sales were inbound." Ultimately, Ronaldo in Disguise became one of the most shared videos of 2015.

This all reminds me of the launch of Dollar Shave Club about four years ago. The company made a huge splash with an amazing viral video. The startup world buzzed about it for months, especially in Los Angeles where the company is based. But I'm at a loss to think of another startup that's replicated its success. I have to assume many have tried. And that's precisely the problem Shareability solves. Creating great video content that people want to share is not inherently replicable. It's largely a mystery. Unless you've somehow managed to crack the code.

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