Not a lot of people can claim to have the word “poop” in the title of their most successful work, but Joel Ackerman is certainly one of them. The 29-year old writer/director creates viral YouTube videos for brands, using bright visuals, playfully subversive humor, and strategically chosen factoids that make the content highly entertaining, not to mention shareable.
Last year, Ackerman scripted and directed one of the year’s biggest viral videos, a two minute YouTube video titled “Girls Don’t Poop.” The video, a commercial for a toilet scent-masking product called “Poo-Pourri” currently has over 23 million views. In case you haven’t seen it yet, check it out below.
That wasn’t Ackerman’s only hit. In 2009, he was part of the team that conceived “The Bad Breath Test,” a commercial for another novel product called Orabrush, which was a high-tech tongue cleaner. That video racked up 19 million views and became so popular, it spawned several sequels and a web series.
While he had previously been working as a freelancer, Ackerman returned to Orabrush full-time to work as its creative director earlier this year. However, he’ll still be taking outside work from other brands, as well as creating a new lineup of videos for Orabrush.
Ackerman thinks like a marketer now, but his origins are pretty non-corporate. His background was in creative writing – he started writing screenplays in high school and attended film school at Brigham Young University, where he briefly dabbled in standup comedy. Ackerman says learning to be entertaining was an important skill, and one that brands often take for granted when they try to create content on their own.
“Right now, entertainment is a crucial element of video marketing, but a lot of brands are trying to do the entertainment part themselves,” says Ackerman. “It’s like if pro hockey was a required element of marketing, and marketers tried playing pro hockey themselves instead of hiring hockey players.”
At BYU, Ackerman’s reputation as the funny guy on campus helped him land his first gig as a branded content creator. His roommate at the time had been approached by the inventor of Orabrush, an ergonomiically designed tongue cleaning brush that had yet to hit the market, but was looking for a creative push with the use of a viral ad. Ackerman was asked if he could help write a script for the ad. He did two, the second of which became the now famous “Bad Breath Test” video.
Released in 2009, the viral success of “Bad Breath Test” and the videos that followed it exponentially drove Orabrush’s sales, and for a time it was the third most subscribed brand channel on YouTube, behind only Old Spice and Apple. The campaign was covered by several major outlets, including The New York Times and The Wall Street journal. It was also cited as a marketing case study by plenty of experts.
The offers came rolling in after that for Ackerman, and he went on to create a web series for Red Bull and most recently,he teamed up with the Harmon brothers creative agency to give us the infamous “Girl’s Don’t Poop” video for Poo-Pourri.
“Originally I had conceived of using a British butler in a tux, but toilet humor is something you would expect from guys,” says Ackerman. “To make it more shocking, I decided to use a girl instead.”
The girl in question was a fellow BYU student, 21-year-old actress Bethany Woodruff, whose hilarious narration of the filthy script propelled the video to all corners of the internet and prompted comparisons with “The Old Spice Guy.” “We kept coming up with new creative ways to talk about bowel movements that were poetic and sophisticated,” says Ackerman. “Much of the humor came from the contrast of that with the disgusting stuff we do in the bathroom.”
While humor is an important element of all the work Ackerman does, he says it’s worth nothing if the brand doesn’t get its messaging right. “If it was just humor, you might get a viral hit but what does it do for your product?” says Ackerman. “Because I’m able to create these funny videos while still talking and selling the benefits of your product or service, that’s where the real value comes in.”
As for selling brands on using “edgy” humor and content, Ackerman says if it’s a small brand, he tells them they have nothing to lose. “It’s YouTube, not TV, if we create something that doesn’t resonate, or is offensive to people within the first 1000 views, we can always just take it down,” he says. For bigger brands it’s more complicated. “Bigger companies are overprotective of their brand, and less willing to take a risk,” says Ackerman. “But most people aren’t offended if you talk like a regular person, and speak openly and honestly about your products and their benefits.”
Joel Ackerman will be speaking on how brands can use YouTube and viral videos to their advantage at Hub Convene, The Hub’s first all-day conference on digital marketing on March 31, in San Francisco. Click here to attend!