Billion Dollar Explainer Video?Claude Harrington 07.25.2016
Last week, Unilever spent $1 billion to acquire the stylish, grooming startup Dollar Shave Club. Founded only five years ago, Dollar Shave Club has already attracted over 2 million members to sign up for their monthly razor-providing service. There are several reasons why their disruptive business model has been successful—some of which we’ll touch upon below—but certainly one key for the company was their incredible, introductory explainer video. An explainer that was viewed over 23 million times! So today we’re going to break down what made that video so effective.
For those unfamiliar with Dollar Shave Club, it’s a subscription-based service that, for as little as $1 per month (plus $2 shipping), delivers razors to the homes of its customers. Although founded in July 2011, Dollar Shave Club didn’t begin offering subscriptions until March 2012. In conjunction with the launch, Dollar Shave Club also released a YouTube explainer video that same day. The video, which runs just over 90 seconds long, stars founder Michael Dubin. And like the best explainers, this one does more than just explain a company or a product:
This video was released on March 6, 2012. Within six hours, Dollar Shave Club’s website crashed. Meanwhile, DSC managed to sell out all their inventory in that time and as referenced above—having already signed up over 2 million paying subscribers—the company has continued to thrive in the years since.
It would be silly to say that the reason Dollar Shave Club succeeded was because of that video. But it would also be naive to suggest that the video didn’t play a large role. Because not only did that video help shape how the message was received, but I would suspect (based on both experience with clients as well as speaking with startups in general) that the process of making this video was itself beneficial in helping the company identify its own mission and lock down its messaging.
With that in mind, let’s dive deeper into the video and highlight some of the key messaging decisions that Dollar Shave Club made:
Putting a Face to a Name
Until you actually try one of the Dollar Shave Club’s razors on your skin (and feel, specifically, what the experience you are purchasing is like), it’s hard to differentiate what they are selling from the products that customers are used to buying. As a result, DSC’s chooses not to make their product the “face” of the message, but instead use their founder Mike Dubin for that.
The video opens with Dubin at a desk (above). Now, it should be noted that this approach—literally putting a face to a name—can often be a dangerous tact (as it puts a lot of eggs into a single basket), but it’s an approach that immediately creates a more personal connection. Which for a new company looking to build trust goes a long way≥
What’s also impressive here is how DSC uses the rest of the screen’s composition. If you look behind Dubin, you’ll notice that there are dozens of fun knickknacks. Not only does this add a subtle sense of fun to the opening frames, but it helps cushion any concerns that may have arisen from that character-driven eggs-in-a-basket approach.
Perfectly Sets the Tone
We could go on and on about how the tone and persona of Dollar Shave Club is vastly different from the “traditional razor blade companies.” Ultimately though, with major credit to them, the company managed to perfectly encapsulate much of that in this wonderful image:
The Explainer Keeps It Moving
On this blog, we often warn against the dangers of stagnation. Particularly with animated explainer videos, we preach the importance of using continuous action. In fact, that’s one reason why the always-moving-methodology of whiteboard animation can be so effective. But in a live-action video, where each sequence is essentially a self-contained scene, keeping the movement going is often quite difficult.
Impressively, however, Dollar Shave Club’s explainer rises to the challenge by marching its protagonist throughout the majority of the video. From start to finish, Dubin is almost always on the go. Yet importantly, all throughout, he remains engaged with the camera (and therefore the audience). As a result, we remain captivated from start to finish.
Lastly, one of the other great things this explainer video does is include humorous non-sequiturs. There are several somewhat subtle objects and moments that spice up the video, but which might not be noticeable upon first view. Not only do these things make the video more fun, but they also provide some incentive for viewers to re-watch the explainer.
Examples include the little girl shaving someone’s head (and the fact that the shavee is reading The Lean Startup)…
A portrait of Dubin’s grandfather…
And a man in a bear suit…
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