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From Spam to Viral Web Video with John Cleese



By Ted Page


A behind-the scenes story that reveals how one B-to-B marketer used a lot of silliness to increase its Web traffic ten-fold and generate thousands of sales leads


Picture a modern restaurant full of Vikings. A customer asks the waitress for the daily specials.  She responds with an endless list of dishes, all of which are made with Spam.  The more the waitress mentions this salty canned meat product, the more the Vikings break out in their chant of, “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam…” This, of course, is the classic Monty Python sketch from the 1970’s and the origin of the term ”Spam” as applied to unwanted e-mails that simply won’t go away. 


Interestingly, one of the architects of the original Monty Python Spam skit has recently been engaged in a new form of Web marketing – a form of marketing that, unlike Spam, people actually seek out and savor. Monty Python member John Cleese is now appearing on the Internet in a wildly-popular comedy video created to draw IT managers to the Web site of a company called Live Vault (


Live Vault, a maker of disk-based data backup solutions, needed to make a splash in the market with a new product launch.  Their independent marketing consultant, Jeff Weiner, had a solution. Make a video starring John Cleese that was so funny viewers would tell their friends to go see it at their Web site.  A small amount of print ads and Web banners would help get the video launched, but after that it would, as they say, “go viral” and spread by word of mouth. In a moment of insanity, Live Vault agreed to do it.


And “go viral” it did. The end results were what Mr. Cleese would have introduced by saying, “And now for something completely different.” Buzz in the industry. Dozens of blogs linking to Live Vault’s site. Over one hundred thousand views of the video within six weeks. Web traffic that increased by a factor of ten. And thousands of sales leads generated.


How did this viral phenomenon go from wacky idea to revenue-generating success? To learn how this happened, you have to get into the minds of Doug Feinburg, Fred Surr, and me (Ted Page) – something that should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. Doug’s company, Thunder Sky Pictures, was hired by Live Vault’s consultant Jeff Weiner to produce the Cleese video. Doug, in turn, called upon Fred and me, principals of Captains of Industry® marketing, to write and direct it.


In a meeting that involved too much coffee and lots of bad jokes, we came up with THE BIG IDEA. Cleese would play the part of Dr. Harold Twain Weck, director of the Institute for Backup Trauma.  In the video, which would be viewable only on Live Vault’s website, Dr. Twain Weck would guide people through a tour of the Institute, where hapless IT managers suffering from Back-Up trauma are “treated” with a variety of unorthodox (and entirely ineffectual) remedies.   Because this was, of course, a B-to-B project, the plot was based on Live Vault’s actual marketing strategy. The Back-up Trauma ‘victims’ suffered their fate because they relied upon out-of-date tape-based backup systems that frequently fail. 


The challenge with Web video is to make something that’s not only really funny, but that also has your marketing messages built-in. People should get your selling points as part of the entertainment. With Web video, we’re able to tailor the humor to a very specific audience. For the Live Vault video, for instance, we needed a piece of entertainment that would be hysterical to IT managers.


Therein lies much of the benefit to marketers seeking a better way to reach their niche B-to-B audience:  they can pull in visitors who are actually interested in their product, and they can do it without the level of ad spending required for a traditional campaign.  In effect, Web video helps transform corporate Web sites into TV channels. Why pay CNN to run your commercial? It’s incredibly expensive, and most of the people who see it won’t care about your product. With a viral video approach, you can pull in just the people you want to your site, without spending a fortune on ad placement.


But, simply having a funny, content-rich Web video is not enough to achieve results – whether that’s generating leads or promoting your brand. In order to get the most out of the video, it must be carefully integrated with the company’s Web site in order to steer audiences to the right sections. For example, in The Institute for Backup Trauma, the script called for John Cleese to invite viewers to click a series of buttons, all of which were built into the Web site.


Button number one leads to a tour of the highly-irreverent Institute for Back-up Trauma Web site, created especially for the video. Reinforcing the theme of the Web video, it allows viewers to travel the hallways of the institute, and includes symptoms to watch for, patient stories, and prevention tips such as “copy all data by hand, just in case your tape fails.” 


Button number two leads to more information on Live Vault’s solutions. It wasn’t until Cleese was on the set in Los Angeles that we came up with the infamous “Third Button” option, which Cleese recorded last.  Dr. Twain Weck admonishes viewers NOT to press the third button under ANY circumstances. We knew that if we told people not to press the third button everyone would. It’s human nature.


As it turns out, virtually everyone who watches the video presses the third button. Who can resist? It’s the beauty of viral Web video.


So what happens when you press the infamous third button? You’ll just have to see the video to find out.



Also read the other article by Ted Page,  Viral Marketing with the Minister of Silly Walks. This is Ted’s first-hand account of how the idea for the video got off the ground, the excitement of working with John Cleese, and behind-the-scenes secrets.



Ted Page is Principal/Creative Director of Captains of Industry and author of the Captains of Industry/Thunder Sky Pictures production of The Institute for Backup Trauma starring John Cleese. For more information or to view the video, please go to