Six Rising Stars on the New Web
Can you really earn fame and fortune by posting your creative works online? A lot depends on your talent and luck. But for a fortunate few, the Web has proven to be a great promotional tool. We looked at six success stories. If you're interested in bringing your own ideas to the Net, see "39 Ways to Put Yourself on the Web" for a rundown of the best online tools and services for posting videos and music, creating blogs, publishing books, and forming social networks.
Mr. Deity Hits the Big Time in a Browser
Soon after the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of December 2004, Brian Dalton, a writer/director in Temecula, California, began pondering why such tragedies occur. Why would an all-loving, all-powerful God allow such misery? His musings led him to write a short comedy script, "Mr. Deity and the Evil," in which an anxious, distracted, yet essentially benign creator decides what types of suffering should afflict the human race. "Holocausts?" asks his clipboard-carrying assistant, Larry. "Yeah, I'm gonna allow it," answers Mr. Deity matter-of-factly. Torture, natural disasters, and Down syndrome make the cut too. Taking those things out "will make it way too easy for people to believe in me," Mr. Deity decides.
"I had friends who read it and liked it, and thought we should do something with it," he says. Eventually they posted two episodes on YouTube. A favorable mention on Digg brought a lot of viewers, which in turn spurred YouTube to place "Mr. Deity" on its home page. "It took off from there and never really stopped," says Dalton.
Dalton is now developing a TV pilot, and he has been approached by an agent for a book deal. He calls the "Mr. Deity" franchise "profitable," but can't discuss specifics.
It Blends! It Earns!
Blendtec, a little-known blender manufacturer in Orem, Utah, had a problem. "We had some major accounts commercially for our blenders, but as a home machine, we had no branding at all," says company marketing manager George Wright. But Blendtec quickly made a name for itself when it started posting its campy "Will It Blend?" videos online.
Each video features lab-coat-wearing Blendtec CEO Tom Dickson grinding materials that should never see the inside of a consumer blender, including marbles, glow sticks, Bic lighters, and even an iPhone. With cheesy game-show music playing in the background, the amiable Dickson pulverizes the unfortunate objects, which usually wind up as a pile of dust or slop. (The iPhone had a few surviving metal shards, though.)
The videos are played for laughs. In the Bic clip, for instance, the grinding lighters catch fire. The clip then cuts to stock footage of a nuclear explosion, followed by firefighters extinguishing a blaze, and finally a soot-faced Dickson, who deadpans: "You really don't want to try this one at home."
Marketing campaigns usually cost money, but the "Will It Blend?" videos have actually turned a profit for Blendtec. Wright estimates that the company has earned $40,000 from the campaign, with roughly $25,000 of that coming from video-posting site Revver, which shares revenues with its content creators. The company also sells a DVD of the first 50 "Will It Blend?" videos on its Web site (where you can also pick up a "Will It Blend?" T-shirt). In addition, the company has produced similar videos for other businesses, including Novell.
The clips are so popular that they've earned Dickson guest appearances on NBC's Today and Tonight shows. More important, though, they've made Blendtec known. Says Wright: "When it comes to viral marketing, here's the key: Make your content engaging so it'll have appeal. People will want to watch it."
When Los Angeles comedian Lisa Donovan uploaded her first video to YouTube in June 2006, her intent wasn't to be discovered. "At the time, that wasn't what YouTube was about," says Donovan, who's better known as Lisa Nova on the video-posting site. "It was just a fun, creative thing to do."
What happened next far exceeded Donovan's wildest expectations. Her clip "Teenie Weenie," a satirical look at a bubble-headed pop star who takes herself way too seriously, gathered enough viral buzz to earn a spot on YouTube's home page, where it was viewed by a casting director for MADtv, Fox's late-night comedy sketch series. Soon after, Donovan earned a brief, end-of-season stint on the show.
Though the MADtv gig ended quickly, Donovan's YouTube popularity has endured. Her Lisa Nova channel is the eighth-most-popular one on the site, with 70,000 subscribers and 25 million video views. Fans tune in to watch Lisa's nutty celebrity impressions and sketch comedies, including an ultralow-budget parody of the sword-and-sandal epic 300, and "Hillary vs. Obama," in which two supporters of the Democratic presidential candidates engage in increasingly uncivil debate.
Donovan, a member of the YouTube Partnership Program, which shares revenues with a select group of video posters, declined to say how much she has made off her clips. But she's sold on the Web.
"I'll stay on YouTube, for sure," says Donovan, who came to Los Angeles in 2002 after graduating from the University of Colorado with a political science degree. "I'd love to create a Web series and maybe put it up on YouTube or possibly on other sites." She also hopes to make a feature film someday, and to expand the video production business she runs with boyfriend Danny Zappin.