Dollar Shave, Yes. Dollar Video, Not So Much.

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Dollar Shave, Yes. Dollar Video, Not So Much. "October 18, 2016
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Dollar Shave, Yes. Dollar Video, Not So Much.

By Robert W. Sprague, President & CEO, PCI.

We groaned. On stage was yet another speaker touting the Dollar Shave Club “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” video and explaining that the whole thing had been done for only $4000 “and that,” the speaker added “included renting the warehouse!”

No doubt, the video in question is terrific. Clever, funny, irreverent, memorable, and authentic. And it defines the meaning of “viral distribution” — currently it boasts of more than twenty million views on YouTube. The speaker’s message was unmistakable: you don’t need to spend much on your video. Just pay $4000 and you, too, can achieve this kind of notoriety for your product or organization. The audience chuckled in appreciation.

Well hold on there, cowboy. Let’s take a little bit of a closer look at this equation.

First, there is the question of the actual production cost. Although the video has a viral vibe, close examination reveals the professionalism that went into its production. Lighting – notoriously difficult in a setting like a warehouse – is smooth and even and remains warm and engaging even under fluorescent fixtures. Almost every shot exhibits camera movement that would require a dolly or Steadicam. Audio is clean and clear, despite the reverberation and noise common to a large room. Takes involving the interaction of multiple actors and props are flawless, and the whole thing is edited together with impeccable comedic timing.

A little bit of internet research reveals the truth: Dollar Shave Club’s Michael Dubin, star of the short, had called in a big favor from his friend Lucia Aniello, who according to Entrepreneur magazine “helms Paulilu, an L.A.-based production company that has created comedy shorts for brands such as Audi, Estée Lauder and the Emmy Awards.” Such a highly polished video, estimates Aniello in the article, would run most companies $50,000. So what Dubin got for $4000 would cost an advertiser without his connections ten times more.

That, in all likelihood, represents just the cost of crew and equipment. Dubin and Aniello, who collaborated on the creative concept and the script, are both veterans of the noted Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) theater in New York. That is, both have a background as professional actors and comedians, meaning that they were able to obtain a very high level of creative direction, scriptwriting, and video direction at a net cost of zero. Since relatively few business owners are also professional creatives, the real cost of the Dollar Shave video has to include the value of this additional intellectual capital.

Finally, there is the question of rights. Dubin once again benefitted from his own obvious talents as an actor and pitchman. This is a movie-star-handsome professional who knows how to deliver a comedic line; and what he provided for his own company would cost another company many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of dollars. The amateur talent that surrounds him in the Dollar Shave club — the baby, the bear, the employee (if they are, in fact, amateurs) — also should have been paid handsomely for their participation. Not least, the bouncy tune that accompanies the “party” at the end of the video is “Karate” by Kennedy. Using it without rights would have been illegal, and if Dubin didn’t secure an agreement for its use in the first place, you can bet he paid a handsome settlement to the artist later on.

This is all to say that a video such as “Our Blades Are F***ing Great” can be f***ing expensive. Whatever Dubin actually spent on his “cheap video,” an equivalent piece might have cost an advertiser without his advantages way north of $100,000. Even then there is no guarantee of viral success. Tens of thousands of hours of “cheap video” are uploaded to YouTube and other sites every day, and only a minute fraction of it ever sees twenty million views. As the Chinese philosopher said, “He who waits for a roast duck to fly into his mouth will wait a long time.”

Yes, I have an axe to grind! Every time someone convinces people they can make any game-changing video for $4000 it cheapens the work done by video professionals of every stripe. The price of video has very little to do with its length, or how cheap or expensive it looks, or even whether it is made with professional-grade equipment, and everything to do with the skills and experience of the people producing it. The care and craft that the talented professionals at my company put toward beautiful, funny, touching, amazing video simply cannot be acquired at a bargain-basement price.

If Dubin did, in fact, make his video for $4000, more power to him. But to set the bar there, and expect that every $4000 video is going to have the same impact, is a disservice to him and to video professionals everywhere.

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