Advertising is a dirty word. Faced with sanctimonious moralizing, not-so-subtle product placements and gimmicky marketing schemes, it’s not surprising that many consumers are tuning out.
“When a brand is trying to advertise to someone they’re pushing that experience on them,” says Adam Lisagor, founder of Sandwich Video. “You see that in a pre-roll ad, you see that in a TV commercial in the breaks of your favourite shows. It’s an uninvited experience where, they’re trying to push as much message possible and put it in the tastiest form.”
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Lisagor and his team do the opposite. Sandwich has become the go-to brand for startups looking to get noticed, with smart, soothing videos that take a minute or two to explain a product or service’s functionality and appeal. Rather than buzzy brand plugs that tell you nothing substantial about the product, the firm creates what are effectively how-to videos. Like this one for sharing economy pioneer Airbnb:
It’s a pull experience: “The people that watch our videos actually asked to watch them,” Lisagor explains. “They’ve followed a link or clicked play on an embedded video within an article or come to our site to find out about different products. You get that extra leeway to present them a little more information and do it in a more studied way.”
And it works. Sandwich’s videos for buzzy startups like Lyft, Rdio and Slack helped those products get widespread Internet attention and racked up hundreds of thousands of views.
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Lisagor’s first product spot in 2009 featured his own tech venture, a Twitter accessory called Birdhouse. But Sandwich really took off the following year, when the still-nascent company created videos for Jack Dorsey-founded mobile payment service Square and this one for Flipboard:
An unexpected result of Sandwich’s success was that Lisagor himself became Internet famous. The filmmaker cast himself in the Square and Flipboard videos, leading some viewers to assume that, like Birdhouse, the products were his. “There was a little bit of confusion in the tech world about who this entrepreneur was that has had two big hits in a row starting these companies,” he remembers. “[Eventually people] did enough research on their own to understand, ‘Oh no, Square was founded by Jack Dorsey, Flipboard was founded by Mike McCue. This person is just a hired video guy and he likes to tell you about these things.’”
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The association with the products he presents doesn’t always work out well for Lisagor, who points to a recent effort for credit-card replacement Coin. “Sometimes there’s a little bit of frustration with how the product is coming to market, delays and things like that,” he notes. “[When that happens] people do question whether my word is as verifiable as it should be.”
For precisely that reason, Lisagor doesn’t appear in all his videos, and Sandwich won’t make a spot for just anyone. “If it is something I myself am going to be a user of and an evangelist for, just as a consumer, then it makes a lot of sense that I would be on camera,” he notes.
Not all his clients want him starring in their videos either. Although Sandwich still makes plenty of videos for penniless passion projects and moderately-funded ventures, the company has recently taken on work for big corporations like eBay and Yahoo, and has even put together the odd TV ad. “I am sort of known as ‘the Startup Guy,’” Lisagor admits. “I’m there to introduce companies and products that people have never heard of. So in the eyes of a bigger, more established brand, they’d prefer not to be either lumped together with the unknown or to be considered followers in the messaging style that the startups are taking.”
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Lisagor hits far more than he misses, and that’s part of his appeal. Go look up Sandwich’s clientele. Sure, there are some misses in there—apps like Everyday that never really took off because they’re too novel or just plain unnecessary to amass a significant following. Still, seeing Lisagor in a video is a great way to spot a promising trend in Silicon Valley, the marketing equivalent of scoring an investment from Andreessen Horowitz.
Want to get your product noticed on the Internet without going through the Ponzi scam that is online advertising? Email Adam.
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