Think popular, not premium: Why the Henry & Aaron ‘It’s a snap’ video went viral

In this guest posting, YouTube’s Karen Stocks says why she thinks CIT’s gory-funny ‘It’s a snap’ ad was a hit.

One of this week’s viral hits on YouTube is a science fiction-themed ad for the Central Institute of Technology in Perth. The skit-style video commercial features CIT grads-turned-YouTube stars Henry & Aaron, who magically jump from one CIT department to the next with a snap of Aaron’s fingers. The comedy takes a distinctly darker turn when Aaron’s teleporting skills start going horribly wrong – with gruesome results.

The video holds a couple of lessons for marketers.

First of all, it’s a good example of one of the newest rules of web marketing: “Think popular, not premium.” When it comes to celeb endorsements, don’t just think pro athletes or movie stars – follow your audience.

Comedy duo Henry & Aaron are celebrities on YouTube, and they come with their own devoted following and credibility among their fans. Odds are they’ve got a pretty good following among CIT’s target audience of teenagers considering it’s a technical college education.

We’ve seen this strategy of piggybacking on YouTube stars pay off in Australia before.

Sydney-based shoe start-up Shoes of Prey worked with popular “hauler” Juicystar07 on YouTube – 18-year old beauty guru Blair Fowler – to create a shoe giveaway. Blair promoted the shoes in her video and Shoes of Prey got one of their best weeks of orders. Last year, Lonely Planet worked with Australia’s most successful YouTuber, Sydneysider Natalie Tran, whose videos have been viewed more than 400m times. Natalie’s short travel videos from Miami to the Maldives, Buenos Aires to Egypt, helped to connect Lonely Planet with her fans online.

Secondly, look at the content of the video itself. It may stray into gory territory that’s traditionally scared marketers off, but it’s earned rave reviews – tech news site Gizmodo has called it the “Best. Technical College Ad. Ever” And it’s registered more than 1.4m views online.

CIT’s head of marketing Kenley Gordon sums it up in the press release, saying that even though the ad isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you can’t argue with its popularity: “The youth market is what Henry and Aaron know and judging from the hits, they nailed it.”

What’s interesting is that the gross-out ending delivers the shock value that’s perhaps helping this go viral, but it doesn’t interfere at all with the key messages of CIT.

The video is yet more evidence that the barriers to entry have disappeared, and the next star to shoot to global popularity on the web can come from anywhere. It’s worth considering how your brand might hitch a ride.

Karen Stocks is head of YouTube and display at Google Australia


  1. rob
    22 Feb 12
    1:19 pm

  2. it’s ironic that what makes the cited videos successful – total creative control for the producers, shock value, having a laugh, inappropriateness etc – are the exact things that most corporates will not allow in the process of creating a “viral video”.

    so while interested parties keep dangling these successes in front of corporate marketers the reality is most will never have the fortitude to allow the ingredients to replicate that success, and will simply contribute another digital tumbleweed to the barren landscape of internet content failures.

    viral is an outcome of a great piece of content, not a strategy for a tight-arse corporate with no imagination or willingness to let go. my advice to most corporates is don’t bother with this strategy if you can’t do it properly.

  3. beezlebub
    22 Feb 12
    2:45 pm

  4. @rob i think you’ll find that CIT is a ‘corporate’.

    It’s just a corporate whose marketing people authorised the release of a superbly executed video which in a creative sense delivered value to their target audience

    what they didn’t do is let overarching brand concerns interview with the potential reach of this idea

    this is just marketing 101

  5. rob
    22 Feb 12
    3:22 pm

  6. @beezlebub that was my point…….in the context of my comment ‘corporate’ is a disparaging term for boring behaviour and conservatism at the expense of effectiveness, not organisation size/type. either way, CIT are an exception to most and have seen some success in this case.

  7. A.Rae
    22 Feb 12
    4:22 pm

  8. I would have preferred a happy ending like “Psych. I told you – I’m A God!”

  9. Rebecca
    22 Feb 12
    5:15 pm

  10. Rob’s on the money.

  11. dannyboi
    22 Feb 12
    7:16 pm

  12. CIT appear to have the luxury of being a brand with very little heritage or value to protect.

    So this is hardly a lesson for major corporations. Brand’s are a mark of quality to consumers, customers, suppliers and employees. And brand equity and reputation is built over many years of careful investment.

    If CIT think they are going to build equity over time with this approach someone needs to tell em they’re dreaming.

    When I was at school I worked my arse off studying to get into the most prestigious University possible . . . not the one that had the funniest Youtube video.

  13. Jeepers
    22 Feb 12
    8:58 pm

  14. x 2 Rob. well said.

  15. rob
    23 Feb 12
    1:34 pm

  16. @dannyboi i have to call you on that comment – you mistakenly link effective, cut-through communications with potential to destroy “brand equity”. this is very dangerous thinking. ads are not brands, and brands are not ads.

    your argument leads to a boring, homogenised world of bland and safe corporate communications designed to not offend or “damage brand equity”.

    this is a path to brand irrelevance, as in an increasingly cluttered and fragmented world, cut-through is key. and cut-through doesn’t mean offensive or damaging, just not safe and bland.

    the beauty of this spot for CIT is it targets youth/uni students, who appreciate the humour. consider the entertainment the target audience consumes, to them this is a funny spot. (maybe not to 100% of them, but enough of them to be meaningful)

    if you fail to make the consideration set for purchase decisions, or stay in the minds of your target audience, protecting “brand equity” will quickly fade as going out of business becomes a bigger problem.

    advertising that relates to the target audience and gets their attention is effective, whether your audience is uni students or retirees. after we get them engaged and hopefully sell them something, our brand builds via on-going interaction/purchases. the process does not work the other way around.

    protecting brand equity is not a strategy.

  17. dannyboi
    23 Feb 12
    6:08 pm

  18. @rob, I think my point is that shock and gore tactics won’t build long term brand equity for an Educational Institution that students pay thousands of dollars to attend.

    That said I completely agree with you about the prevalence of risk averse behaviour in our industry leading to ‘digital tumbleweed’.

    And I can’t argue with 1.6m views – it would be interesting to know how many are from Perth

  19. beezlebub
    24 Feb 12
    4:45 pm

  20. @rob…let me guess you’ve never worked professionally outside the ad industry, right?

    dannyboi didnt say brands are ads. you are verballing him. He said ads affect brands. This is beyond argument.

    It’s necessary but not sufficient that dvertising relates to the audience and gets their attention. It may be effective – at getting their attention. But it can also turn them off your product and brand.

    “Getting their attention” is not a strategy. it’s a stunt, and one that can backfire.

    It might surprise you that products and services can get into the consideration set of consumers without advertising having anything to do with it.

  21. rob
    27 Feb 12
    8:46 am

  22. @beezlebub wrong on that guess……i’ve worked both agency and client side and have relevant undergrad and post-graduate degrees, so i’m not coming from a position of “advertising is everything”.

    Bringing it back to basics, all i said was this particular communication targeting uni students used communication that had cut-through and relevance to their market, and that “damaging brand equity” should not be thrown up simply because of the black humour and gore.

    And a youtube video does not make a marketing strategy, but we should also not assume this is all they are doing. CIT will build brand equity over time once enrolled students have a great experience and their reputation builds, and a humorous ad that has gone viral to put them on the map is not a bad start.

  23. Doug
    9 Mar 12
    6:14 pm

  24. @Rob…he is utterly right on the money. Working with a corporate at the moment who wants a “hit viral” video. Of course they loved our pitch, now they’ve trimmed that idea down to a boring turd. You can’t create anything engaging in a vacuum of fear, most corporates live in a perpetual state of fear with their employees hocked to the hilt, nobody wants to take a chance, so very rarely does anything ever get done that has any real traction. The same sad story over and over again.