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How paying less attention to awards and more to social led to Dollar Shave Club’s viral campaigns

Bath jerky. Pornhub. Dad bods. An ad made for US$11 in one afternoon.

These campaigns were only possible because Dollar Shave Club’s VP creative, Matt Knapp, is motivated not by awards, but by comments on social media.

Mumbrella’s Damian Francis with Dollar Shave Club’s Matt Knapp

“When you’re in an agency, there’s an extreme amount of pressure to win awards, and you often feel like your career and your salary and your promotion and your title, it’s all tied up in it. That mindset shifts completely when you go in-house,” he said.

“The comments on social media and how your work is being received by the people you created it for? That’s the thing that drives you.”

The idea for bath jerky came about after it featured jokily in a TV ad. Then the team asked: Why don’t we actually make it?

The bath jerky sold for $5 per bag, and was sold out within 12 hours

“As many brands launched fake products on April Fools Day, we decided to launch a product that seemed fake,” Knapp said.

“It was on the site for 12 hours before we sold out, we sold 5,000 bags. And then, after that, people started sending in their pictures of them sitting in the tub with their bath jerky and someone even put it on eBay for 50 bucks, which is kinda ridiculous.”

Dollar Shave Club’s static display on Pornhub attracted a similarly big reaction.

“Now, people might think that that’s a very controversial media placement,” he admitted.

“However, interestingly, five out of six guys admit to watching porn. One out of two women admit to watching porn. They’re the only ones that admit it, the figure could even be higher. So there was a market there for us to exploit.

“This particular static banner ad got an incredible amount of social love. It ended up on the front page of Reddit.”

Dollar Shave Club being and absolute madlad on pornhub from madlads

And it’s that social media response that Knapp said rivals awards.

“When you’re reading through those comments and you’re reading about the validation and the audience … saying ‘Hey DSC, I love you guys, you’ve got my back,’ that’s why you create the work, and it’s nearly as gratifying as winning an award,” he said.

Dollar Shave Club’s latest campaign launched just a few hours ago, to line up with Father’s Day in the US. And for a tongue-in-cheek creative team, that meant celebrating dad bods, and inspiring the whole company in the process.

“Creative work, we know, can excite people, motivate people, persuade people. However, it also can do that to the people you’re working with,” Knapp said of the new ad.

 

And then there was the reveal of an ad that’s never seen the light of day. It cost US$11, and was shot on an iPhone, over the course of one afternoon. A member of his team realised that when you go into US pharmacy CVS, you get a really long receipt, even if you buy just one item. His idea? Turn the receipt into a rhythmic gymnastics ribbon, wielded by a shirtless man with a large belly.

But he also emphasised that it’s not only about creating funny, engaging ads. Knapp spoke of a project that wasn’t “the most sexy” but saved the company millions of dollars: figuring out a way to classify packages as ‘flat’, like a letter or magazine, to drastically reduce shipping costs.

The keynote focused on the reasons why it’s easier to produce edgy, playful creative in an in-house environment, but offered one piece of advice to traditional agencies: get beyond the marketer tasked with solving marketing problems, and in front of the C-suite solving business problems.

“If there’s a way that an agency can become embedded in a client and learn more about the business problems that they face, rather than just the marketing problems, I think that’s a great opportunity for an agency,” he said.

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