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August 12, 2010

In Their Own Way: Stories of Online Branding Success

Branding 2

One of the most important elements of any venture is inspiration.

Humans like to have heroes or idols to look up to, people to examine and hold up as the best examples of success. It is reassuring on a very basic level to be able to point to someone and say; “They did it, so I know it can be done.”

With that in mind, consider the following web branding success stories. These are not the names that are usually thrown about, like YouTube or Facebook. Rather, these are people who have developed a niche success in their own field, and have become world-famous brands in their own way, and their own time.

Zero Punctuation: The Saga of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw

Few stories are as appealing as those of overnight success, and the story of Yahtzee seems to fit the bill. Around late 2007, he posted a pair of video animations to YouTube. In these videos little paper-cutout-style characters enacted humorous scenes against a yellow backdrop while Yahtzee reviewed video games in a slightly frantic tone of voice. Yahtzee tore into the games’ flaws with a vigor and incisive sense of humor that spoke directly to the irony-conscious gamers of today. Shortly thereafter, an online gaming magazine called The Escapist hired Yahtzee to produce the videos on a weekly basis for its site.

The result was an explosion of interest. The Escapist’s traffic jumped nearly 400 percent following the addition of Yahtzee’s series, dubbed “Zero Punctuation” because of his increasingly trademark style of rapid-fire speech with few pauses for breath. The white avatars on yellow background have become icons of the gaming world, recognizable at a glance. Major game designers such as Fable’s Peter Myoleneaux have responded directly to Yahtzee’s criticism and sent him their newest game to review as well, even knowing that he is likely to treat this second effort even more brutally than the first.

Of course, Yahtzee actually isn’t an example of overnight success at all. He’s been a gamer for more than 20 years, having played others’ games and designed his own as well. He’s developed his signature style with dedicated hard work, and the hard work ultimately was rewarded when the right audience was found. The lesson here is both that brands must be ready to jump on the opportunities of the moment, but also be prepared to put in a great deal of work and effort for their brand to succeed.

Yahtzee currently writes for the Escapist, as well as his own website, Fully Ramblomatic, and the Australian magazine Hyper. He resides in Australia, and still produces the weekly ZP show.

Nostalgia Critic: Remembering It So You Don’t Have To

Continuing the theme of YouTube branding success, another tale is that of Doug Walker, popularly known as That Guy With the Glasses. A few years ago, Doug began uploading a series of short videos to YouTube touching on things he found entertaining. His 5-second-movies feature was a deconstructionist look at popular films by editing them down to brief impressions, while the Nostalgia Critic was a persona he used to examine popular films and series his generation grew up with. From there, everything exploded into a story of epic web success.

He left YouTube to found his own site with several friends who had lost their retail day jobs. They expanded on the content of the site, adding new characters, additional writers and performers. A team of fellow critics and reviewers became Team TGWTG, video gamers come to the site under the title of Blistered Thumbs, and the site has gradually prospered (if by gradually of course one means that from 2008 to 2009 the site began making $10,000 per month).

Perhaps the biggest element of this brand’s success is Walker’s rivalry with fellow nostalgic reviewer, the Angry Video Game Nerd. AVGN is a series reviewing nostalgic cartridge video games, and the similarities between the two series sparked comments among the series’ fans that one or the other might be stealing the concept. Taking this idea to a perhaps bizarre new level, the Critic and the Nerd launched a series of videos detailing their epic battles and struggles to claim the title of “winner,” and both their viewership’s prospered from it.

Walker’s story is an inspiring one because of the sheer scale of his success. In less than a decade he has gone to making sums of money one would normally associate with a major business venture. Yet at the core of it, he and his friends make short videos about old movies from the 1980s, in their homes, with software and equipment you can pick up at any computer store. Yet now there are people going to comic and movie conventions costumed as the Critic or his cronies, and the various pop culture lines he references have become a new canon of online in jokes.

Closing Thoughts

These two stories are not the rule. There are many reviewers out there who haven’t achieved the level of success these people have. However, the fact that they have achieved it at all shows that it can be done, and both stories share the same important lesson for anyone interested in branding: Do what you love.

Neither of these two Internet heroes has branding as his first priority. Instead, the priority is on doing something they love, and always doing it well. Walker’s first Nostalgia Critic video is of noticeably poorer quality than his newest videos, and Zero Punctuation has grown more eclectic and daring in its animations as time has gone on. These two have a passion for what they want to see done, and the brand has grown as a result of the effort and love they have put into it. If you take no other lesson from their story, take this one: do something you love, and do it well.


Enzo F. Cesario is an online branding specialist and co-founder of Brandsplat, a digital content agency. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles, videos and social media in the “voice” of our client’s brand. It makes sites more findable and brands more recognizable. For the free Brandcasting Report go to www.BrandSplat.com or visit our blog at www.iBrandCasting.com.

One Response to “In Their Own Way: Stories of Online Branding Success

    My favorite online branding success story involving video would have to be Will It Blend. The recent Old Spice campaign, with their use of twitter and video replies is another great one.

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