It isn’t often these days that insurance companies are seen as the good guys, but State Farm bought a ginormous amount of positive brand image with its sponsorship of OK Go’s new video, “This Too Shall Pass.” The sponsorship included the expense involved to allow fans to embed said video on their own blogs and Web sites – an action that the Australian band’s own label, EMI, no longer permits.
But back to the beginning. OK Go became an international sensation with its 2006 video, “Here It Goes Again.” Shot on a non-existent budget, it featured the band members dancing on treadmills and immediately went viral upon hitting YouTube. Posted without EMI’s knowledge, the video spread throughout the Internet as fans embedded it seemingly everywhere. At first, EMI appreciated the free publicity – as well as the fact that Ok Go was recouping the label’s investment and generating a profit.
Soon after, however, EMI and other major labels went into panic mode when record sales tanked, and demanded YouTube pay them for streaming their material – and then made it impossible for fans to embed music videos. So even though the viral nature of Ok Go’s homemade video earned the band millions of fans and the label millions of dollars, retrograde reasoning ruled the day.
Enough set-up. Thanks to State Farm, you can view Ok Go’s amazing new video right here on this very blog. Although fun and creative, it taps into the 2010 zeitgeist of people feeling besieged by problems beyond their power to control. The message: Yes, this too shall pass – presumably with the help of State Farm, which makes its presence subtly known in the video by a toy State Farm truck that sets the Rube Goldberg-inspired chain of events into motion, and a blink-and-you-miss-it State Farm teddy bear. Oh, yeah, and the shout-out screen at the end of the video.
State Farm’s inventive branded content project is creating reverberations in very serious media quarters. Helen Walters of BusinessWeek takes it from here:
“Todd Fischer, manager of national sponsorships at the Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, was keen to assert that EMI had been ‘at the table’ throughout the negotiation process on this latest video, which started back in fall of last year. But clearly he’s also more than happy that State Farm gets to play the part of forward-thinking innovator, working to supply fans with what they really want and need (the ability to take the video and include it on their own sites).
“In supporting a band that epitomizes the DIY, can-do, I’ll-take-it-and-I’ll-mash-it attitude of contemporary culture, the insurer taps into a young audience in a cool, appropriate way. The band, meanwhile, gets to make another fantastic video, harness buzz and win over new fans: the film had nearly 1.4 million views in less than 48 hours.”
The New York Times published an Op-Ed column by OK Go’s lead singer/guitarist, Damian Kulash Jr., who provided his well-considered take on the bite-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face actions of record labels prohibiting the distribution of their artists’ videos by fans. Wrote Kulash:
“In these tight times, it’s no surprise that EMI is trying to wring revenue out of everything we make, including our videos. But it needs to recognize the basic mechanics of the Internet. Curbing the viral spread of videos isn’t benefiting the company’s bottom line, or the music it’s there to support. The sooner record companies realize this, the better — though I fear it may already be too late.”
While many major brands are making forays into branded content, State Farm has literally hit all the right notes in partnering with a creative enterprise that can help it reach new customers. In an era in which an insurance company “gets” the power of digital and social media to build brands and relationships better than record labels, all bets are off. For those industries that don’t get it, their troubles are not likely to pass.
As a fitting footnote, the band announced its split from EMI on March 10. The full statement is on its Web site, http://www.okgo.net.