There are some people who make hard things look easy. Olympic athletes, Joan Didion, and Tommy Lee Jones spring to mind.
Then there are people like Grant Marek, the editorial director for Chubbies, a brand that creates cheeky weekend-wear for men, including many varietals of mid-thigh shorts. Marek is tasked with a job that seems to rely on some sort of Rubik’s Cube logic: logic that may exist, but that you can’t fully see until you actually solve the puzzle.
In Marek’s case, it’s making videos that relate (however vaguely) to his company’s product, and that go viral on a regular basis. This when we all know that the internet is fickle, that what you think will work often does not, and that viewers who like one thing one day might hate the same thing the following day.
But to talk to Marek about his job is to encounter someone who seems so laid back about all these possibilities as to give off the impression that, hey, if it doesn’t work, he really actually won’t mind, and just go back to the drawing board. And it’s that attitude that has resulted in genius viral concepts like “How to Cook a Thanksgiving Dinner in the Dishwasher,” with nearly six million views.
We talked to Marek about how he found himself in the internet video business, how he deals with the stress, and — of course! — what makes a good viral video.
How did you get into this line of work? I was an editor at Thrillist for five years. Before that I worked at Sports Illustrated and a bunch of newspapers across the West Coast. I’ve always been a journalist. I was headhunted by Chubbies, and I just dove in.
What are the necessary components of a good viral video? First and foremost is relatability. You have to know your core audience, but you also have to produce content that can be relatable for the largest audience possible. We definitely have tried content that we personally loved, involving American Gladiators or something, and people who loved American Gladiators loved it, but that is not a super large part of the population. So that’s a big part of it. There are also a lot of tips when it comes to Facebook. People are endlessly scrolling through their phone, so you need to have something that will stop their scroll. The first three seconds of the video are super important. It also needs to be something the internet hasn’t seen before.
What are your brainstorming sessions like? I’m the editorial director, and I have one guy who does editorial below me, and our content team has five people in it, so we will get together in a room and kick around ideas. That can be fun. We want to hit all the things that we just talked about. For instance, we had a brainstorm for Thanksgiving and an idea that popped up was leftover pumpkins from Halloween — we all have them, and most of us just throw them away. We turned ours unto a giant dartboard and threw axes at them.
Another one was trash-can turkey. You’re heating coal inside a trash can and it will cook your turkey in a really cool way. It’s easy; everything about it is easy. We also ended up doing a video that’s going viral about cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the dishwasher. In addition to the food cleanup being easy, everyone has that Aunt Karen who is cooking her green bean casserole for hours and hours and you can’t cook what you need to cook. We did it in the office and it came out delicious. We also built a turkey catapult and shot them at a Thanksgiving table into the middle of the field. That was super fun.
Who is your audience? I don’t know, 1997 is probably the cut-off for us. The advent of the Nintendo 64. Probably 18 to 35, a lot of kids that are in college, some are younger, getting ready for college, a lot that have been paying rent. It’s tough, because the guys who are 35 have watched Saved by the Bell, and the guys who are 18 don’t know what that is, so you can’t go as deep down into nostalgia. If we do something from the ‘70s it’s not gonna relate to anyone. We had ideas for Halloween for trick-or-treating; I’m a dad, and we do it every year and it’s super fun, but a lot of the guys in the office are not dads and don’t trick-or-treat. So with our audience, we’d be cutting viewers down by a bunch [doing a trick-or-treating video].
What kind of content works best? All of the content that we make is just focused on the weekend, whatever that may entail — whether it’s building a pool out of palettes or riding a bunch of children’s cars down Lombard Street. We don’t do super narrative videos that require a lot of speaking; people are watching on their phones without sound. So a lot of it is knowing your platform; and Facebook, which is big for us, is one where people don’t often use sound.
Do you have any suggestions if people are stumped for video content? Hire more creative people, probably (laughs). All of our ideas are things we think up. One of the big things that I realized is that, like here at Chubbies, you really live the brand. You are writing for yourself. Our audience is basically me. A lot of the time people hire an outside company, but having someone who lives the brand is really important. You can’t have something relatable if you don’t.