An influencer marketing program is a marketing effort where a brand aligns itself with an influential individual who appeals to current and potential customers. An influencer should be credible, have name recognition and following in a brand’s industry or niche, and be willing to advocate for the brand.
But chances are you haven’t heard of him. That is, unless you’re a millennial or Gen Z’er obsessed with internet video and/or nearly impossible sports feats.
Or a major brand.
How did Ultimate Frisbee player Brodie Smith break out?
As a two-time Ultimate Frisbee champion at University of Florida and former pro Ultimate Frisbee player with the Chicago Wildfire (2013-2015), Brodie became great at a sport without a mainstream following. But to understand how he became “internet famous” and the star of this piece, you have to look back to a Frisbee trick-shot video he uploaded to YouTube back in 2011 that went viral, paving the way for him to parlay his athleticism into one of the newest and most lucrative careers in the field of advertising: influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is a gold rush for people who understand how to exploit a video niche. This wide-open career is fueled by:
- Social media (not TV or radio)
- Followers and subscribers (not viewers or listeners)
- Viral sharing (not word of mouth)
As for Brodie, the proof is in the proverbial pudding… or “scoreboard,” as they say in sports. His social media followings are sizable — he has 1 million+ followers on Instagram and Twitter each. And his 1.8M+ subscribers on YouTube are a thing of dreams for companies looking to cultivate engagement. With 82 percent of brands expecting to invest more in influencer video campaigns in 2017, according to a recent study, I wanted to get Brodie’s take on how he’s turned his trick shots into an in-demand skill and highly marketable commodity in the year 2017.
Here’s what he had to say.
Our interview with Ultimate Frisbee star-turned-influencer, Brodie Smith
Off the top, which brands have you worked with as an influencer?
The list is pretty vast. Lately, I’ve done videos for brands such as the Salvation Army, Lego, Go-Gurt, and I just did one with Visa at the Super Bowl. I’ve also done tons with the car industry, for headphones, food and beverage, Snickers… a whole bunch.
Why is influencer marketing a good way for big brands to go?
Two reasons. One, the audience for a lot of these brands is just not there anymore. So many people are DVRing and not even watching commercials… and a lot of these people aren’t even getting their content on TV anymore. They’re watching Netflix, getting their news on Twitter. Two, all the big companies have a social media team, whereas a few years ago, it was unheard of. It’s wise for them to not just market on their own social media channels, but to look into going out to influencers to get theirs — especially if it’s a good fit.
A good fit… that is key.
It has to be a good fit. You can’t just force a brand on an audience. I do a lot of sports and adventure. My audience is heavy on the guy side. I do have 25-30% females, which is still a good chunk of people when you’re talking about a million, two million people, but it wouldn’t make sense for me to promote a makeup brand because people are going to look at that and say, “Wow, that made absolutely no sense.”
Is a lot of your time spent cultivating ideas for brands?
I don’t think I spend too much time sitting around saying, “Alright, if Gatorade knocks at my door, I have this perfect idea for them.” Rather, ideas pop into my head when I’m showering or on a run or whatever. When that happens, I say, “Oh, that would make a great video.” Then, in the back of my head, I think if this brand came to me, that video would make a lot of sense. Other times, a brand will come to me and I have to think of something that will fit. That’s when I think about what we can do that makes sense to have a perfect idea for them. I think about all the different ideas I can do to make all people happy — myself, my audience and of course, the brand.
How do you tell this story when it comes to a specific product?
I once did two commercials with HP (Hewlett-Packard). The first one was a trick shot of me sitting in a gym, showcasing how easy it was for the HP computer to flip open, fold out and use while making a trick shot at the same time. The second one they wanted everything to be more epic, so we thought up a monster truck flying in off a ramp with explosions and confetti and having a target basically on the back for me to snipe it with a Frisbee as it’s flying through the air. That was born out of a brainstorming session with them.
What should a company feel comfortable asking an influencer to do — and what should they not?
I consider myself pretty flexible, honestly. I always try to give the brand what they want and work with them as much as I can, but sometime you have to draw the line and ask, “Is this thing going to work?” There are some brands that have come and said, “We want you to do this…” and it’s basically just a commercial. You’re reading off a teleprompter, doing an advertisement for a product. I don’t want any of my content to come off like a QVC commercial… I want to always show myself either using the product, or the product somehow being incorporated.
In other words, don’t shove a brand down people’s throats?
Red Bull has done a good job of just making themselves a sick, cool brand. They don’t over-promote their drink in their video content. Sometimes they don’t even show it until the very, very end. I think that’s super important, drawing the line, being confident and comfortable letting them know, “Listen this isn’t going to work with my audience and honestly, it’s not going to do well.” You’re actually helping the brand. You’re telling them this isn’t me and if I did what you’re asking, it isn’t going to perform. The money that you’re paying for me, you’re not going to get back. It’s going to be much better if we come up with something that gets shared and people think is awesome… that’s going to get way more views, more engagement. More bang for your buck.
How should companies use you as a storytelling device?
Let’s say someone asks me to do a review on body wash… the vast majority of my audience isn’t going to care about me saying, “Man, I just got dirty and I used this body wash and now I’m super clean and man, you guys should use this!” That doesn’t make any sense. What makes sense is me doing a sick, diving trick shot where I jump off something and dive in mid-air throwing the Frisbee and dive in the mud. Now I’m super dirty and all of sudden, I get a call from a girl I’ve been talking to who says “Let’s meet up for lunch in 30 minutes.” Then I look at myself and say, “What am I going to do?” I run, get the body wash, get cleaned up and go out on a hot date. That makes sense – that is something that people are going to watch and say, ”Wow, that’s a cool trick and oh, that’s funny.”
How important is comedy to your storytelling strategy?
Everyone loves to laugh. I think it’s important to just keep your personality and not be something that you’re not. I understand that some of my videos are going to be funny to some people, but if they’re funny to me, that’s all that really matters. It’s important to make content you’re proud of.
How did your partnership with Salvation Army come to fruition?
Everyone is familiar with the red bucket in front of the grocery store around the holiday, but I think this was about letting people know that if you give a dollar or two dollars, it can have a huge impact. We were basically raising money for families to have food on their table around the holidays. The whole video was a trick shot video where I’m throwing Frisbees, golf balls, tennis balls… all sorts of things inside that Salvation Army bucket. The idea being: All you have to do is make a small donation, and it can go a really long way for people in need.
What makes something go viral in your opinion?
I think there are two things that I’ve seen the past couple of years. First, the impossible. If you do something that no one has ever seen before or when people watch it they go, “How is that possible?”… those tend to go viral. There’s a video of mine that just went onto on Reddit a few weeks ago that’s gotten 4 million views in 16 hours and it was me throwing a Frisbee around an ice rink. The Frisbee stays on the wall, zips around the whole ice rink and then blows up this bottle.
The other thing is stuff that is super-relatable and shareable. Stuff you see and you’re like, “Man, that is dead on. That is something that’s definitely happened in my life, that me and my friends would definitely do or have done before.”
How long does it take to set up one of your trick shots?
For a YouTube video, I like to have two days of filming depending on what it is. Some videos I can do in one. Any other social media content — anything other than YouTube — I can normally get done in the same day. I’ve been lucky enough to have some campaigns say “I need x, y and z this week, can you pull it off?” And luckily, based on flexibility, I can, so I don’t lose out on those deals.
What is a company’s role in helping an influencer campaign succeed in your opinion?
One of the things they can do, especially if it’s a bigger company, is help with resources and contacts so they can help make certain things happen. Locations or getting certain athletes or celebrities. Being able to make the video better in a way that if you were making the video by yourself, you wouldn’t have the funds or the means to do.
Another way is that they can help is to promote the videos. A lot of social media platforms look at how well the video does when you first post it. So if you’re able to give it kind of a little boost, which I’ve worked with some companies that do that… they will take the video and make it an ad on YouTube so when people see it and click on it, people watch the whole video. Those things definitely help as well.
What’s the next frontier in influencer storytelling? What do you want to tackle next?
There are a lot of people out there that I still want to film with… Tim Tebow, Shawn Johnson, I’d like to work with Gatorade on a larger scale, Visa again… I just want to continue to work with amazing people. That’s my favorite thing. Sure it’s great if you have a lot of followers, but for me, I just love working with people who are talented.