Six Modern Content Strategies from “Primitive Technology”
One of YouTube’s rising stars is a shirtless twenty-something Australian man who wordlessly and calmly creates primitive structures, tools, and weapons completely from scratch using only natural materials in the wild. While watching a taciturn man clad in just cargo shorts toil in mud may not seem like a recipe for success, his videos have skyrocketed in popularity with no promotion.
His YouTube channel, Primitive Technology, has achieved near viral fame and his 20 videos have garnered 137 million views since he first started in May 2015. So what can content creators and marketers learn from this mysterious YouTuber?
Go primitive to go modern
Despite his success, the Primitive Technology guy remains completely anonymous. People just call him “Prim” — short for Primitive. He has never said a word in his videos. Nor does he ham it up or perform for the camera. Prim barely shows emotion, except nodding with satisfaction when something he built works.
There are no manipulative editing techniques or soaring music to corral our easily distracted, fragmented attention spans to make sure our eyeballs don’t ping pong to a million other entertainment options. He simply lets his steady, thoughtful work speak for itself.
His surprisingly mesmerizing videos cover topics such as stone axes, wattle and daub huts, slings, forge blowers, and charcoal. Recording himself in the woods in North Queensland, his primitive technology hobby must follow the strict rule of using no modern technology to create things. If you need to cut down a tree to build shelter, you have to first methodically build a stone axe. Even when he fire hardens the handle, he must create the fire from scratch. This makes Bear Grylls look like a Cub Scout.
The calmness of his videos gives our mind room to contemplate and imagine. In a way, his storytelling feeds our storytelling. We start to think of the lives of people in the Neolithic Era, and ruminate on the comforts of our modern lives. Having the freedom to watch his diligent activities while allowing our own thoughts to wander is refreshing.
He only wears dark blue cargo shorts and nothing else — looking like a “bro-magnon man” — which seems risky considering he films in Australia, the land of terrifying creatures that eat other terrifying creatures. It’s like aliens kidnapped him from a swimming pool party and plopped him down in the middle of the rainforest.
So with no production team, no modern tools, and no short cuts, he just quietly gets stuff done. A trait we can admire as we comfortably watch his determined primitive work on our modern technology. We hope he’s on our team when the apocalypse comes, because his work is impressive and mind-boggling.
So why does it work?
When I tried to describe Primitive Technology to a co-worker, he looked at me with frowning skepticism, as though I were describing the finer points of cleaning lawn mower carburetors in Swahili.
The videos are not necessarily aspirational. They are not going to motivate people to tear off their clothes, go off the grid, cast their phones away, and survive on nothing but their wits and moxie. Most of us would barely survive a paleo diet, so a full paleo lifestyle would be out of the question. But people anxiously await his videos.
So what can marketers and content creators learn from Primitive Technology?
1. Connect with storytelling
For his millions of viewers, Primitive Technology creates meditative, visually relaxing videos that serve as an antidote for our frantic lives. Heck, you could just close your eyes and listen to the ambient noises of the wilderness overlapping with the sounds from his steady hard work — the spit and crack of an open fire, the thud and crack of wood and stone, and glurp of mud.
The calmness of his videos gives our mind room to contemplate and imagine. In a way, his storytelling feeds our storytelling. We start to think of the lives of people in the Neolithic Era, all the work that goes into producing what we need to survive, and ruminate on the comforts of our modern lives.
Having the freedom to both watch his diligent activities while allowing our own thoughts to wander is refreshing. Primitive Technology videos are even more immersive because it engages us; catalyzing that innately curious part of our brain that wants to tell stories and connect the dots.
2. Be authentic
Yes, everyone wants to be authentic nowadays, from political candidates and self-help gurus to hot sauce creators and sports jersey makers, so much that the word has been diluted and ventured into jargon territory. Nevertheless, the creator of Primitive Technology is not trying to be something he’s not.
Instead of projecting a high-wattage personality where every word is as subtle as a burst of a Roman candle, he prefers to let his work do the speaking. His videos are stripped of normal editing tricks. He breaks the Wadsworth Constant, and offers no interruptions or annoying intros either. Because of this, he holds people’s attention much longer.
He just gets right to it and we see all that ingenuity and work pay off at the end. His focus, creativity, and industrious approach have attracted an audience as a result.
3. Create content you’d want to view/read
This is related to authenticity, but focus on developing content that you like versus what you think people will like or even chasing the latest content fads. After all, we all consume content in our everyday lives and have strong opinions about our professions.
In the comments of his blog, Primitive Technology said: “I always fast forward past the talking in how-to videos. So I make my videos without talking so people don’t get bored.” Besides jokes about his resourcefulness, like how he built a Wi-Fi tower out of grass to upload his videos, the most common comment I’ve seen is how great it is that he doesn’t speak.
Primitive Technology “favors pure demonstration,” which makes the videos easy to follow. And as an added bonus, by not speaking his videos need no translation, removing language barriers so anyone can watch and learn.
4. Break the mold
He does not promote his videos, has no social channels, and does not do interviews or even Reddit AMAs. He just has a blog and YouTube channel and lets word-of-mouth do the promotion.
He does, however, engage with his audience and will frequently respond to comments in his blog and on YouTube, and is very open and detailed about how he builds things. In a way, his approach is opposite of many companies that are great at distributing their content, but poor at continually and quickly responding to people’s questions/comments.
After all, how many desolate, inactive corporate blogs have we seen or social channels where companies might as well be talking to a wall as they never interact? People forget to put the “social” in social media. Besides great content, conversations and engagement will bring people back. They want to experience a sense of community and that their thoughts matter, versus feeling like they are whispering into a howling, tumbleweed-strewn void.
5. Quality versus quantity
The Primitive Technology channel has only 20 videos, and averages about one per month. That may seem to be an extremely slow pace, but that’s the right cadence for him. He no doubt needs time to research, prepare, build, film, and edit. Any more might sacrifice quality or dilute his content.
This fits into the “slow content” movement of sustainable and insightful content. There is pressure to incessantly churn out content but publishing for its own sake or to meet arbitrary deadlines can derail the efforts of brands to showcase themselves as trusted experts — leading to irrelevant content with sluggish writing and undifferentiated points of view that only add to the noise.
Maybe your team has the resources and skills to function as a brand newsroom, but if not then it’s time to produce the best content you can at a challenging but doable pace.
6. If you build it, they will come
I’m not saying don’t promote your content, because a lot of content suffers from “singing in the shower” syndrome. That is, you may have a beautiful voice (great content) but nobody hears it (you don’t promote it effectively or at all). But building content that people value and are willing to share and discuss is the most important step.
One more video on which to end the article… because everyone loves bows and arrows!