Why a Brand Paid a YouTuber To Smash Them in Public
If you ask brands: “Who do you hate the most in the French YouTube?” They’ll probably answer: “Oh, that’d be Romain! The Belgian guy who has like 339k subs.”
Romain runs a YouTube channel named Un Créatif — Creative Guy, where he exposes marketing abuse. Using everything from research, expert judgment, testimonies, and parodies, Creative Guy strives to inform his audience.
In doing so, Romain often jokes about companies and their leaders being evil characters, and that’s probably why brands are reluctant about sponsoring him — except for two.
One of them is Rhinoshield. They approached Creative Guy with a weird proposition: “Hey Romain, we’ll pay for a video. What? No, we never give guidelines; just do your thing. Don’t hold your punches — it’ll help us improve.”
Romain rubbed his hands and set out to do what he does best: smash brands with critics.
Wait, What’s Rhinoshield Anyway?
Rhinoshield’s story started in 2013 with a student who enjoyed spending time at his university’s lab. His name is Eric Wang, and you could say he was Cambridge’s Tony Stark.
Wang liked to create new weird high-tech stuff, but instead of the Iron Man armor, he made shields for phone screens.
Spoiler alert: there’s no montage involved in the following brief video. Also, hey, don’t try this at home.
The secret ingredients?
“Because these ‘dumping’ and ‘dispersion’ layers work together, you can reduce the amount of force per area.”
In other words, Wang overlapped chemical materials in a way that made them great at absorbing shock. Wang’s video seduced many Kickstarter funders and allowed him to launch the first edition quickly. Two months of feedback later, Wang upgraded his shield and started to produce it en masse. That’s when the real marketing phase started.
Nerdy as he is, Wang thought of micro-influencers to maximize Rhinoshield’s reach. He contacted YouTubers and suggested they test Rhinoshield and promote it if they find it interesting. He had no idea Rhinoshield was about to become a YouTube trend — a dangerous one.
The Indestructible Backlash
Since Wang trusted YouTubers, his company wasn’t picky about how they wanted to be promoted in the videos. Just do your thing, Rhinoshield would say, and online creators loved that — perhaps, too much.
Some YouTubers smashed Rhinoshielded phones with a baseball bat. Others catapulted them against the wall. One guy dropped it from a helicopter 300 ft (100 m) above the ground. This looks like nice advertising, but it’s a sweet poison, as Romain — the marketing critic — highlighted.
Romain explained that behind these videos watched by millions of people, fake publicity was spreading. What’s the fake message?
“Rhinoshield is Indestructible!”
Which is obviously not true. Wang and his brother designed Rhinoshield to resist day-to-day shocks and not survive free falls from helicopters or transform phones into cannonballs. As sexy as “indestructible” can get, associating it with the brand remained harmful. It can easily lead to a lawsuit against fake publicity.
With this in mind, Romain sketched a wicked half-smile and got to work.
Romain turned the web upside down, looking for the words “indestructible” or “unbreakable” in Rhinoshield’s content. His inquiry involved both old and new versions of websites, ads, and social media posts. Zero, nothing, nada. Romain didn’t find anything, and even the attorneys he consulted with said Rhinoshield was perfectly clean despite the YouTube noise.
Though Romain was disappointed, he still had some hope. Even if the fake-ad problem wasn’t Rhinoshield’s fault, it’s still their responsibility — the company’s credibility was at stake.
The Flexible Comeback
To handle the exaggeration that came from YouTubers, Rhinoshield drowned the try-to-destroy-this-phone trend with style — literally.
Faithful to their nerdy inclinations, the company partnered with artists and surfed popular online trends from anime characters to video games. They even offer a design inspired by Nasa.
To top things off, Rhinoshield also addressed their previous mistakes.
They added a specific one-line requirement to their sponsorship deals. Remember, Rhinoshield protects your phone from day-to-day incidents but doesn’t make it unbreakable. Got it? <wink, wink>
Romain pursed his lips, looked to the side, and mouthed: F*ck! Rhinoshield’s strategy was neat. Plus, they don’t seem to have any other weak marketing points — and that’s when it hit Romain.
He has been played. They were so confident in their strategy they knew Romain’s analysis would probably reveal some mistakes but, more importantly, it’d highlight their strength. Sneaky.
They challenged Romain knowing that his pride as an authentic critic would push him to accept. They also knew the YouTuber would only find smart unharmful techniques and some mistakes when he’d draw the marketing curtains.
Romain’s attempt to smash Rhinoshield transformed him into one of their allies. Rhinoshield’s marketers are probably not unbreakable, but they are solid, alright.
Despite its young age, Rhinoshield displays mature marketing. Not only did they root for the most recent trends, but they also knew how to shield themselves from online backlashes.
Below are the lessons every marketer can learn from the solid brand.
- When you exaggerate your added-value, you sabotage yourself. When Rhinoshield smelled fake ads in the air, they strived to keep their prospects' expectations down to earth.
- You don’t always solve a problem by attacking it head-on; you can also seek ways around it. Rhinoshield didn’t try to counter the “unbreakable” movement. They said, “look at our beautiful designs,” instead.
- When you work with micro-influencers and give them some leeway, you maximize your exposure creatively and authentically. Rhinoshield gives only one guideline to their partners, “don’t over-sell our product.”
- Critics are a form of publicity. Since no business is perfect, try to build a brand with more strengths than flaws. Promote the former and embrace the latter.