The newest piece of creative for Pretzelmaker is a four-minute music video starring an unsigned musician, a 16-year-old hip-hop artist named Goofy Boi. There’s no way a commercial that long could hold a viewer’s attention or be cost-effective on TV. Luckily for Pretzelmaker , it doesn’t have to.
Goofy Boi’s video for the treat chain’s “4 Buck Hook Up” promotion was intended solely for online viewing, either on Pretzelmaker’s website or its YouTube channel. So while the chain doesn’t have to shell out big bucks for TV time, it still can spread its brand message online, in a cost-effective way that can target narrower and narrower audiences, especially Web-savvy teens and tweens.
“Anecdotally, our franchisees like [the video], but their 13-year-old daughters love it,” said Jenn Johnston, senior vice president of brand marketing for NexCen Franchise Management, parent of Pretzelmaker.
Many other restaurant chains are putting time and effort, though not necessarily much money, into online videos. They’re likely to find an audience: According to various reports, YouTube alone accounts for as much as 10 percent of all Internet traffic and commanded the same amount of bandwidth in 2007 as the entire Internet did in 2000.
Because Pretzelmaker, whose system comprises about 360 franchised units combined with sister brand Pretzel Time, isn’t large enough to achieve many economies of scale and adequate frequency with its media buying, it looked for other ways to spread its message, Johnston said.
“TV doesn’t really give us the best return on investment,” she said. “Pretzelmaker is more of an impulse purchase; it’s not like you saw it on TV and decided to go get one.”
The online video on the other hand, “was a minimal expense on our part and a way to engage teens that allows them to have their own conversations about it,” she said. “If it came from the musician himself, it would seem less promotional and more like something they’d get excited about.”
Because Goofy Boi produced the song and video, the message comes off as authentic, she added.
“The relevance of the teen and tween audience is important,” Johnston said. “To get them interacting with your brand, you have to make them brand-loyal. You can’t push things onto them, it has to come from them—and Goofy Boi is a 16-year-old musician.”
If the video proves effective, NexCen would consider similar productions going forward, Johnston said.
“This is a win-win for us,” she said. “It costs nothing to do, and it gives us a valuable asset ongoing with the brand. We’re working with a talented, unsigned musician.”
Caribou Coffee  produced animated 30-second spots for its YouTube channel last fall, called “The Autumn Adventures of Jack & Gourdo,” to promote its seasonal drinks. Senior vice president of marketing Alfredo Martel said the coffeehouse brand learned how to combine “visually disruptive” images with a brand message of quality while producing the online videos, which informed the company’s development of its first-ever TV commercial that debuted in late November.
“Look at how many ads people put up on YouTube—you’ve created creative for broadcast and treat it as an afterthought and just slap it on the digital platform,” Martel said. “We’ve never been a broadcast TV brand. We started online and started to see what’s working.”
After essentially reverse-engineering its approach to creating commercials, Caribou felt confident in its purchase of TV time for the new ad, called “Get Real: Chocolate,” which promotes the chain’s new line of hot chocolate and mocha drinks made with real Guittard chocolate.
YouTube was the right venue for the “Jack & Gourdo” spots because it was a low-cost way to promote a short-term program, Martel said, whereas the news of the chocolate program was important enough for a new commercial and a cable-TV buy.
“The fall window is a short one, and our chocolate program is permanent,” Martel said. “Ergo our investment in broadcast is justified and pays back from a business perspective.”
Restaurant industry marketers agree that, while online video is effective and cheap, it’s unlikely to supplant TV advertising, even as digital video recorders and the fragmentation of cable make it harder for ads to break through.
“TV advertising isn’t going anywhere,” Beth Mansfield, CKE Restaurants ’ director of public relations, said in an e-mail. “It’s still very effective, despite DVRs. But online, and especially through our socialmedia channels, we are able to target our demographic for a fraction of the cost.”
The company recently approached popular YouTube users and hired them to produce videos for Carl’s Jr.’s Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger. A group of several YouTube “stars,” including iJustine, Smosh and HotForWords, distributed their online odes to the burger to their 3 million-plus subscribers, resulting in more than 8 million views.
CKE also teamed up with comedian J.B. Smoove from the HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to produce the “Bigger Better Burger Exchange” for YouTube. In a video for his YouTube channel, Smoove filmed a rant about how McDonald’s  Big Mac pales in comparison to the Big Carl from Carl’s Jr. He also filmed himself walking around Los Angeles and exchanging people’s Big Macs for a Big Carl and telling them, “You deserve better, America!”
All of that content lived only online, either on YouTube or under a “You Deserve Better” tab on Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.’s Facebook pages.
“We want fans of our brand to know that our relationship with them doesn’t end at the drive-thru,” Mansfield said. “YouTube, Facebook and other sites provide a great way to share fun, edgy content with our fans.”
Those sites also let restaurants extend the run of their TV ads. All of CKE’s wellknown commercials, often featuring attractive female celebrities eating their burgers, go up on YouTube, Mansfield said, though the company only retains Internet rights for the content for one year. After that, it must pay for talent and music rights again, which gets expensive, she said. However, CKE can keep up “making the video” or “behind the scenes” footage indefinitely.
Mansfield said online videos present opportunities to work with vendor partners. When CKE rolled out Coca-Cola’s vitamin water product to its stores, Coke produced a video about it that went up on CKE’s and Coke’s YouTube and Facebook pages.— [email protected]