3 vital lessons from Bill Lumbergh | June 2017

20x the average response to video; 15MM YouTube views

Now what, you may be asking, can you possibly learn from Bill Lumbergh, the archetypal clueless boss from the movie Office Space? Well, when the response to the video campaign was 20X the average CTR, the answer is.. a lot.

So if you want really high video response rates, here are three lessons learned from Lumbergh.
1. Build on a human insight
This sounds absurdly simple, but the truth is most marketing is driven by internal prejudices. The actual desires of the customer simply never get an airing in the rush to create corporate orthodoxy.

Now this is a huge opportunity – if you can make marketing driven by external behavior not internal bias.

Here’s where HipChat was before we got involved:



It’s funny.

It makes a lot of rational proof points very clearly.

It was cheap.

And so, quite understandably, people loved it internally.

But, it didn’t work.

Why not?

It wasn’t based on any deep, human, emotional insight that inspires behavior.  It turns out that every single person that B2B marketing is aimed at is a human. I know, I know, you’re saying yourself don’t be crazy! And it’s hard to believe because most B2B marketing behaves as if an unfeeling, entirely rational automaton was on the other side. But all the buyers are human, every one of them. And what the data – the sort of data that won Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prizes–shows is that despite our best efforts, we make decisions influenced by emotion.

Almost every champion athlete will tell you that what it takes to win at the very top is the ability to control your emotions, that’s how powerfully distracting they are. Love, anger, fear, hate, jealousy, insecurity – these feelings tell us how to act, these emotions are controlled by our ancient, reptilian brain and they swamp our rational, pre-frontal cortex at the slightest provocation. If you’ve ever been in love, you’ll recognize the effect.

Which is why we talk about selling with emotion, making products and companies that people love. Power is creating an irrational desire for a product or service. Couldn’t you use some “irrational exuberance” to borrow Alan Greenspan’s description of the stock market in 1996? The stock market should be the pinnacle of rational choices, a data driven machine of impartial perfection.  Instead, as we all found out to our cost, it is a cauldron of irrational impulses made by people easily swept away by emotional decision-making.

Marketing is about inventing desire:  if you want to persuade people to buy something, anything, even a product as prosaic as software for team organizing, file sharing and chat – the best way to do it is with emotion.

So that brings us to – what is a human insight?

An insight is almost always a human fallibility, something deep and personal that you wouldn’t want to admit to.  It’s the irrational, the illogical, the profound feelings that cause us to act as we do. (And you’ll note from this definition that these are not the sort of insights you’ll find in a focus group. More on that another time.)

In the case of Lumbergh, the insight was, as is so often the case, not anything one would have imagined going into it and had absolutely nothing to do with the logic of team management. It turns out that our target – almost exclusively male 40 something managers of 20-something teams – feared one thing above all else: to look old and out of touch. And in the ruthlessly competitive world of changing technology, this fear makes sense. You simply can’t afford to look outdated and clueless. And this is the deep, underlying emotional need state that we tapped with this campaign.

2. What the product says about you is more important than the product

You may well ask, OK, they were scared of looking out of touch, but what does that have to do with a team file sharing and chat product? And the surprising answer – it can be almost nothing at all. Marketers of packaged goods products figured out that, unless you really have a distinguishing feature to market, what the product says about you is way more important than the rational features of the product. A current example is Dove, which has become a political and social cause that inspires women around the world to fiercely identify with, like and buy the brand, causing sales to explode. Another example for men is Dos Equis: an average beer with a very complex and desirable image of The Most Interesting Man in the World. This character, which has quadrupled sales and existed for over a decade, creates a self-image young men want to buy into. The beer is immaterial (which may be just as well).

Now you may say, but my technology is unique! Well, is it really? For HipChat, they were once unique. But they faced competition, competition which at the time of this campaign actually offered a greater feature set than they did. So the argument of unique technology is one that has to be faced very honestly. And often times, there really isn’t a killer app or feature to point to. Yes, if you’ve invented a category killer, go ahead and sell the feature. But in most cases, the immortal words of Steve Jobs apply “Customers don’t want to know the speeds and feeds, they want to know what Apple stands for in the world”.  Or in this case, what you, the buyer, stand for – the past or the future.

And as for many technologies that haven’t had marketing backing, HipChat was mostly unknown and not every technology or idea can scale up just with word of mouth, although this absolutely happens. But unless you are the category killer, at some point you need to get serious about marketing.

So, we decided to use the obscurity and lack of awareness of HipChat as an advantage. In our ads, if you didn’t know about HipChat you were as clueless as Lumbergh. And that was incredibly motivating. In fact, if you look closely at our spots, you see that they tell you almost nothing about the product except the bare bones of what it is. But they do make it clear that if you are not using HipChat you are out of touch. And making that one, strategic point very clearly is why they worked.

And making this one, strategic, emotionally motivating point was a lot more effective than making half a dozen product points that no-one outside of product marketing cares about.  We showed that HipChat was the future and that endless meetings about meetings and long email threads were a thing of the past, advocated only by the clueless.

And when you get an overwhelming response of people looking to buy, 20X the average CTR, then you know you’ve touched a human, emotional nerve.

3. Don’t use celebrity, use relevant celebrity

Celebrities are all over advertising. They are generally the refuge of products that don’t have an idea – “Oh well, we’ll put somebody famous on it and hope for sales by association.” This rarely works.

A strategically selected celebrity on the other hand, one that delivers the core strategic idea, is a double whammy of success – it generates both attention and meaning in one. And I probably don’t need to tell you how hard it is to get attention in the age of fragmented digital media.

Indeed, Bill Lumbergh, played by the brilliant actor Gary Cole, is old. It’s not current and it’s not hot. But it is, undeniably, powerful culture for our 40 something male target. When they were coming of age, the movie Office Space was a cult hit and the character of Lumbergh especially so. To them, he was a timeless symbol, the symbol we needed – someone utterly out of touch. Worth remembering that powerful cultural leverage does not necessarily need to be current.

So this campaign was not simply a matter of tacking on a celeb and claiming success. It was about using a celeb that delivered a specific meaning and powered the messaging. It helps that Gary Cole has very rarely agreed to do commercials with Lumbergh and then never truly in character. But he agreed when he saw how faithful the spots were to the cluelessness to the character.

So before you sign up Tom Brady for millions, ask yourself if you have an idea. And does that idea really benefit from a celebrity and if so, is Tom, or anyone else, adding meaning as well as attention?

Yes this is all hard thinking, but it’s worth it before you spend the big dollars on execution.

So in sum:

Do you have a real, emotional human insight?

Does using the product say anything about the user?

And if you are going for fame – do you really need to use a celeb and if so, are they adding meaning? If not, put the checkbook away.

Atlassian HipChat Strategy, Digital Video, Outdoor, Banners

View the project

We'd love to help solve your problems.

Contact us