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What I Learned from Chad Vader

October 16th, 2009 . by Peggy

Peggy with Aaron Yonda and Matt SloanHere I am posing in a very fuzzy picture with Aaron Yonda (left) and Matt Sloan, the creators of Chad Vader, the viral YouTube sensation. Sloan and Yonda’s creation is housed through their company and website, BlameSociety.net.

I was eager to hear these two speak for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I was extremely curious about what sort of brain could imagine a world where Darth Vader’s doppelganger is the night manager at a small grocery store in the middle of suburban America. But more importantly, I wanted to know how they did it – the real nuts and bolts.

The answer is surprisingly simple: they had an idea, found some friends to help them create it, put it up on YouTube, and then did plenty of unsophisticated marketing to get traffic to the video. It has now grown to the point where both of them can make a living at this, and although they are very frank about the fact that they’re not yet millionaires, they are also clearly excited by the attention from the film and television industries. Their next project will be one of many they currently have on the go, all of which will be bigger, but still retain the wacky edginess that is their trademark grass-roots approach loved by millions. (Yes, millions.)

Just like many internet video geeks, I have a bottom drawer full of screenplays, idea files, magazine and newspaper clippings, sketches and outlines. Coming up with the ideas is not hard for most of us, but figuring out a way to make money from the ideas is often difficult, and what Sloan and Yonda clearly demonstrated for me today is that it does not need to be difficult. We only imagine it must be.

Like most internet content, the way to make money by giving stuff away is through affiliate marketing, which is driven by traffic. Most of BlameSociety’s revenue still comes from the ads that overlay their YouTube videos. They increased their traffic by approaching other video creators and offering to partner, trade services, trade traffic, and so on. They identified key players and then wrote them personal emails asking to do things like add trailers for their videos to the backend of the other producer’s videos. They used every trick on YouTube’s cheat sheet. They created parodies of current YouTube “hits”, and then capitalized on sideways traffic. They maxed out all the basic avenues – they didn’t invent crazy systems, use cutting-edge new video distribution services, or even host their videos on any other service except YouTube. They committed to a single path, and worked it baby, worked it.

I reflect that much of what I’ve witnessed on this trip relates to taking a single brilliant idea to the max. What happens when a great idea is really given the full chance it deserves? Is given resources? Is given freedom?

I mean seriously, if someone pitched an idea to you about dressing up as Darth Vader in a rented costume and making videos at night in the local grocery store, would you really be ready to leap at that at first soundbite?

And yet, break it down: it was almost risk-free, in the sense that they made the videos themselves on a shoestring budget. There was no corporate boss or overhead to please, so by doing what they themselves thought was funny, they at least had fun making it. They learned lessons as they went. I see that as a no-possible-loss situation.

P.S. Sloan and Yonda treated us to the world premiere of episode 9 of Season 2 this afternoon. It’s the second-to-last episode planned, and trust me, you’re going to love it!

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