Oobah Butler, Director & Founder, The Number 1 Agency, shot to fame with his successful prank project “The Shed at Dulwich” where he turned the shed that he lived in into a top-rated restaurant in TripAdvisor and documented the entire process. The result was a video that went viral, the subsequent fame landing him in several news and interviews around the world, and his example even being cited by Singaporean lawmakers on a debate surrounding the case of fake news. His other pranks and antics include faking his way to the top of Paris Fashion Week as a designer and sending out doppelgangers to take his place in various interviews. His work portrays an unorthodox method of exploring the various peculiarities of the modern world, making his work enjoyed by his audiences.
He came to Bangladesh to attend the Digital Marketing Summit 2018 as one of the keynote speakers. During his stay, Bangladesh Brand Forum had the opportunity to conduct an interview of him where he shared his thoughts and opinions related to his work and digital content marketing.
BBF: This is your first time visiting Bangladesh and in fact South Asia. How has it been coming along so far?
Oobah Butler: Yes, this indeed is my first time here and it has been great thus far. I went to New Market, looked at all the clothes that were on display and realized I wanted to get some for me too. I had two suits made from the tailor. I have never had a tailor-made suit before so this is the first. Apart from that, I have also taken a liking to the food here and altogether I find this place pretty cool. During my stay in here, I hope to be able to play cricket with some of the people playing in the too. I had two suits made from the tailor. I have never had a tailor-made suit before so this is the first. Apart from that, I have also taken a liking to the food here and altogether I find this place pretty cool. During my stay in here, I hope to be able to play cricket with some of the people playing in the locality.
What is your view on creating content for social media marketing? How does it help generate increased consumer engagement?
The thing about Social Media is that it has become the world that we are living in now and so the possibilities for digital marketing is endless. To put that into context, I made three short films in 2018 and the three films together garnered 160 million hits. I did not expect this scale of success, and what that has also given me is a global reach and a global market. When I posted on my Instagram that I have landed in Dhaka recently, many of my Bangladeshi fans messaged me expressing their excitement. I did not even know that I had so many followers in Bangladesh, and the feeling was amazing. So you can see that the world has really become smaller. Before, your local street or city had been your market but now it is the whole world potentially.
You have a top-rated restaurant, a fashion jeans line, and you are also known for amazing interviews. Can you tell us what lies next?
I am taking a small break after the short films are done. I have got a book for the February of 2019, which is about using the philosophy of “The Shed” video and applying it to your own life. This is a book of secrets that the upper one percent of the population would not want you to read.
I have also just started my own business that comes up with ideas for brands. It is called “The Number 1 Agency” and for now I am going to represent just one client. Maybe in the future I might expand to having one client for each industry.
Applying the same concept of enjoyment that I have done with my restaurant, I wondered how I could do something serious and enjoy it too. And so, this is me doing just that, which for now are: book, company and a few other shows that I will be filming in 2019.
What is it about the content you create that makes it go viral? Is there any insight that you have learned about the concept of virality itself that may often be shrouded in mystery?
With my work, I think that maybe there is a tone which is in line with the climate of and appeals to the younger generation – those who tend to look at things differently from the older generation. My videos “The Shed at Dulwich” and “Georgio Peviani” have got a light-hearted humor for them; but they take place in a real-life context making them all the more relatable. I would like to think that people tend to enjoy the sort of content that they are consuming. One can be practical and claim that your videos need to be under five minutes, amongst other engagement criteria, but the success of my videos that range from 7 minutes to 20 minutes tell a different story.
My judgement criteria about the content that you make starts with asking yourself whether you can sum it up in one sentence when trying to explain it to somebody. Another litmus test would be whether your content can evoke a sort of response amongst the audience that would make them go “What! You did that?”. Finally, the content has to be relatable.
As you have said that you enjoy making short films, could you please share what remains as the purpose for you behind making every short film?
For me, if I find an idea, I ask myself “Is this a good idea?”. This is because, when you have found the answer, you have really done the hard part of the job. The next focus is on whether the idea is going to be enjoyable and evoke curiosity or not. From there, I just keep building and adding to it as I go along. You cannot rest because, I feel, you have to make it as enjoyable as possible. Whatever genre you are working on, you should have a sense of interest and an empowerment in every step of the way – so the work requires challenge in addition to enjoyment.
You have proved through your stunts that it is very difficult to discern the truth from the sea of lies. Do you think the internet is making people more gullible?
We are now at the crossroads where the online and offline world is merging into one. I do not think the internet has made us more gullible. Rather it has given scammers better tools to lie. You can create a webpage in less than an hour and all of a sudden you can pretend to own a restaurant or be a fashion designer. However, since this is all new to us, with time, I think eventually we will all learn to adjust to this change and be able to better filter and decode the information that is being shown to us.
Is there any parting advice that you would like to give to the budding content creators out there?
My advice is all about to be imaginative in what you do. Starting to make contents is the call now. It is going to take a while for you to figure out what your desired content is. Therefore, start making and putting it out there as much as you can. By this way, you will start to understand what you like the best about your work and understand what your audiences like and respond to it as well. It can be anything from media, to branding in a business context or it can even be posting pictures on Instagram – so long as you are entertained and satisfied with it.
Transcribed by Khondker Faraz Shafiq