Tom Dickson is an unlikely candidate to be a viral marketing superstar, but that’s exactly what he has become. And in so doing, he has transformed his formerly little-known blender company, Blendtec, into a national phenomenon.
It all started in November 2006, when Dickson, at the urging of his marketing director, starred in a series of quirky videos that featured him in a lab coat asking, “Will it blend? That is the question.” The clips, which were posted on the popular online video site YouTube, showed Dickson testing the strength of his product by blending an array of unorthodox objects—from Happy Meals to the handle of a rake.
“No one knew the Blendtec name and we wanted to change that,” said Dickson, CEO, Blendtec, Orem, Utah.
Until the videos broke, Blendtec was known primarily as a manufacturer of commercial heavy-duty blenders and dispensers, whose products were used in coffee shops, juice bars and restaurants worldwide. The company decided to go online to promote its consumer product line, available via its Web site and retail stores.
It succeeded beyond its wildest expectations. To date, the Blendtec infomercials have been viewed more than 60 million times, on both YouTube and the company’s own video site, WillItBlend.com, which now features a “Will It Blend?” blog. The videos helped get Dickson invitations to appear on “The Today Show” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” Blendtec now sells “Will It Blend?” merchandise, including a spoof shirt with the slogan “Tom Dickson Is My Homeboy.” Most importantly, the viral campaign gave a jolt to consumer sales, which have skyrocketed during the past year.
Blendtec Orem, UtahAnnual sales: Approximately $40 millionType of business: Manufactures and sells blenders and dispensersArea of operation: Worldwide
“We took creative risks to boost brand awareness and the outcome was very successful,” Dickson said. Blendtec continues to add new clips on a regular basis.
The YouTube campaign reflects the 61-year-old San Francisco native’s philosophy: “Never give up.” Throughout his childhood, he struggled with dyslexia and was told he would never make it to college. But Dickson kept his nose to the grindstone, and honed his talent for putting things together. In high school, he manufactured motorcycle parts in shop class and sold them to a local auto store. He kept at it for years, using the money he earned to put himself through college. In 1971, he graduated from Brigham Young University, with a degree in engineering.
After graduation, he went to work at a pharmaceutical company, where he developed a motion-sickness patch. From there, he went on to invent a grain mill that revolutionized the way homemakers mill wheat into flour. That invention proved the foundation for the company that would become Blendtec.
“I’ve learned over the years that you can’t give up, you have to love what you do and you have to have fun with it,” Dickson said, adding that he fuses this mentality into all areas of his company’s culture. “We strive to make the office a fun place to be for all of our employees.”
Dickson’s new-found celebrity status has not gone to his head (people line up to get his autograph at trade shows). He still is most comfortable when he is designing, engineering and developing new products. He loves to work with his hands, and, in his free time, spends hours remodeling cars.
But above all else, Dickson is a family man. He keeps plenty busy with his 11 children and 27 grandchildren.