John Cecil on Video Spokespersons, Pickle Fights and Surfing in OC
Susan Bratton

Episode 91 - John Cecil on Video Spokespersons, Pickle Fights and Surfing in OC

Research shows that over 90% of people like video spokespersons on their landing page. And this human element creates trust, helps make your website easier to use and increases conversion rates 90% of the time.

Having a video spokesperson is the newest rage in landing page conversion optimization. The direct marketers have known it for years now.

Innovate Media is the leader in the space and John Cecil tells us not only what makes a good video spokesperson but how you can radiate that character into your advertising and integrate him or her into your site even more deeply for profound increases in sales.

Listen as John and Suz go through the "day in the life" of a video spokesperson shoot and John gives his best, experienced tips about creating one of these personas for your site:
"Cut the fluff and have a close."

John is a successful serial entrepreneur too - his first company "Gherkin Ruckus" was named after a pickle fight! John shares what he knows about the value of video and how all-important it's becoming in the web world.

Stay on the leading edge of thinking with John Cecil in this fun and informative episode.



Susan Bratton:  Welcome to Dishy Mix.  I’m your host, Susan Bratton and on today’s show you’re going to get to meet John Cecil.  John is the co-founder and President of a company called Innovate Media down in Orange County.  And I got to know John actually through Wendy and Tim McKale (sp).  They are, of course, the producers of the Madison Avenue Journal and I saw their Mad Men video spokesperson on their site and learned about Innovate Media and was fascinated by the conversation we’re going to have today which is about video spokespersons.  We’re going to talk about trouble making pickles, video spokespersons, creating online brand trust, surfing the OC, and the day in the life of a video shoot.  So let’s welcome John Cecil to the show.  Hey John.

John Cecil:  How are you doing?  Thanks for having me.

Susan Bratton:  Yes.  I’m doing great.  How is it in Orange County today?

John Cecil:  It’s great.  It’s very good and any time I can talk about online video is a good day for me. 

Susan Bratton:  You’re happy.  Me too.  I’ve been doing a lot of segments in online video.  It is, to me, one of the hottest trends in the digital media space and what I think you have is a very unique angle on it.  I’m totally impressed.  You brought me down.  We did a video shoot.  It was super-fun.  That’s my second one actually.  I had done a rovi (sp) on video spokesperson a couple of years ago for the AdTech website and so I was pretty familiar with it but you’ve taught me so much in just getting to know about this.  So tell us about Innovate Media.  Just fill everybody in on exactly who you are and what you do so we get a level set on that. 

John Cecil:  Great.  So 2009 is our 60th year in business and we are an online video production and delivery company.  So we focus solely on producing video for delivery over the web and most of our videos fall into some sort of marketing or solicitation of sales pod where we’re using the videos to sort of make movements on the web.

Susan Bratton:  So it’s essentially the overlay of either a character or usually a human being that comes onto the page after the page has loaded and tells you a little bit about what you’re seeing there.  Is that right?

John Cecil:  Yes.  It’s basically the transfer of the web turning from a text-based medium to a video-based medium, and our core product is the video spokesperson that comes out on the screen and lets a company give a pitch, if you will, in real time video about kind of what they want you to do, either buy a product, click on a button or move to another page.

Susan Bratton:  Well a lot of times too, in addition to kind of the direction, giving directions about how to work the page you’re on, what I think there’s a really big opportunity in, and tell me if you think this is true, is verbally explaining products that are fairly difficult.  I had mentioned to you TrustedID.  That’s a product that I use which is essentially identity theft protection.  It’s a proactive service that monitors your credit card and your health insurance and your bank accounts.  They seemed like a perfect company for you because their product is kind of hard to understand and you can go onto their site and read all the stuff, but text has its limits and it strikes me that not just getting people to click on a button or make a buy, but explaining products could work well too.  Are you finding that?

John Cecil:  I think every landing page, every website in some amount of time will have video on their sites.  The reason being is exactly what you said.  There’s only so much text you can put on a page and you (indecipherable).

Susan Bratton:  Well you can put a lot of text on a page, just nobody will read it.

John Cecil:  Absolutely.  And that’s what video does is it allows the consumer to go on and get a video message about the product or service.  If I walked into a retail store, someone doesn’t hand me a shoot on what they’re selling.  There’s a live person there that’s talking to me about products and the services that that person is trying to sell.  We’re able, with the use of online video and our products, to sort of match that same thing – a full motion video communicating a message sort of replacing text in a sense.

Susan Bratton:  So a lot of people say, “I don’t like those video people to pop up on my page.”  But in reality, I think many times the people that I hear that from are people who are pretty web-savvy, not necessarily our customers but ourselves.   And you gave me a piece of research from a professor at Stanford University, Byron Reeves, the Center for Study of Language and Information, and he did this big piece of research on video spokespeople and he said, what popped out for me in this, there were 10 reasons why they’re a really good idea but the three that really hit home for me were number one, having a human on the page creates a level of trust that you can’t get in other ways.  Number two, it makes interfaces easier to use which you mentioned, and number three, that the characters are well liked.  And I think if you think about the general web that characters, if well done, can be very well liked.  Are you finding that or do you see people exiting out of them a lot or how does it work?

John Cecil:  Yes, so what I, I am backing up everything that he says and the way I can back it up is conversion data that we have.  It’s very interesting.  I have really never seen a product that consistently increases conversions so much as far as the video spokesperson product.  So to back up with what he is saying, so I’m going to compare two units.  We have a non-user initiated and a user initiated the same video spokesperson.  The video spokesperson that comes out without a user having to touch a button converts better than the one that requires user initiation.  And so we get into talking about being in the web and being sort of not annoyed by video or things along those lines.  The conversion data is telling us over and over again that this person coming out on the screen converts better.  And as a marketer, we have to get out of our bubble of knowing so much about the web and really look at the conversion data and ask what tools are helping us to kind of convert the best on our sites. 

Susan Bratton:  One of the things in this study struck me.  It said, “Research shows that over 90% of people can find a character in an interactive session that they prefer over no character at all.  It only takes five choices to provide a character that is liked but even when a single character is presented, only 15% of users dislike that character and those people can usually be accommodated by allowing them to opt out of the character interactions in favor of other forms of navigation.”  It was also funny later on in that he said, “Some people just don’t like anything.”  I thought that was funny.  So in these characters, are a lot of your customers just using one character and just testing with that or do you have clients who come in and they try four or five?  Because you offer actors or you can have people from the company or, and I want to talk about celebrities too but I’ll come back to that.  Are most brands using professional actors and are they testing multiples or do they just pick the one they want?

John Cecil:  What our clients do is they actually A/B test talent against each other and find the best converting person which their particular customers like.  So in one case, a client of ours shot five different actors with the exact same scripts, some male, some female, some old, some young, and those five actors were A/B tested off of the home page and pitted against each other.  And what they did was they chose the best performing from a conversion standpoint spokesperson and that person became the video that they used on an ongoing basis.  So, and that is happening with our more savvy clients where they’re testing different characters against each other.

Susan Bratton:  And what about celebrities?  Are, what about William Shatner coming out on the home page of Priceline?  Have we gotten there and how well does that do or how well do you think it will do?

John Cecil:  As an organization, we have just started to kind of scratch the surface on it.  The early data that we’re seeing is that it increases the increases that we’re already seeing, so we think that a known actor or actress is going to help even more with the conversion data on a particular site or landing page.

Susan Bratton:  I want to take a little side step here so that we can move forward in our day in the life of a shoot because to understand the day in the life of the shoot, one must also understand that in addition to making the video spokesperson for the website or the landing page, you also create video that runs in ads and skyscrapers and rectangles, etc.  And so you really need to think about scripting for both of those things.  So explain the part that you are not just a video production company but you’re an ad serving and reporting company and you have both the overlays and the ad units.  How now do you approach this process with a client?

John Cecil:  So to follow-up on the conversion data that we’re seeing, so we originally, the company started out just putting videos on customer sites and we’ve now turned them into ad units and we’re seeing the same sort of connection that we’re putting the videos in A/B standard ad units and as overlays.  And the character within that ad unit is causing an increase in click-throughs.  But better yet, when someone clicks on that ad unit and they end up on a page where the video comes out of the same character that elicited the click, we’re seeing another increase, another bump in sort of the response rates.  So as an organization, we’re similar to a point role or an eyeblaster where we are serving the media in ad units and on sites and also as a production company producing all of the videos that we serve.

Susan Bratton:  So then you have to have, do you have to have a different script for the ad units and for the website?

John Cecil:  The scripts for the ad units are shorter.  There might just be, there might just be the character being shot with no audio and so it’s sort of a path.  The ad units are really short little messages trying to get someone to the landing pages.  Then on the landing page you can conceivably, or the home page of the site, have a video spokesperson come out with a longer message.  And then we’re also adding embedded video that gives an opportunity for, on a user initiated basis, for a consumer to watch a video that’s typically 60 to 90 seconds which is the full message.  So the ad unit is a short clip to get someone to the page.  A video comes out with another message and if the user wants the full gamut, we offer a product that can give a 90 second communication on what the site is or what the offer is. 

Susan Bratton:  Give us the two most important things we need to know about writing those scripts.

John Cecil:  Keep it short is one.  The attention span on the web, as you know when it comes to videos, is very short and the whole marketing copy, we’re the greatest, all that type of stuff, it’s really just the facts.  People want information and the scripts need to present information that people need to get the decision across.  That’s number one.  Cut the fluff.  Number two is have a close.  I want you to click on this button.  I want you to buy this product.  I want you to watch this other video.  At the end of every script there should be some sort of call to action as to direction of what you want that person to do that has viewed that video.

Susan Bratton: Boy, so much can be wrapped up in the phrase “cut the fluff and have a close.”  I think I’m going to make that my mantra for the week.        

John Cecil:  Cut the fluff and have a close.

Susan Bratton:  Cut the fluff and have a close.  And wouldn’t it be so nice if you could start every telephone conversation with, “Oh hi.  How are you?  Great.  Hey, could you cut the fluff and have a close?”

John Cecil:  I hear the cut the fluff, have a close.

Susan Bratton:  Well you have a lot of competition.  It was very interesting for me because I only knew really about you and Rovion.  I just Googled video spokesperson in preparation for this interview and I can’t believe the companies - I Speak Video, Onestop Digital - they’ll offer it to you for $2.99 -   vdoLife, Website Rep, Onsite Videos, In2 Website, Wow Eye Video, I-Spokesperson, Website Talking Heads, Yahoti (sp).  And that was just the first page of the Google results.  The first page had, I don’t know how many companies that was, probably 10.  You are, by the way, the number one search result organic.  Good for you.  You didn’t even need to buy the ads, but that’s a lot of competition.  Does that scare you or tell you that you’re on; you’ve got a tiger by the tail?

John Cecil:  As I mentioned, this is our sixth year in business.  These five years have been comprised of the evangelizing online video so when we see competition and people out hitting the market with the same message I’m giving, we’re moving from a text-based medium to a video-based medium, I love it because that is less evangelizing I have to do.  Now the video spokesperson product has become commoditized in a sense where there are a lot of companies doing it.  Where we’re a little bit different is the video spokesperson is one product of an overall online video package that we offer, and so our business has morphed away from just the video spokesperson to offering online video ads, embedded videos, communication videos, more of a full gamut of products and services.

Susan Bratton:  So John I have one last question and I’m going to make it a tough one for you because we have about 30 second until I want to go to a break.  So in 30 seconds or less, just walk us step by step by step through the entire process of creating.  And just keep it to the video spokesperson assuming we also shot scripts for the ads and maybe we wanted one on our website.  But just walk us through that day.  We do this, then we do this, then we do this.  Go.

John Cecil:  Great.  So we contract for the client and we go on and the client chooses talent that we offer them and they will hire that talent on their behalf.  Typically clients will write the scripts working with our copywriters.  We take their chosen talent and their scripts.  We go into the studio, put the script into a teleprompter and we shoot that video in front of a green screen.  The talent meets with the client.  There’s lights, camera, action.  There’s make-up.  There’s a full production crew and we produce the video.  We then take the video.  We go back into our post house and we eventually produce a line of code.  We give you that line of code and you put the line of code where you want the video to appear on your page and then we give you a log-in and password to the backend, our backend system where you get reporting information and can track the effectiveness of your video.

Susan Bratton:  Nice.  That was good.  Thank you so much.  We’re going to go to a break and when we come back, I want to talk about some of your passions beyond video spokespeople, like surfing.  We’ve got to talk about some surfing.  I want to hear about it and I have a number of things to talk to you about so let’s thank the Dishy Mix sponsors and when we come back, you’ll get to learn more about John Cecil.  He is not only a video expert but he is so much more.  Here we go.

<Commercial 17:09 – 17:50>

Susan Bratton:  Alright, we’re back.  John I’m really having the time.  I loved that last 30 second thing where you just went boom, boom, boom.  That was really helpful.  I didn’t realize there were so many steps before I got into it and you guys did a great job kind of pulling us through the process, but it was neat to have it so succinct.  So I love the axiom by which you live your life.  Nobody rides for free.  And it’s kind of like karma.  You get in, get out what you put in.  Why is that the thing that you think you really run your life by?

John Cecil:  I think that I just, being an entrepreneur and having people come in and out of my life, I just really think you, if you want something, you need to put your time in and you need to aggressively go after what you want and I just think people who are successful are successful for a reason.  It’s because they’ve put something into something and so I just think no one should ride for free.  You have to earn it.  There are no free tickets and I want to support people and be supportive, but I also want people to kind of earn their keep and be sort of accountable for their actions. 

Susan Bratton:  Now this is your second shot as an entrepreneur.  You had another company called Gherkin Ruckus, which I call the troublemaking pickle company, an action sports marketing and media rep company that you did that after Yahoo.  And before you got into Yahoo, you were in Comcast Cable ad sales so you’ve been in the media world a long time.  How did you name your company Gherkin Ruckus?  Were you drinking?

John Cecil:  Well I was, I had a hangover from Yahoo to be honest with you.  And I started Gherkin Ruckus to try to enter the interactive world, into the action sports industry, and I just wanted to kind of come up with a fun name.  So Gherkin Ruckus is essentially a pickle site but people used to, it was a play on words like a major advertising agency, Gherkin Ruckus.  So we would get calls from people asking for Mr. Gherkin or Mr. Ruckus so it worked.  And so they thought we were serious but on the inside we were just having fun and trying to introduce online media to the action sports industry.

Susan Bratton:  My favorite Christmas ornament and my daughter’s favorite Christmas ornament on our tree is a little pickle.  Do you have one of those?  It’s an English custom.

John Cecil:  Well the whole Gherkin, you would be amazed as to how many Gherkins there are in pop culture.

Susan Bratton:  You have a lot of pickle stuff?

John Cecil:  Yes. 

Susan Bratton:  You have an entire pickle collection.

John Cecil:  Exactly.     

Susan Bratton:  I love a pickle.  I really love a pickle.  You told me that your most decadent pleasure is sneaking away and going surfing.  Where, what kind of board do you use?  Are you a long board guy?  Are you doing tricks on the short boards?  Where do you go?  Which beach?  Tell us about it.

John Cecil:  So I grew up in Orange County and I’ve been a surfer my whole life.  I, my favorite place to surf is in Newport and I’ve really sort of tried to create my career around being able to surf and being able to enjoy the sport.  So I’m a short-boarder and I do longboard occasionally but to try to remain young I have committed to being a shortboarder and I get out maybe three times a week.  It depends on how busy things are.

Susan Bratton:  And how have the swells been lately?

John Cecil:  It’s been kind of a weird winter so it’s been okay.  It’s been about a C from a winter standpoint.

Susan Bratton:  Well there’s a big storm coming some time soon with your name on it.  Don’t you think?           

John Cecil:  Yes, I hope.  I deserve it.

Susan Bratton:  You told me something interesting when I was talking to you.  You told me that you felt like your greatest achievement was the fact that you have a beautiful wife and three amazing children.  You said that doesn’t just happen.  How did you create that for yourself?  What was that proactive thing you did to create that in your life?

John Cecil:  I just, well that part just kind of happened.  But I do, you have to look at your family as people or say what’s your greatest accomplishment.  And it has to be your family.  So it just, it actually just happened for me.  I was doing the right thing and I was doing kind of what we talked about earlier, kind of living my life and earning my keep and I met my wife and everything kind of fell in place with regards to my family.  So, and I do look at it as a great accomplishment.

Susan Bratton:  Yes.  And last question, one of the things you told me was that you would have rather, you would have been a professional photographer had you not been in this world of digital media.  Are you still taking some pictures?

John Cecil:  Yes.  I would, was not necessarily a great photographer.  I would love to be a great photographer.  I would love that lifestyle of being outdoors and taking pictures, taking pictures of the beach and ocean scenes, and it seems sort of like an entrepreneurial type of profession which I like.  So I haven’t had the time to really craft it or be all that I would need to be to make that my profession, but it would be something interesting for me to do if, once this whole thing hashes out in the interactive world.

Susan Bratton:  It’s funny.  I squeeze in my photography wherever I can because like you, I have a family and I’m an entrepreneur and it’s a busy time of life.  Just this morning, it’s pouring down rain right now, but on the way back from dropping my daughter off at school, I have been keeping my eye on this one beautiful magnolia tree.  Up here in Northern California, the magnolias, some people call them tulip trees but they’re not technically tulip trees.  Magnolias are where the whole tree, it’s kind of like a large shrub, and the blossoms come out, those beautiful magnolia blossoms in this beautiful pink or deep purple or white, and there’s no, there are no leaves on the tree.  It’s only the blossoms on this beautiful tree and branch structure.  And for three days I’ve been driving by that tree thinking, “I’ve got to wait my time.  I’ve got to wait until the light is right.”  I’ve been teaching my daughter about feeling the light and noticing the light and things, and this morning, it was perfect.  I pulled over to the side of the road, whipped out my, I’ve been carrying my camera around waiting for the light and that tree to be right, and I just, just hope -- 

John Cecil:  Will you send it to me?

Susan Bratton:  Sure.  I’ll post them.  I always, I have a Flickr site so anybody can find it.  You can just find me by going to Flickr and Susan Bratton.  But yes, I hope I got them.  You never know until you get them up there on your screen and you look at what you got but they’re just magnificent right now.

John Cecil:  Well definitely send it.

Susan Bratton:  Yes.  I’m one of those drive–by shooters, you know.  I just kind of wait for those perfect moments.  I’ve been wanting to go on a photo walk but I haven’t put that together yet.  Have you heard about that new thing, the photo walking?

John Cecil:  No I haven’t.

Susan Bratton:  So it’s a new, it’s kind of a meme (sp).  It’s a new thing where a group of people who like to take pictures will get together, of all skill sets, will get together and they’ll walk like a half a mile to a mile at a specific location and then usually have coffee afterwards or something like that.  And they’ll just shoot and walk, shoot and walk, and you learn from each other by seeing, “Oh my God, you’re shooting.  That’s a cool idea.  I’m going to get that shot too.”  So you kind of learn from each other that way so it’s social photography.

John Cecil:  I wonder if they have that down here.

Susan Bratton:  They have it everywhere.  Do to

John Cecil:  I will.

Susan Bratton:  Yes.  That will get your little, when you’re not, when the swells aren’t good you can do a photo walk.

John Cecil:  Good idea.

Susan Bratton:  When William Shatner is not in the studios, right.

John Cecil:  Exactly.

Susan Bratton:  Hey John, I’ve really enjoyed learning much more about the video spokesperson world.  I absolutely, mark my words.  This is going to be big, right? 

John Cecil:  I think so.

Susan Bratton:  I think so too.  I wish you all the best and thanks for coming on Dishy Mix and letting us get to know you.  I really appreciate it.

John Cecil:  Thanks so much.

Susan Bratton:  Yes, it was my pleasure.  Alright.  Well thank you for listening to Dishy Mix.  You can join my Facebook fan club.  Just go to  I’ve got all kinds of free goodies I give away in my fan club and I do not SPAM you.  You can also follow my on Twitter on  That’s an easy thing to find.  I’m an easy thing to find.  So follow me and I will look forward to connecting with you next week with yet another amazing person from our industry with lots of stuff to share.  Hope you had a great day and you have another one tomorrow and I’ll see you next week.  I’m your host Susan Bratton. 

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