Gail has a problem. She wanted to "liven up" her living room with a new paint color, but after wading through all the options—"Nordic Forest, Golden Mist, Tangy Dill," she says, barely moving her mouth—she became despondent, and has now succumbed to a rare form of color paralysis known as Boringus Beige-itis. So she is seeking help on a daytime talk show, "Totally Real Conditions with Dr. Camille Leon."
Of course, the condition isn’t real, and neither is the show. Rather it’s the first in a series of branded videos created by The Onion for paint brand Valspar. Emblematic of the Onion’s style, the videos use humor to address the headaches people feel when not being able to commit to a paint color, and refer viewers to the (real) web site AskVal.com.
It’s an unusual campaign for the paint category, not only for its use of comedy but its almost total lack of bright colors and young, overall-clad couples standing on ladders in their half-painted living room. With the rise of social, paint brands have increasingly channeled their digital efforts into more visual media like Pinterest or Instagram that allow them to show of their colors and design ideas. The downside is that such networks—especially Pinterest—have emerged as a common denominator among competitors.
To differentiate itself, Valspar is branching out into custom video content. As part of the digital strategy for a new campaign called "Color Assistance," the brand worked with The Onion and Publicis agency Mediavest|Spark to create the four videos.
"The entire paint category is very cluttered, and as a result, the messaging is often very similar," said Erin Vogel, SVP and creative strategist of brand content at Mediavest|Spark, in an email.. "The specific paint consumers we were looking to reach are different; they weren’t looking for painting tips, beautiful befores-and-afters or inspirational photos. There was a frustration that they were experiencing, and we knew we had to get out of the box to tell a different, connecting story."
In one video, a couple argues over the perfect shade of blue. In another, a man suffers from color paralysis, a "totally real" condition where one is overwhelmed by color choices. Then there’s the interview with a paint chip hoarder and finally, Gail, who couldn’t land on one color so opted to live her life in beige.
"If you or someone you know are longing for color, but locked in a state of beige, head on over to Askval.com and get on with your life," the "host" states at the end.
"The Onion’s sarcasm and over-the-top humor told our stories in a way that exaggerated the circumstances while exposing universal truths people could really relate to," said Renee Mahoney, director of content and creative strategy at Valspar, in an email. "It’s a way to connect with consumers through entertainment."
Native content, and especially native video, has long been on the upswing. EMarketer projects that native ad spend in the U.S. will rise to $28 billion by 2018. In a March study, eMarketer principal analyst Lauren Fischer described the momentum toward native ads: "Growth of native digital display is being driven by publishers’ pursuit of higher-value and more mobile-friendly inventory," she said, "as well as by advertisers’ demands for more engaging, less intrusive ads."
Not that Valspar is ignoring the usual venues entirely. Pinterest is still playing a part in the brand’s digital campaign to connect with people who actively seek inspiration, said Mahoney. In an exclusive program with the platform, Valspar has created the "Valspar Pinterest Analyzer Tool," which can scan a user’s Pinterest boards or individual pins and turn them into Valspar paint colors that are available in retail stores. "Valspar’s Pinterest Analyzer Tool is a new, helpful and fun way to discover paint colors from the things you love on Pinterest," she said.