Email Management

How Jeremy Piven took on a new part… Mimecast infosec ads

Jeremy Piven is a star American actor maybe best known for his hilarious portrayal of appalling showbiz agent Ari Gold in Entourage, the hit TV comedy drama that focused on a young Hollywood star and his pals. He also starred in several movies, a UK TV series about a legendary department store owner, Mr. Selfridge, and older viewers might remember him as a gag writer in The Larry Sanders Show. So what, you might wonder, is he doing in new video spots for Mimecast, an email security company?

The answer, it turns out, lies in an old conundrum: business-to-business technology firms drum up vast revenues but they rarely have concomitant levels of brand awareness. It’s a problem that’s been suffered by EMC, SAP and a hundred others, and one answer is to spend heavily on campaigns with starry tie-ins.

Alex Bender, SVP of marketing at Mimecast, had similar challenges to address when he joined the company early in 2016.

“Mimecast has tens of thousands of engaged customers and I’ve been in the security industry for 18 years and had only recently heard of Mimecast,” Bender tells me over the phone from Boston where he is based. “Mimecast was the biggest brand in security nobody had ever heard of… that’s a marketer’s dream.”

He started out close to home with a splashy booth and wrapper advertising on buses ferrying attendees to RSA Conference in San Francisco, the biggest gathering in the security business. But Bender’s bigger strategy was to “up-level” the Mimecast name, making it better known to non-techies and security specialists. He wanted, he says, to find “a more mainstream representative for Mimecast”.


The right man

Airport and radio ads were made and in mid-August Mimecast made contact with the Piven camp as part of a plan to discover a star who could light up the Mimecast brand. “I’ve been a fan all my life since Singles, the movie. When I saw his name on the list I said ‘wow’.”

There’s more to it than flashing the cash, Bender says.

“The process is pretty interesting. The actor has to be interested in engaging with you as well. We sent the scripts over and he was pretty interested in the technology. He, as an actor and household name, has to represent himself.”

There had been talk about using a different actor who had starred in a TV programme with a tech theme running through it but eventually Piven was selected.

The plan was to create a series of online-only video spots for a viral, social campaign that would increase awareness of security threats and position Mimecast as a company that addresses them. Eventually a deal was done with Piven’s people and a shoot was set up in the Boston offices of Cramer, a creative marketing company based in Norwood, Massachusetts, that handles a lot of video projects for blue-chip clients.  

“This is a team that’s all in with the latest technology and commercial concepts, and it ended up looking like a movie set,” Bender says. “We wanted to make it as quality-driven as we could because we were playing in the big leagues with Jeremy.”

Mimecast got to work on the shooting scripts for three separate pieces but on the day Piven was unimpressed with some of the techie jargon that the industry uses as a sort of insider code.

“He was a consummate professional, very focused on quality, getting the right things down, but as he went through the scripts and especially the URL attack script – that one started a whole process. He stops and he looks at everybody and, with expletives, says ‘why do we have to make things so difficult to understand?’ He just looked at it and said ‘you gotta be kidding me’. We did a quick script re-write and put it into everyday English. He was pleased with the outcome and shooting continued.”

It was agreed that the script would be rejigged so that the techie terms were decoded and once the words had been shorn of the geek language, things progressed rapidly.

“It went pretty quick and the support actors were really, really strong,” he recalls. “We do have a bloopers video that I won’t share with you because he would stumble with some of our technical language. After, it flowed much smoother.”


Take three

By the time of the third spot, about defending against malicious email attachments, thing were looking up as Piven worked alongside one of the actors.

“Kate, the HR role, and Jeremy’s chemistry went extremely well. It went from Jeremy being rather down on our scripts to being good and closing out. You might ask ‘was he hard to work with?’ I don’t think so. He was asking how you get quality through the process. It made me think about what actors do and why they are so good.”

The spots are wry, nicely lit, low-key and rich in information while light in tone. “It’s a serious topic with humour throughout,” Bender says.

The series launched in December and had already passed an aggregate total of 1.3 million views when I spoke to Bender in mid-January. That must have been a relief, I suggest, given the high-profile nature of the campaign. Bender says the risk was mitigated because he got buy in from across the company by communicating thoroughly the plan and the intent. “The CEO and COO backed us and we were walking through it with everybody across the business,” he adds.

Bender hopes that, among other things, the campaign will lead CEOs to ask ‘what are we doing about this?’ An email marketing push will follow. But what were the key metrics and KPIs?

“We’re grading ourselves on awareness goals but, as all marketers would do, we’re looking at our click-through rates and pull-through.” When we spoke there had been 4.6 million impressions with 57 per cent of those who clicked on the video links watching the whole video. [Disclosure: IDG Connect owner IDG was among the media firms Mimecast used.]

Most reactions have been positive but Bender accepts it was a high-risk strategy.

“It was definitely [potentially] a career-limiting move,” he says. “I always say to people that you go big or go home - either do it well or don’t do it. It can be a little bit nerve-wracking but when done right and with the right guidance internally and sharing internally [it’s not so risky]. I have done gutsy moves in the past and seen the results.”

There could be more Piven yet. The actor was surprised and didn’t see that it was going to be “that big”, Bender says. A CEO spot might follow and he doesn’t dismiss the notion that Piven could also be on hand to do other projects.

As for the price, Bender says Mimecast invested about $500,000 all in. It’s not cheap, but that’s showbiz…


Also read:
Celebs and death make a rum cocktail
IBM Watson, Bob Dylan and the limits of machine intelligence
Billion-dollar Baby: Mimecast revels in public life
Mimecast CEO stays bullish
No longer a secret, Mimecast CEO pulls off $0.5bn IPO
Mimecast CEO swerves ‘frothy’ markets, plays a long game
Mimecast’s next trick: unlocking unstructured data
Emotion, graft and focus: Inside a tech IPO
Why the stars come out for tech


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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