Marketing to men: Break Media and the business of bro videos

Break Media, through sites like, is building a growing content empire around “bro videos” — short clips that show things like a blacksmith making swords or elephants fighting crocodiles. Some content is crass or sexist (like this clip of a guy playing “butt drums”) but, for better or worse, bro videos are now a permanent fixture of the internet.

While Break is not the only one feeding the demand for bro fare, the L.A. company has done more than most to move these videos into the professional realm. In doing so, Break is also tapping into a deep pool of research to reshape perceptions about how brands should market to men — portraying them as “good guys” rather than doofuses or metrosexuals.

The result, on the surface, is thousands of clips about beer, boobs and bravery. More deeply, the bro video phenomenon is part of an emerging low-cost studio system that is changing men’s entertainment and advertising.

From college capers to consumer content

Break’s office, located in LA’s Miracle Mile, contains a small studio and employs 30 full-time content creators as well as numerous freelancers to feed its video content machine. The place has a few dude touches — a mustache wall and action figures scattered about — but otherwise is a serious business that, according to CEO Keith Richman, brought in $45 million in revenue last year.Break Media

The company is also attracting top level talent such as actor Christopher Walken, who recently riffed on trailer park toddler Honey Boo Boo. Last year, Break created a five-part series involving San Francisco Giants pitcher Brian Wilson and a Sasquatch; the show was a content marketing play by Beef Jerky, but the videos went viral all the same.

This star presence on Break is a considerable leap up the value chain for the company that, in its early days, relied almost entirely on homemade videos. “We started with user-provided, lower quality content. As our audience and sales expanded, we started producing our own,” said Richman.

Now, Break is at the point where it’s producing its own weekly shows like “Man at Arms” in which a blacksmith shows how he makes famous weapons like Jamie Lannister’s sword on Game of Thrones or the lethal hat worn by James Bond villain Odd Job.

The shows, which are usually between five and 10 minutes, are cheap to make – Richman says the average price is $700/minute or $3,000-$5,000 per episode – and Break is able to make lots of them because of demands for the company’s male-based ad offerings.

Binders of Men

Marketing to women is a huge and sophisticated industry but, when it comes to men, brands frequently treat them as caricatures – one-dimensional clowns or louts. Break is trying to pitch a more subtle approach based on reams of survey data it collects on the site.

Keith Richman of Break MediaAccording to its research, men are more receptive to positive messages that show them as good guys, friends and fathers. Break has even published a “definitive guide to men” that cites an evolution from Bruce Willis type “guy’s guys” to self-aware types like Tim Allen to, last decade, metro-sexuals. And now?

“Today’s man is striving to be a “mensch” – a Yiddish word for “good guy,” or someone to admire and emulate,” says the report, which was produced by Break’s SVP Marketing, Andy Tu. He explained that many of the findings come from panels of men that Break consults on a regular basis.

Do all men really want to be mensches? Who knows. But Tu says marketers love using the surveys and data Break provides in designing their campaigns. Sony, FootLocker, Pepsi and Burger King are among their bigger brand partners.

For its campaigns, Break often produces original content for its clients and, on some occasions, as well. It also places display ads alongside videos across its networks (many of the videos are still user-generated or plucked from other sites).

A new studio economy

Research is one explanation for Break Media’s ability to make higher-quality bro videos. Another is the low cost of failure. Compared to traditional TV or movie studios, sunk production costs are tiny for Break and its competitors like College Humor. “Video is a shots-on-goal business,” says Richman. “If you’re good, you’re going to score. We’re going to have big loser bombs at some point but it won’t kill us.”

In this sense, Break and its bro videos are part of an emerging online ecosystem in which smaller video companies are ramping up their production Break Media Studiocycles and, like traditional movies and TV, even adding on-location shoots. The ecosystem is also rapidly expanding as distribution options proliferate (Break shows its videos on its own sites and on YouTube channels) and as consumers become connected to more devices with better broadband.

According to Richman, a tipping point occurred that means brands are now treating online video as a serious alternative to traditional TV. Richman credits the shift with Google’s(s goog) decision in 2011 to invest $100 million in original YouTube content.

If you want to see an example, here’s a “Man at Arms” piece replete with blacksmith and power chords:

(Image by Anton Todorov via Shutterstock)