JAROD Green and his friends never dreamed that their good-natured attempt to poke fun at the New Zealand accent would turn into a multimillion dollar merchandising phenomenon.

But the animated adventures of their beached Kiwi whale struck a chord with online audiences that would make most marketers envious. Beached Az started as a cheaply-animated online series, but it has now been viewed close to six million times on YouTube, been picked up by the ABC, and also turned into a popular iPhone application. A DVD is on the way.

As an example of viral marketing distribution, it is one of the best in Australia. Green and his friends owe their success not to a cleverly executed marketing campaign or massive media spend, but rather to the willingness of its fans to "pass it on".

"We knew it was good, and we knew it was funny," Green says. "And it also played to a good old-fashioned rivalry that exists between Australia and New Zealand. Everyone has a Kiwi mate and it was a little too easy to forward it on."

"We just didn't know how wide and broad the acceptance of the humour would be."

Beached Az was spawned out of friends Nick Boshier and Anthony 'Macca' Macfarlane's (the whale and seagull respectively) love of putting on foreign accents. Green, who has also known Boshier and Macfarlane for much of his life, says the two came up with the concept when asked what a beached whale would be thinking about.

"Macca said 'He'd be beached az, bro'," Green says. Hence the show's catchphrase was born.

It was Green who proposed turning that simple idea into a short film. Initial attempts to shoot it as live-action with papier-mâché costumes at the beach were soon discarded in favour of Green's amateur interest in animation.

"Nick and Macca grabbed a handy-cam, sat on a bed, and ran off a couple of takes and emailed them across to me," Green says. "Two days later I finished my absolutely terrible animation and put it up on YouTube to show friends, and it just started going a little crazy."

The first short cost was $16 to make and went up online in April 2008. The trio alerted about 40 friends. Within three months it had received one million hits.

"That's when we stopped and thought 'maybe we can monetise this in some way'," Green says. "We realised we had this catch-phrase of 'Beached az bro', and these characters that were identifiable, and that seemed to translate to merchandise very quickly, and we thought maybe people would want to buy our shirts.

"We put a link at the end of the YouTube video, and we started turning over tens of thousands of dollars a month in t-shirt sales."

They then licensed the image to the women's fashion retailer Supre, which sold 80,000 t-shirts across the 2009 summer, and were forced to launch its first men's range.

A multimillion dollar merchandising machine had been born.

The team was approached by the ABC in February 2009 to create a series which was subsequently sold internationally, and this was followed by an iPhone application which went into the Top 5 in the iTunes App Store in Australia. A DVD will be out by Christmas this year.

Green acknowledges that part of initial appeal of Beached Az probably lay in its very amateur and relaxed production style. Hence they have worked hard not to lose the informal feel when working with the ABC.

"I don't know if we ever achieved that same level of relaxed banter that we got in the original, because we always knew it was going to a national television audience at the end of the day," Green says. "But it helped that we recorded half of them under a doona in our office when we had that moment of inspiration."

As for why it has proven so successful, Green says he can only guess at the answers.

"It is a question that riddles most social media marketers around the world, and there have been plenty of people try to deconstruct Beached Az," Green says.

This article first appeared onSmartCompany.com.au, Australia’s premier site for business advice, news, forums and blogs.

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