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May 21, 2024

“Let’s Talk About That:” How Rhett & Link Went From Commercial Kings to Content Emperors

Long before the age of flashy influencer marketing campaigns and meticulously crafted brand deals, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, better known simply as Rhett and Link, were quietly revolutionizing how audiences interacted with commercials.

By
Kate Farley

Photo source: Good Mythical Morning / Amazon

Long before the age of flashy influencer marketing campaigns and meticulously crafted brand deals, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal, better known simply as Rhett and Link, were quietly revolutionizing how audiences interacted with commercials. Their journey, documented in their early TV series "Commercial Kings," didn't just create funny ads for local businesses; it also laid the groundwork for the sponsored video landscape we see on YouTube today.

Breaking the Infomercial Mold

Remember late-night infomercials? Cheesy scripts, over-the-top demonstrations, and an overall sense of inauthenticity plagued these extended commercials. Rhett and Link, with their comedic sensibilities and genuine connection, saw an opportunity. They understood that audiences craved entertainment, not just a sales pitch.

Chuck Testa / YouTube

In "Commercial Kings," a show where they wrote and directed advertisements for local companies, their formula was reasonably straightforward: know your brand, add comedy, and make people laugh, such as the 2011 viral episode "Taxidermy Comedy."

The ad started with something resembling those of classic infomercial hijinks -- in this case, a series of straight-face stunts featuring mounts meant to be mistaken for living beasts; a pay-off punchline: "Nope, it's just Chuck Testa!" Then, a Winchester Model 70 rifle. Again, more posing with a crocodile from a tree. One more time: sharing some ribs, head-to-shoulders, with a haunch of wild boar. 

It was a three-minute, pitch-perfect exercise in falsely perpetrated stupidity and impressive physical commitment from Testa, a possessor of avian and bovine physiognomies. The video was later re-uploaded by Testa's future son-in-law the night before Thanksgiving, and moments after, Reddit erupted. It spread through Tumblr and around the web. A week ago, Chuck Testa was nobody, but he'd become a meme in the space of a hundred hours or so. It was the biggest meme of 2011, as it happened.

In 2013, Rhett and Link would parlay this early viral success by inviting Chuck Testa on to Good Mythical's second season. They hoped to revisit their old friend and use their old tried-and-true past success to help grow their new endeavor by having Chuck discuss how to survive an apocalypse with Rhett.  

The Rise of Sponsored Content on YouTube

A Case Study: 2 Guys 600 Pillows

Their next content marketing hit was "2 Guys 600 Pillows, which would become one of the most significant hits of their sponsored content career. Sure, the sponsorship disclosure came at the very end, but the video certainly made us feel comfortable and relaxed, which happened to be the mission of Sleepbetter.org. 

The simple gimmick of Rhett and Link trying (and failing) to sleep in a pillow-choked room was so silly that it went viral online and greatly exceeded Sleepbetter.org's goals. The sleeping site even posted a version of the video on its website, a coy but clever way to get views to the brand’s page. 

Rhett & Link / YouTube

The Rise of Sponsored Content on YouTube

With their now trademark "Let's talk about that" opener and their gift for going viral, they began producing Good Mythical Morning, a daily morning show—complete with weird experiments, silly challenges, and sponsored content—in 2012.

As of May 10, The Good Mythical Morning channel alone had 18.7M subscribers. Their original YouTube channel, Rhett & Link, where most of their early infomercial successes live, had 5.2 M subscribers. And relative Mythical newcomer Mythical Kitchen had 3.16 M. 

They were unmatched in their use of sponsored videos, treating their advertisers as a natural part of the content, something to be spun into wildly amusing skits rather than a simple, spoon-fed advertisement.

Sponsored Marketing & Good Mythical Morning

Rhett and Link would parlay their sponsored marketing intuitiveness into Good Mythical Morning, the show that would become famous for their signature catchphrase, "Let's Talk About That." They’d devote brief segments at the end of each episode to hollering about paid clients. Some of their repeat Good Mythical Morning sponsors include:

Airup: The Good Mythical Morning show turned the Airup breathing mask into a 'taste test' to showcase its functionality and create a funny narrative around the mask and its absurd aesthetic.

BetterHelp: Mental health is a charitable cause for Rhett and Link that they celebrate across multiple platforms. They have a sponsorship with BetterHelp, an online therapy service with banners on how-to videos. The guys regularly have conversations with mental health professionals on their videos, in both scripted sketches and honest interviews, giving frank advice, often from their perspectives. They talk about the significant struggles without embarrassment but also provide building block support. These conversations normalize therapy, grow engagement, and cultivate a safe community around the viewers.

Building the Mythical Entertainment Universe

Rhett and Link's power comes not from sponsoring content on one channel but from spinning off Mythical Entertainment (a multi-channel network with hundreds of millions of combined subscribers) from the success of Good Mythical Morning. Here's just a glance into the ever-growing Mythical empire:

Podcasts: They have spawned some successful podcasts, such as Ear Biscuits and Is a Hot Dog a Sandwich. They use these podcasts to further develop direct relationships with their fans via extended conversational formats and intimate backstage access. And, of course, these podcasts have sponsorships that range from Farmer's Dog to Rosetta Stone.

Mythical Kitchen:This YouTube channel, focused on weird and creative food creations, showcases the Mythical chefs' talents while growing its videos catalog and attracting new viewers interested in food entertainment. 

Such is their entrepreneurial spirit that, besides producing content, Mythical Entertainment snapped up Smosh in 2019, another of the premier independent video channels on YouTube, after the channel's parent company, Defy Media, shut down. Hollywood Reporter valued the deal at just under $10 million. The move diversified the Mythical ENtertainment portfolio and expanded its content syndication and distribution network; it essentially let Mythical buy and sell eyeballs across different strands of video delivery. In 2023, Mythical Entertainment sold the majority stake of Smosh back to its original but kept a small stake in the company. 

MythicalKitchen / Instagram

A Legacy of Innovative Content Syndication and Sponsorships

Rhett and Link prove that expanding the sphere of possible content syndication and sponsorship deals into podcasts, other YouTube channels, and beyond could amplify their creations and improve the quality of these videos (and the quantity of their cash flow, too). 

Rhett and Link are more than YouTube stars today: they’re content marketing pioneers and brand storytelling innovators. They've transplanted their North Carolina film studio to Los Angeles, building a media empire under Mythical Entertainment, and in the process, have revealed what it takes to make it on the web: authenticity, creativity, and careful, considered content marketing. Their legacy inspires creators and brands alike, paving the way for a new era of online entertainment and brand storytelling.

Whether you're a creator looking to build an audience or a brand seeking innovative ways to connect with consumers, there's much to learn from Rhett and Link's remarkable journey. They've proven that anyone can build a successful online empire with a good idea, a dash of humor, and a strategic approach to content marketing. 

By
Kate Farley

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