To ‘go viral’ as an internet meme, you need three magic ingredients:
This sounds easy, but try as they may, brands regularly fall short on all three criteria. Whether they plugged the product too explicitly in the advertisement, or the idea was a rip-off of something we’ve seen before, audiences cannot be programmed to share your latest ad far and wide.
Or can they? This post will reverse engineer nine of the best viral marketing campaigns to see what brands can learn from them.
This 2011 commercial for Old Spice achieved worldwide recognition by providing something genuinely unexpected, satirizing the nature of aftershave advertising itself.
This hilarious ad plays on the idea that ‘aftershave makes you smell desirable to the ladies’, taking it to its extreme with surprising hyper-masculine cutaways. Each of the stereotypes of manliness is unveiled with exquisite comic timing and vivid imagery, making for a laugh riot both men and women can’t help but share with their friends.
Part of what also made this ad so famous is the targeting; the script speaks directly to women, rather than men. This cleverly doubles the ad’s appeal and gives the brand the opportunity to go in hard with their plug to get people of both sexes to buy Old Spice.
Lessons learned: Create a ‘talking point’ for your product by innovatively highlighting stereotypes. Take a step back from your industry and look at your audience’s expectations of it, both good and bad. As marketers, sometimes it can be difficult to have the self-awareness to make light of your products.
Connect with your audience’s sense of humor to provide them with great content that shows that you’re also ‘in on the joke’.
This ad used a hidden camera prank to highlight the image quality of LG TVs. By setting up an elevator with HD screens replacing the floor panels, advertisers were able to scare elevator passengers into believing that the floor had fallen away.
The striking visuals and scared reactions from the ‘prankees’ do a great job of highlighting the quality of the screen’s resolution. The hidden camera aspect of the campaign is also a ‘nod’ to the prank video genre – a massive hit with millions of YouTube viewers, both young and old.
Lessons learned: Prank videos and their ilk are highly shareable, as they play to the viewer's sense of empathy. Everyone who sees a prank, regardless of its effectiveness, automatically puts themselves into the position of the person getting pranked. They ask themselves if they would fall for it, how would they react, etc.? And then they want to see how their friends and followers would also respond.
Play to favorite genres of content and figure out how you can get your followers to ‘empathize’ with your product’s benefits using the same conventions. For another example of this in action, GoPro asked permission to use a YouTube video made by a fireman. They took the GoPro footage of the fireman rescuing a kitten from a tree and used it to spread empathy (for the act) and plug their lightweight cameras at the same time.
In a world saturated with low-quality amateur footage, getting a little ‘cinematic’ with your viral marketing campaigns will help you stand out from the crowd.
For Volvo, ad managers wanted to demonstrate their truck’s precise steering controls in the most breathtaking way imaginable. Starting off with a close-up shot of the narrator (Jean Claude Van Damme) talking about the product, viewers stay clueless about the actor’s setting. When the camera then pans back, Van Damme’s surroundings are revealed – a death-defying stunt.
This final shot of the actor balanced precariously between two moving trucks stuns unsuspecting viewers and truly demonstrates the benefits of Volvo’s precise steering.
Lessons learned: Regardless of the budget you have to spend on your viral ad campaigns, creating a widely appealing advertisement will help you maximize your ROI. In this example, Volvo created this as a B2B campaign, aimed at major firms, rather than your typical consumer.
However, by creating an ‘epic’ ad that would capture the imagination of all viewers, Volvo ensured that the message reached all potential buyers in their market, regardless of the social media platform they are using. Make sure your ads are unmissable by crossing channels and audience demographics.
Getting away from video advertising, canvas shoe makers TOMS made their product ‘go viral’ by incorporating their company’s social values within their advertising. For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, the manufacturer provides another pair of shoes to a person in the third world.
By creating the hashtag #WithoutShoes to go alongside it, the brand was able to spread their charitable message far and wide, bringing in massive sales as an offshoot.
Lessons learned: Your company’s social values and charitable contributions can become viral marketing campaigns in and of themselves.
Why not go one step further: instead of investing in a shiny video campaign, can you redirect the funds to a charitable pursuit instead?
Find low-cost methods, like hashtags, to present your brand message in an alternative way. By providing tangible benefits, you can encourage millions of internet users to take part.
Another example of a user-generated viral marketing campaign is Lays potato chips. They asked their followers to suggest a new flavor, with the winner getting the choice of a $1 million prize fund or 1% of the profits. Their simple competition campaign drew in over 4 million suggestions from all over the world. The top three ideas went forward for testing and development, and again, audiences were asked to vote for their preferred new flavor to pick the winner.
Lessons learned: Your audience’s feedback is necessary to help you improve as a brand. By making this idea the center point of your advertising, you can send two messages to your potential target audience:
1. You care about the opinions of your customers
2. You can redirect your advertising budget to product development and build brand loyalty amongst fans
A viral marketing campaign can be a ‘flash in the pan’ – one great idea. Alternatively, ‘virality’ can be built and achieved with a solid foundation of brand marketing.
According to the CEO of BeardBrand, a product will go viral if you’re marketing collateral is helpful to consumers in many different ways. By setting up a YouTube channel with regularly updated content covering all there is to know about male grooming, BeardBrand were able to build an ever-growing list of subscribers.
If your product can go ‘viral’ over the space of a few months, rather than overnight, you can build a strong fanbase. A stable content platform and consistent branded messages can offer you long-term sales, which in many ways is far more advantageous to your bottom line.
Lessons learned: If you can stretch out your viral marketing campaign idea to a series of videos, you have more opportunities to capture and hold your audience’s attention. A series of tutorials, interviews, and reviews related to topics in your industry will draw in repeat business and help you build authority. TubeBuddy can help you uncover viewer trends and optimize your output to ensure maximum results.
Tattly temporary tattoos are an ecommerce ‘rags to riches’ story that started off as a simple design blog. Through concentrating on building a brand identity, the makers or Tattly were able to take that message and attract the right demographics to their products; namely Buzzfeed readers.
Buzzfeed is a vast platform for brands looking to ‘seed’ viral content to promote their products. In their most popular content from, the listicle, Tattly have been able to attract sales and well-known designers to their ever-evolving product line. One of Tattly’s most read and shared posts includes 30 Temporary Tattoos That Are Just As Cool As The Real Thing.
Lessons learned: Utilize other platforms and influencers to help you get the word out. With Buzzfeed in particular, brands can suggest their products to the site’s bank of writers, in the hopes that they will turn their product line into a hugely popular blog post. If you’re Shopify user, you can access this service via one of their apps.
Guest blogging on well-known industry sites and forums can also have the same effect. Get creative with your existing content and see if you can rework it into a short-form, humorous listicle.
Who could forget back in 2012 when Red Bull launched the Stratos viral marketing campaign?
Austrian skydiver, Felix Baumgartner, flew to the stratosphere (some 39km high above New Mexico) and heroically jumped back to earth with the world watching. In the video recording, from the skydiver’s perspective, viewers caught an awe-inspiring glimpse of the planet from the edges of space. This impressive viral marketing stunt permanently sealed Red Bull’s association with extreme sports.
Lessons learned: Red Bull’s slogan “Red Bull Gives You Wings” forms the backbone of all of their advertising efforts. By paying close attention to the feelings associated with your business’ key slogan, brands can really ‘push the envelope’ and make a viral campaign that is truly unique. This idea could be vital for brands that sell everyday products such as energy drinks.
Squatty Potty is a company that makes stools for use on the toilet to make the whole process more comfortable and efficient. It is a hard-sell indeed, but the brand did an excellent job of attracting internet attention with their hilarious ‘This Unicorn Changed The Way I Poop’ viral video. Featuring an absurdist scene with a unicorn puppet pooping rainbow ice cream cones, Squatty Potty was able to demonstrate their product’s benefits and provide a highly shareable internet meme.
Lessons learned: Your product may be somewhat niche and not overly photogenic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it palatable to a broad audience. Let your imagination run wild and don’t be afraid to provide your audience with a bit of surreal imagery to make your viral campaign more shareable.
Look at the existing ads in your industry (in this case: constipation relief remedies, assisted living products, etc.) and see how you can take your ad in a completely different direction.
Getting viral marketing right is all about seeing your brand in a new light and doing all you can to spread your message far and wide. Make sure you also concentrate on providing a consistent brand identity with everything you do.
If you miss the mark on achieving worldwide fame, don’t be disheartened, if you have got your message ‘right’ your viral marketing campaign can also form as the ‘jumping off point’ in building brand loyalty amongst your more niche audience segments.
Victoria Greene is a branding expert and a writer who blogs at www.victoriaecommerce.com Here she regularly shares viral marketing tips and insights for those looking to make the most of their ecommerce brands.
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