Going Viral, It’s As Easy As 1,2,3

If you were tasked with the job of making an organisation’s message go viral, what would you do? Where would you start? I was wondering just that the other day, it’s something I think all marketing professionals wonder about and we’d all like to see at least one campaign go crazy (or if we’re honest, all of our campaigns) but the truth is, the fastest way to have a campaign go viral is to take your time. 

There is nothing I find so frustrating as people talking about delivering a social media campaign without planning, investment or consideration.  It makes me groan and my frustration grows because it is based on a misconception that often plagues communications and marketing professionals, the idea that social media is easy and that success is just around the corner if only the marketing manager knew what they were doing.

The truth is successful social media campaigns rely on the same three things that successful traditional media campaigns required. They just happen to be three difficult things for most businesses to deliver. Let’s look at some campaigns that have worked and try to determine what might have pushed them from just viewable to viral.

Who Gives – Humour and the Unexpected

This little gem doesn’t hit the really BIG numbers, but for a relatively inexpensive charitable endeavor, it has managed to capture a fair bit of attention with over 10,500 views and earned traditional media coverage as well. What’s it’s most notable selling feature? A rabbi in a dress of course.

This charity video poses the question, “Who gives?” and then shows Rabbi Avrohom Zeidman performing as a series of characters who run through every imaginable excuse for not giving. Within one week of being posted the 2-minute video played well over 7000 times.

Blendtec – Something You Always Wanted To Do

Blendtec’s, video campaign poses the question, will it blend? What follows is a series of ridiculous items that the blender is challenged to blend. These YouTube posted videos take the premise set out in the old Ginsu knives commercials and add power and imagination. Smartphones, lighters, boron steel and super glue are all put to the test. These videos have gotten millions of views and make up the backbone of Blendtec’s advertising campaign.  The geek factor is high, but you can’t look away.

Old Spice – Surreal and Funny

The Old Spice commercials are among my favourites.  These beauties were popular on television, but they exploded on YouTube with each video getting millions of views.

Not only do the videos use humour to deliver their message, but as the main character moves smoothly from one ridiculous accomplishment to another the viewer is left laughing and a little bewildered.  The best part of these ads is that, like the Axe deodorant ads, they appeal to a younger demographic making them fodder for shares, likes, posts, memes, and quotes.

Although these campaigns each achieved different levels of popularity they do share some things in common. They are quirky, they show imagination and they have broad appeal for a younger demographic. The reality is that for most businesses a successful social media campaign sits closer to the first than the second example, a million views is far from the norm. Even with the accessibility afforded by social media, generating the kind of widespread attention, it takes to be massively popular generally means that you are playing off of traditional media sources, as well as, social media.

Going viral relies on having at least two of the following factors in place, time, money, and creativity. If you don’t have the money, then you definitely need to take your time and show creativity. One social media king we can learn from is a young man originally from Sweden who goes by the name, PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg). He usually posts two videos a day and is also active on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. He has more than 56 million subscribers on YouTube, and every video he posts generates millions of views. He’s funny,  always irreverent, unexpected, creative, appealing to a younger demographic and most importantly, he is very, very dedicated. He started posting videos in 2009, but it was not until 2012 that he really hit his stride.

Have you ever had a campaign or post go crazy? Do you have any viral ads or videos that you love? What do you think it takes to make a campaign go viral?

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30 responses to “Going Viral, It’s As Easy As 1,2,3

  • I am a huge fan of the old spice ads.
    I unfortunately have never had anything go viral, but then I haven’t tried for it either. I don’t think I am quirky enough to get something off the ground like that.

  • I watched all 3 videos which were very amusing and powerful. I guess I’ve had my head in the sand because I had never heard of PewDiePie. I just looked at a video he posted 6 months ago which has 35 million views!! He’s not even profound — just nuttily creative. Beats me how normal bloggers and companies can even approach those numbers.

  • Great post Debra! I find that it is important for organizations to go to the edge these days. Unfortunately, most organizations are too conservative to allow themselves to get to the edge. When they get there, exposure really takes off from a social media/advertising perspective. Then again, there are plenty of organizations believe that their brand speaks for themselves. Which in some cases is accurate.

    Thank you for sharing!!

    • Thank you. I think because there is a fine line between being on the edge and falling off, most company leaders opt for a more risk averse approach. The challenge of course is that companies that have long term success have done so by taking chances.

  • This is a nice article! These videos are really good, my favourite one is Old Spice ! I am not sure about a commercial, but some films, for example, have a very low budget and not a lot of production time, and they become a box office success! But, they are really gems of creativity indeed!

    • Thank you. Good point about movies. I debated including the Blair Witch Project in this list, it was a low budget offering and while it may now seem like a tired idea, at the time of it’s release it was a completely innovative approach to film making and it went completely viral.

  • What valuable insights Debra. I love the comparison of the old and the new. And as in many old and new trends, it’s valuable to remember not to discard every old lesson. Thanks.

    I had my eye on that carved physique the entire 30 seconds. What the heck was he pitching?!*! LOL.

    • Pat when desktop publishing became popular I watched in some amazement as tons of people put out a shingle and called themselves graphic designers. I kept thinking, if you give me a saw and a plank of wood does that make me a carpenter? Either you know what you are doing or you don’t. Learning to use a new tool is one thing, knowing what to do with that tool to get the best results is another.

      My husband has always used Old Spice, even when it wasn’t in style, so when the commercial came out we both stared in awe at the guy and were stunned to see it was for Old Spice. We have never stopped laughing.

  • Agree with you that it takes a lot of planning, intelligence and investment.

    That’s how Gangnam Style managed to get billions of views. And the Volvo/van Damme commercial as well.

    My 9 and 11 year old nephews have, in vain, been trying to interest me in Felix Kjellberg’s videos for quite some time. So it’s worth noting that his videos don’t only attract young adults but kids as well.

    Anybody wanting to go viral and get as many hits as Gangnam style has to come up with something that really appeals to the masses all over the world. Anything intellectual will fail.

    • Good point Catarina, it was my children who got me to watch Felix’s work. His language makes me cringe and I couldn’t watch it regularly myself, but I have laughed while watching it with my daughter.

      I couldn’t agree more about staying away from intellectual content if you are looking for a viral challenge. The same thing has been happening with American blockbusters. They have become highly visual with thin plot lines to accommodate broad local and international audiences.

  • Hi Debra; Followed you here from a comment you left on my blog. we are both members of bloggers helping bloggers on linked in. I have had many conversations with friends and family about how to get the kind of notice we associate with the phrase going viral. My brother thinks that an internet rumer about my site would work. my answer to that is yes but most rumers are negative so i told him that was out. I upload videos to my channel but they are all supplied by owners of the amusement equipment i sell. I have yet to muster the confidence to record one of my own not even an introductory video. also, my natural style is not as irreverent as cutie pie or as aggressive as derek halpern. I more of a soft spoken type. I have been told that i’m not maximizing my story as i should be. they say that the idea of a blind man selling amusement park equipment could generate buzz. I even had a friend tell me that a recent bad experience where a seller didn’t pay me might be a good way to go viral and force him to pay up but i worry about what that would do to my business down the road as well. would love your suggestions. Perhpaps my mind isn’t open enough on this subject. thanks for the post and have a happy thanksgiving, max

    • Maxwell, I think you bring an important point into focus. Social media may be available to everyone, but it is not necessarily appropriate for everyone. It may not meet your target audience, it may not match your product. A blind guy in a bumper car may have comic potential, but is it in keeping with your spirit? Is it right with what you feel comfortable with? What about your personal brand? Shouldn’t it be clear to you and in keeping with your objectives? There is a fine line between having fun with an idea and doing something that makes you feel as if your personal dignity is at stake. Is having a campaign go viral that important?

  • Nice post, Debra – made me laugh, too so thanks! 😉

    When speaking about going viral on social media, i think the best way to do that is bring the conversation offline. As odd as it may sound to many, the key to going viral on FB for instance, is really that – start it on social media, ask them to do something offline and then upload it to social media again. If the campaign is original, interesting and well thought, no way it won’t go viral 🙂

    About the observation you did about being funny and ads leaving the viewer laughing and often bewildered – true that! But have you noticed how many of the ads you watch do make you laugh but then, you remember the ad but not the product that was advertised? That happens when you are really funny but the message and the joke doesn’t have much to do with your product. Ah, it’s so hard LOL

    • Great point about bringing the conversation offline Diana. I think part of the reason that works is that IT exposes the conversation to a broader audience. As hard as it is to believe sometimes, there are people who do not spend much time online.

      With regard to trying to recall the product associated with a memorable ad, I have had this conversation with my husband on a number of occasions. He is a graphic communicator and while we see ads in different ways, we both agree that if the design of the ad drowns the product, the ad has failed. No matter how funny or popular an ad is, it’s job is to bring the viewer’s attention to the product or service.

  • I agree with Jacqueline – I’d buy that blender too!

    Going viral is usually a fluke, if you ask me.

  • I laughed as I watched the phone blending. And the whole thing turning black as it was blending was freaky and funny. Brilliant on part of that company to think that up.

  • My only claim to fame is a post on People Bingo that got almost a thousand hits in one day… not a very big deal in the grand scheme of things. Felix provides the perfect example of how hitting it big with viral posts can take time. It’s hard to define the formula that works, but when it works it REALLY works. Ads like the Old Spice commercials give the viewer and unexpected twist, and I think people really respond to that and authenticity.

    • I think a thousand hits in a day is phenomenal. If only being funny and unexpected were easy to accomplish on a regular basis..without being obscene…and still in keeping with your brand. 🙂

  • Thx for this post, Debra. I haven’t had anything go viral yet, but form time-to-time, do have a higher number of hits/shares than usual. If only we could figure out the secret, we’d all be rich/high-successful! I still can’t figure out why the world went nuts for that gangnam style video awhile back.

    • Doreen I have now decided that one of the most important focus groups I have when it comes to social media are my children. They were the ones who pointed out Gangnam style to me well before I started seeing it on TV and they are the ones who introduce me to the “hot” YouTubers. It’s funny, when I thought about watching industry leaders in the past, it never crossed my mind that it would involve making notes on twenty-somethings or Korean pop singers. 🙂

  • I love the does it blend videos. Those blenders have some power.

    I have seen some of my stuff spike huge at times and then watched similar things fall flat. The best I can hope for most of the time is time and creativity to carry me through. I pay more attention to growth overtime than random spikes. Marketing to the spike of the day means all we do is chase our tails.

    It’s like all the fuss that comes about when google or amazon change their algorythms. If all you are doing is chasing the next hot thing you will first off be forever behind. And second off be just like everyone else doing the exact same thing.

    • I hear you Jon. When I started this blog there were definitely periods when I spent a ridiculous amount of time chasing my tail. Eventually common sense stepped in and I stopped. Focusing on the content and the audience is by far a more effective use of my time.

  • jbutler1914 says:
    November 26, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    This is a great article. I don’t have the money so I’m definitely focusing on the time and creativity for my next campaign. It should be ready at the beginning of January.

  • Just as it is with most things; time creativity and money are keys to any success. Taking the right amount of time allows for a better end product. That same time allows for our creativity to flow and find it’s place. Aw then there is money. Be it a little or a lot, it helps with a more polish end product. All that said, as hard as I work, using my limited creative skills and little money, I don’t expect any of my stuff to go viral any time soon… LOL.

    • Susan, you make a great point about the polish that money brings. Money doesn’t need to be the driving force behind public relations or marketing activity but the grease that facilitates the flow of inspiration and creativity.

  • Wow Debra…you brought something front and center for me. That social media marketing has to follow traditional media marketing principals! This sounds a bit silly, but with the “new”: social media, too many or us are trying to reinvent something that doesn’t need reinvention. It’s simply the delivery that varies. Very enlightening…loved seeing the IPhone blended! LOL Based on that alone, I’d buy that blender!

    • I loved the cell phone in the blender. The first time I looked at the videos I got completely sucked in and started wondering what else they would blend. 🙂 A friend of mine was saying she wanted to get the blender based on nothing but those ads.

      Jacqueline, it wasn’t obvious to me that the marketing principals would be similar across the mediums either and they do pose some challenges that are specific to each platform, but then, I wouldn’t put the script from a TV commercial on the radio and I wouldn’t put the words of a radio ad in print ad, but in all cases I would be looking at what my target audience wants to hear.

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