- You can study and reverse engineer classic viral campaigns by Dollar Shave Club, Old Spice and Coke.
- Viral marketing campaigns live online, connects personally to people and have powerful call-to-actions.
- Small businesses can use these same principles to come up with brilliant ideas.
The average digital marketing team writes between 100,000 and 200,000 words for each client per year.
Yes, most of them actually keep count.
Those words are used for content that will be marketed to an audience with an insatiable hunger for fresh, new, and compelling content. Content that will hopefully hold their attention for eight seconds or longer - the average human attention span. That's one second shorter than a goldfish.
Thanks to smartphones, humans now have shorter attention span than goldfish and... oh look, a cat meme!
We are now in a marketing space where companies are trying to hack their way past this predicament by creating specific content forms in hopes of going viral. It’s a huge challenge to get their message through ever-decreasing attention spans.
A viral content marketing campaign is one that literally swings for the fences - it will either be a home run or a strikeout. The main challenge of a viral marketing campaign is to nail down a concept or idea that becomes so contagious that the desire to share it with the next person is almost irresistible.
How do brands come up with viral marketing campaign ideas?
Companies often brainstorm viral marketing campaign ideas by looking at those that came before them. They look at content marketing failures and successes seeking to reverse-engineer a success or add that missing ingredient to those that failed.
Notice there was no mention of the word "replicate" in that sentence. When a company attempts to replicate a viral marketing campaign, it will usually have a much lower chance of success than the original successful campaign.
One reason is that the timing of the original viral campaign may have been just right. Another reason is that there may be something so unique about the product that replication without infringement is nigh impossible.
You can be successful by drawing upon world-class viral marketing campaigns within the past decade for inspiration. This sets the bar and the thermostat for where their concepts and ideas must land.
As we look at a few examples of highly successful viral marketing campaigns, let's see if we can find certain patterns in how the messages were delivered.
What will go viral and why?
Here are some examples of marketing campaigns that went viral.
1. Dollar Shave Club: Our Blades Are F***ing Great
This is a very well thought-out and executed example of how to deliver a simple message in a visually engaging way. The marketing piece was written by Michael Dublin and directed by Lucia Aniello. In this video, Michael, Dollar Shave Club president, guides you through their storage facility and describes why his razors are the best razors to ever come down from razor heaven.
This was the introductory advertisement for Dollar Shave Club that went viral online immediately. In just a little more than six months, the spot went to television in January 2013. It serves as a classic example on how to introduce your brand and product with creativity and humour, injecting competitive comparisons to give viewers a strong reason to buy.
It's a one-take, single-shot production that stays grounded in delivering the company message while carrying enough absurdity to shatter the eight-second human attention barrier, keeping us engaged for well over a minute (sixty seconds for the TV spot). Remember, we're talking about a video that advertises blades, not a CGI, star-studded, action-film about people born with special abilities. This certainly makes it a tremendous accomplishment.
The company also mentioned that they strategically baked elements of the pitch into the action of the shot to deliver this message: "Paying so much for razors and always worrying about running out is absurd. Stop doing it, and shop Dollar Shave Club."
2. Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
There's not a person alive who has ever watched an online video or turned on a television who hasn't seen this wildly successful viral advertisement.
For those who don't know what Old Spice smells like, it smells like marketing success with the inception of their own one-take, single-shot production that offers mind-bending visuals to grab your attention on a simple body wash.
Isaiah Mustafa confidently serves up reasons in a rapid-fire monologue for ladies to run out and purchase Old Spice's Red Zone After Hours Body Wash for their man - to smell like the man their man could smell like. He advances through locations, wardrobes, and extraordinary situations while maintaining constant eye-contact with the audience.
This series of advertisements almost always feature a humorous surprise ending in which case Mustafa ends up on a horse. The spot has been parodied numerous times in popular culture, most notably Sesame Street where Grover takes over Mustafa's role in a monologue about the word 'on'. In the case of Grover, everything goes completely wrong and despite claiming he's on a horse at the end, he is actually on a cow.
This concept was so successful that Old Spice is still running newer versions of the same winning concept today, adding Terry Crews to the formula.
According to data from The Nielsen Co. and SymphonyIRI Group, sales of Old Spice Body Wash increased 11% during the first year of the campaign, which launched in February 2010 and gained momentum, increasing 55% in a latter three-month period and a further 107% in a one-month period thereafter.
During that time, it was announced that Old Spice became the No. 1 brand of body wash and anti-perspirant/deodorant in both sales and volume growth. Gary Stibel, CEO and founder of The New England Consulting Group said, “We think that Old Spice is up. We don’t think it’s up in the double digits, but it’s up meaningfully, and we think it’s driven 100% by marketing.” He added, “We think it’s targeted to both sexes; it’s targeted to people who are attractive or want to be attractive."
3. BlendTec: 'Will It Blend' video series
This is a series of videos where BlendTec's spokesman and founder Tom Dickson places popular objects in a BlendTec blender to see if it will blend. These objects include Amazon Alexa, iPad, iPhone, glow sticks, Samsung Galaxy phone, diamonds, golf balls, a crowbar, and various other seemingly impossible items to blend. The YouTube channel feeds into the audience’s curiosity and appetite for destruction and keeps their 800,000+ subscribers coming back for more.
4. Coca-Cola: 'Share a Coke' summer campaign
This was one of the greatest marketing campaigns in Coca-Cola's history. Instead of putting their logo, the company put 250 of the United States’ most popular names on 20-ounce bottles. People were then encouraged to find bottles with their names or names that hold a personal meaning for them and share it online.
The results were astounding. By the first year, more than half a million photos were shared with the #ShareaCoke hashtag, consumers made over 6 million virtual Coke bottles, and Coca-Cola added over 25 million Facebook followers. After all, the sweetest sound to a person is probably his or her name.
What can you learn from these viral campaigns?
1. You must have a video online that can be shared across social media.
Your message should be one that targets consumers who use social media and, in some way, encourages them to share photos, videos, stories or engage in organic conversations about the product.
2. You must connect with consumers on a personal level.
Millennials and teens don't view personalization and specificity in messages as a trend. It's a way of life for them. Using messages that feature individual storytelling and staying connected with friends are important.
3. You need a powerful call-to-action.
This gets said quite often but many brands and marketers still can't capture the essence of its simplicity.
Share a Coke. Shave Time - Shave Money. Your Man Could Smell Like He's Me. They are all easy slogans to remember and catchy as can be. Your call-to-action should be "sticky" and encourage consumers to share the product with someone else. All three examples above encourage people to purchase the product for someone else too. This is crucial for the campaign to evolve.
These viral marketing campaigns are often updated constantly to maintain freshness and continue to expand the consumer market interest. “Share a Coke” had original music created, the company increased the personal names on bottles to 1000, and printed the song lyrics on the packaging. In 2018, the name labels on Coke bottles became removable stickers that can be stuck on clothing, smartphones, books, and bookbags.
Therefore, in order to create marketing content with the best possible chance of going viral, these points must be addressed:
- How do we want the consumer to feel while receiving the message?
- How will they be consuming it and through what channels?
- How can we personalize our storytelling to encourage consumers to share on social media?
- Why is this the best time to buy our product and what is the easiest way to say it in a few words?
By answering these questions, brand and content marketing agencies can reverse engineer the formula that has made so many viral marketing campaigns wildly successful - a message that will resonate with the consumer deeply in a meaningful and unforgettable way, compelling them to share the message with their entire social network.
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