Clients love the idea of a Viral Campaign. For them it’s Nirvana – a piece of content that reaches phenomenal reach for free.
But is that really the case?
Look at some of the examples of content going viral. When you read or watch these viral stories, you’ll realize that most of the ‘Hall of Fame’ viral stories fall into a few categories:
- Odd and Perplexing : The Dress (Blue and Black or Gold and White)
- Amusing : Harlem Shake
- Shocking : Syrian Boy Image
- Heart Warming : Premature Baby’s First Year
You’ll also notice that these are bits of content that don’t relate to a brand or brand campaign and have infact gained accidental fame.
This is not to say that branded content doesn’t become popular. There are occasional examples of where an organization has been able to tap into content that allows it to go viral, generally around good causes : eg ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and San Francisco’s Bat Kid. These incidents were uplifting and altruistic which made them so appealing.
But when brands try to create content that is intended to go viral, they tend to be stuck in between.If they put the brand front and center, it looks and feels like an advert and NOBODY shares advert so it doesn’t go viral. Alternatively, marketers can minimize the presence of brand. In that case, content may go viral but may not show the association with the brand. So from the brand’s perspective, both strategies are worthless.
Even in cases where a campaign gets high viewership, it has never proven to deliver significant impact on sales for the brand. In hindsight, Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign did nothing to bring new users to the brand, neither did Evian’s roller skating babies.
The critical issue is that when a person shares a piece of such content with another, they are actually recommending the creativity of the agency that the brand employed.This is different from what a correctly constructed, strategic, social media campaign would have achieved in terms of the volume of positive recommendations for the brand itself.
Simply put, an individual is more likely to go for a trial when they receive a personal recommendation from a friend rather than the link to an ingenious advert.The mirage of success of viral marketing depends on the outdated view that ‘Reach equates to Advocacy’. Just because I saw roller skating babies does not mean I’ll switch my brand.
The popularity of viral marketing stems from the creative agencies. They advocate it as conceiving and shooting a piece of video or organizing stunts is their core strength. Social Media done properly is not as eye catching or glamorous as viral marketing, but marketing through advocacy has been the driving force to propel brands such as Amazon, Air BnB, Spotify from “Zero to Hero” without spending a single dollar on viral campaigns or ATL.