Viral Marketing – Behind the Buzzword

In this MultiConnexions blog, Graphic Designer Aman Gupta looks at the unpredictable world of viral marketing, and some things to keep in mind when trying to gain exponential traction.

Viral Marketing – it’s a phrase that we’re all familiar with but know so little about. Much like our recent understanding of black holes in outer space, we seem to only know about what viral marketing is, without knowing what makes it happen.

Viral marketing is defined as “using existing social networks and word-of-mouth to promote a service or product”. In its usual form the content may appear as a video, image, game, webpage, written content or social challenge. The company/brand would pay for the production of the content, but not necessarily for its distribution. The content would then be uploaded to YouTube, Facebook, or other popular social media channels – and the rest is left to (mostly) take care of itself.

Perhaps the best-known example of viral content is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Source: Flickr

The challenge encouraged people to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then nominating friends or family to do the same. The catch was that the nominated participants had 24 hours to complete the challenge, or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation.

In terms of gaining viral success, the Ice Bucket Challenge was huge. More than 1.2 million videos were posted on Facebook in a 10-week period, and Twitter was buzzing with more than 70,000 tweets per day featuring hashtags such as #IceBucketChallenge, #ALSIceBucketChallenge, and #StrikeOutALS.

Prior to the challenge going viral, social awareness about the disease was quite limited. But once the challenge was well and truly a worldwide phenomenon, awareness and donations to the ALS Association skyrocketed. There has been some criticism of the challenge and it “trivialising” a serious disease, but there’s no doubt that the challenge brought the disease into spotlight and gained many donations that would otherwise never have occurred.

Sometimes, capitalising on an already well-known topic or person can help gain viral exposure. We all know how big the “Avengers” films are, and one of the biggest stars of those movies is Tom Hiddleston – who recently did a commercial for Centrum in China.

The ad has been called creepy, bizarre and strange by various Western media channels, but none of that matters because the intended audience of Chinese women loved it. The commercial was shared online through Tom Hiddleston’s personal Weibo account as a mobile-format video, and from there it spread like wildfire – gaining over 2.5 million views in less than 48 hours.

The creative approach of the ad is definitely strange and left-field, but sometimes a bold move like that is what it takes to go viral. The results back it up, and this particular ad is a great example of how agencies need to structure the messaging for the intended audience – both culturally and creatively.

Having said all that, creating content with the intention of going viral requires a big leap of faith, and definitely falls into the “high-risk high-reward” category. Brands may work with agencies tirelessly to find the magic number or equation that allows something to go viral, but the truth is there is no set formula.

There are still things brands and agencies can follow when trying to achieve viral status, and some things to consider are:

– Aim for a bold, eye-catching and thought-provoking creative.
– Make your content broadly appealing, rather than being too niche or specific.
– Keeping branding to a minimum allows the content to seem more natural, making it easier to share as a general video/content piece rather than an advertisement.
– Most importantly, your message should be clear no matter what form you’re communicating in. It’s not enough to just aim to go viral, there still needs to be a defined objective, such as brand awareness or driving the viewer to a particular action.

Given the unpredictable nature of viral marketing, trial and error is part and parcel of the process – much like other projects you need to develop, refine and tweak before putting it out there. Following a few of the guidelines above can help you achieve viral status, but in the end, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time with the right content.

Need some creative brilliance for your next multicultural campaign? Contact MultiConnexions – your multicultural marketing partner – today.

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