Go Viral Without Making Everyone Sick

I’m sitting four rows up at Hill Holliday’s TVnext and Discovery is talking about live multi-platform programming. The man presenting makes the mistake of saying the “k” word. The word that guarantees your entire audience will zone out. The word that  is the enemy of productivity everywhere. The word that induces images of fluffy cute little critters.


It’s no secret, if you want something to go viral, add kittens. We, as humans, love kittens. Just ask this developer, he outsourced his work to China so he could watch cat videos all day. Or take Work It Kitty for example, which racked up more than 400,000 views in under two weeks without any additional marketing efforts.

But there’s better, on-brand ways to go viral. Draftfcb‘s Ship My Pants for Kmart  uses a clever pun to announce a new service. It’s a joke that everyone can get in on, requiring few cultural cues. Best of all, the joke doesn’t run the risk of offending many people.

Ship My Pants makes great use of social currency to spread a message via word of mouth. Humans have a natural need to belong– to feel like they’re insiders. Talking about Ship My Pants shows that you’re in on the joke. You’re smart, funny, and relevant.

Though, sellers need beware. Not everything you spread turns into delicious buttery goodness. People on the internet have the unfortunate tendency to focus on the negative. Sometimes you run the risk of spreading some bad, moldy dairy.

Draftfcb’s other viral effort, #Iatethebones, has gone viral to a certain degree, but the response has been mixed at best. Some have posted how hilarious the video is, while others have completely derailed the brand, saying the commercial makes KFC consumers look like idiots.

Yesterday, KFC started a U.S.-based promotion that asks consumers to come to KFC and say that they ate the bone in exchange for free chicken. This counters some of the negative WOM marketing KFC is receiving, but the ship has already hit the fan.

These campaigns are prime examples of why advertising professionals need to think beyond going viral. They need to ask themselves some basic questions before green-lighting a campaign: How would the average person react? Will social media reaction be positive or negative? Is there any potential for backlash? How will consumers view the brand once the campaign runs? After it runs?

When it comes to viral campaigns, its always best to prepare for the worst. But it’s still worth pursuing these type of campaigns, because WOM is invaluable–the positive potential far outweighs the risk. A great viral campaign, like Ship My Pants,  creates invaluable, lasting brand equity.

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1 Comment

  1. Pretty cool insights – People seem to forget that going viral requires way more effort than just random luck.


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