Non-traditional and viral marketing campaigns can be a minefield. One wrong step and your brand is a laughingstock—or worse. You can easily be labeled as offensive, rude, crass, insensitive or, perhaps worst of all, just plain boring. The attempt to go viral and to get the attention of millions without paying for hugely expensive advertising outlays is the goal of every seemingly marketer these days. The trick is to accomplish this without defining your product or company in a negative light.
While viral schemes and non-traditional marketing attempts can backfire, there are examples where the attempt to capture the democratic and often anarchic power of new media, with its emphasis on authenticity and creativity, actually paid off. Here are some lessons that marketing professionals can use to their advantage in their own efforts.
#1 Be Weird, But Relevant
One thing that marketers like to do is to be outrageous and irreverent, with the notion that just by being bizarre, you can sell products. One of the first examples of this were the Quiznos Rodents (actually called the Spongmonkeys). These guys were an Internet phenomenon and an early meme that were weird for the sake of being weird. Quiznos adopted them and it backfired. The large majority of people didn’t want to associate weird rats with their sandwiches.
It is possible to be strange and witty while still promoting your brand, however. Consider Old Spice: in the early 2000s, commercials for the brand featured Bruce Campbell as the quintessential leading man doing a parody of the overly-manly deodorant commercials popular at the time. It seemed like a winking throwback, perfect for an older brand wanting to maintain visibility. After they firmly established the concept and gained popularity, the commercials were able to get stranger and stranger, while still maintaining their brand identity.
Another successful example is the “creepy” Burger King himself. Using such a bizarre grotesquerie might seem like it could backfire, but the King helped establish Burger King, a multi-billion-dollar empire, as a cool upstart to the stodgy McDonald’s behemoth. They knew their rival, knew its image and played with it successfully. The creepy King is now an established character, cementing the campaign as great marketing.
#2 Celebrate Your Product In an Interesting Way
One of the most successful viral commercials is from electronics manufacturer LG, which in 2012 wanted to show how lifelike its new television screens were. To do so, they rigged up an elevator floor with six of their high-definition screens and programmed the setup so that when people pressed a button, it appeared as if the floor was falling away into a yawning abyss.
This “So Real, It’s Scary” campaign worked partly because it wasn’t really cruel. The people were on the first floor, and obviously there was no physical sensation of falling. Even as the picture changed, the ground beneath their feet was secure. So, after a moment of shock, there was laughter. More importantly, it worked because it portrayed in a realistic setting just how amazing their screens were. It was a very convincing simulacrum and was a catchy way to get people to pay attention to their product. Indeed, over 24 million people watched the video and were entertained as well as getting a good look at LG’s products.
Again, the point is relevance. It’s one thing to position yourself as the cool and edgy company, but not if no one cares about what you are selling.
#3 Be Spectacular
What’s one of the most spectacular things you’ve seen in the last few years? How about when Felix Baumgartner parachuted to earth from space? You know the video—in one form or another it has been viewed over hundreds of millions of times. There is something ineffably amazing about seeing someone step out of a capsule, with the earth so distant and vague below, and then just fall, parachuting safely to the ground. And in nearly every frame of every video, the name Red Bull is visible.
Red Bull spent over $70 million dollars setting up the event and promoting it, and it worked incredibly. The views led to Red Bull’s Twitter and Facebook sites, and the brand saw an uptick in sales of over seven percent over the following six months—equaling over a billion dollars in extra revenue.
This campaign worked because it followed the rules:
- It was brand-relevant
- It was endlessly entertaining
- It was something everyone wanted to talk about
That’s the trick with non-traditional marketing. Going viral is great, but not if your product is an afterthought in the process. There are times when just building an identity is sufficient, but you don’t want to be the brand with the video that everyone watches, but no one knows why. Staying relevant is just as important as being talked about, and ensures that if you go viral, your brand will still stay healthy.