More Viral Marketing Ideas

Yesterday we took a look at some marketing ideas that went viral to a greater or lesser degree. We considered some of the factors that encouraged any particular viral marketing campaign to grow as we looked at approaches from Dropbox, Dothetest.co.uk, and BT. Now we’ll look at some that I think of as modern classics.

You can’t go through an article on viral marketing these days without mentioning the new Old Spice guy. Old Spice is a classic Father’s Day gift; the company clearly wanted a hipper image to go with their line of Old Spice deodorant and body wash. So they made some over-the-top commercials with a very sexy actor. “Look at your man. Now look at me. Can he look like me? No. Can he smell like me? Yes.” While going through his spiel, the actor walked forward through changing backgrounds and clothes so effortlessly that it left your mind spinning to keep up: riding a horse on a beach, walking across a yacht, jumping into a hot tub, riding a motorcycle. What he held changed just as quickly: a seashell, a necklace, concert tickets, you name it.

The changes in scenery and activities and what the actor held in his hands all happened almost magically, and all managed to be simultaneously macho enough for any men watching, yet romantic enough for the women who would buy cologne for their men. And the tongue-in-cheek, humorous nature of the whole thing, combined with the actor’s sexiness, made for a very appealing set of commercials. It also didn’t hurt that the first commercial was aired during the Super Bowl.

But the company didn’t stop there with the professional commercials. They created a Youtube channel to which they eventually posted 204 clips over time, apparently one a day, of varying lengths. Not all of them featured Isaiah Mustafa (the actor in that first over-the-top commercial), but all of them had a similar kind of over-the-top humorous spirit.

Best of all, many of the videos responded to posts and tweets by viewers. Again, not all of them did, of course; one allegedly from the Blackhawks asked what the Old Spice guy would do if he had the Stanley Cup for an hour, for example. Naturally, this tied in to the macho image that Old Spice was creating. But others were clearly responses from real posts, including at least one post who asked the Old Spice guy to propose to his girlfriend for him.

This kind of activity and interaction inspired more from the fans. The community on Youtube seems to have a tradition of responding to videos with parodies and take-offs, and that’s exactly what happened. This kept Old Spice in the limelight, though. The Old Spice campaign even generated media buzz, with the actor appearing on the Ellen Degeneres show and several other TV programs.

Here’s a two-part idea that takes advantage of a unique social site. It was covered on Gizmodo, but I first encountered it when a friend of mine posted a link to the video on Facebook. This was used to promote a horror movie, “The Last Exorcism.” Even though you probably can’t recreate this marketing approach exactly yourself, it deserves a look just for the sheer genius of execution.

The first part involves Chatroulette, a social site where you’re randomly matched with other people who are logged on to the site for a chat. Either one of you can move on to the next chatter whenever you want, and while text chat is enabled, so are web cams and microphones, so you can actually see and hear whoever is at the other end. Being an Internet site, it tended to attract a lot of men looking for attractive women to talk to…which played right into the hands of whichever marketing genius came up with this.

Basically, the promoters filmed a short clip of a sexy woman who smiled and looked as if she was about to take her clothes off. She looked down shyly for a moment…and then when she looked back up, her eyes rolled all the way to the top of her head, blood poured out of them like tears, her mouth opened to show fangs growing, and she roared. This image was immediately replaced by a black screen with the URL for the movie’s website showing in light-colored text.

This clip was used on Chatroulette to promote the website – with no warning to the viewer of what they were about to see. In other words, many male users of Chatroulette would see the start of the clip, figured they’d hit the jackpot, and then get a big surprise.

You can imagine the reactions of the viewers to this marketing campaign. Actually, you don’t have to, thanks to the second part of this promotion. The marketers recorded a number of their ambushed viewers, and compiled the reactions into several videos. These split-screen videos show the guys on the left, and what they’re watching on the right. It’s perfectly synchronized, of course. We’re in on what’s going to happen, which gives us the feeling of watching an elaborate (but harmless) practical joke.

As with Dothetest.co.uk, which I talked about yesterday, the campaign sets up one expectation, but delivers something completely different. It takes the idea of interactivity to a different level, though. It certainly leaves an impression – two impressions, actually, on two different sets of viewers.

Finally, straight, useful articles can go viral as well. There’s one titled “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” that has been cropping up in a number of places. It starts with a vivid word image: a veteran captain swimming hard, apparently to rescue a drowning victim about 50 feet away. A husband and wife have been splashing around; thinking the captain thought they were drowning, they try to wave him off, letting him know everything is fine. But it turns out he wasn’t trying to rescue them; he headed for (and saved) their nine-year-old daughter, about ten feet behind them. How did the captain know, from fifty feet away, that she was drowning, when her own parents didn’t? That, of course, was the subject of the rest of the article.

Like a number of the viral marketing ideas I’ve discussed, this article sets up one expectation and delivers something a little different (though, from the title, we already have an important clue as to what we’ll learn). It starts by creating a compelling image in the reader’s mind, which is important for any good piece of writing. Though its target audience might be parents with young children, it reaches beyond that audience to appeal to anyone who cares about staying safe in the water. It conveys vital information that could literally save a life, and it does so in a way that reaches the reader, showing that our conventional image of what drowning looks like (reinforced by movie and TV stereotypes) is not accurate.

So what have we learned from our exploration of viral marketing ideas? It helps to give away something useful. Be entertaining. Make it easy for readers and viewers to pass your material on to a friend. Surprises will stick in your visitor’s mind (though these can backfire). Be funny, or have an important and useful message; if you can do both of those, all the better. Most of all, be creative. Good luck!      

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