As you develop your brand strategy for the year ahead, it’s important to save room in your budget for spontaneous opportunities. These big ideas are often tied to cultural moments or trends that, if executed correctly, could create viral marketing moments. These are valuable to businesses since they often result in a plethora of press coverage and a significant increase in household recognition. (Not to mention an uptick in sales!)
While every new—and established—company aims to have its five minutes of fame in the media spotlight, it’s not an easy feat. That said, it’s also not impossible. Here, we spoke with experts on how to create viral marketing campaigns in 2022 and beyond:
What is a viral marketing campaign?
Viral marketing can be viewed as a strategic and well-thought-out creative execution for a brand that hits the zeitgeist at the right time, says Brian Anderson, the founder and executive director of The Perception. The most successful campaigns are the ones you can visualize without much context, like Apple’s ‘Shot On the iPhone’ series, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ videos, Dollar Shave Club’s infamous videos, and so on. They tie directly to the brand’s DNA, zero in on a cultural moment, and get people talking.
“Viral marketing should start conversations, create emotional responses and push a brand way out of its comfort zone,” Anderson continues. “Your goal should be to not only disrupt your own industry, but those far beyond it. Risky, yes, but when executed properly, almost always worth it in the end.”
Viral marketing campaigns should be considered a brand strategy that’s executed on digital and social platforms, all with the intention to share—and create a snowball effect. “We usually see this in the form of video or visual content that elicits an emotional response from its highly creative and entertaining format,” Tracy Lowy, the marketing director of Seemore Meats & Veggies, says. Remember: for the campaign to be 'viral,' it needs to be shared over and over and over again across multiple platforms.
Why might a brand aspire to have a viral campaign?
Well, what brand doesn’t want to become the hottest topic on social media and over dinner tables? Anderson predicts that we will continue to see an explosion of content and experimental executives worldwide in the next five years. As he puts it, we’re entering the next digital evolution with the Metaverse and Web 3.0. Because of this, brands and industries are poised to create viral campaigns to accelerate growth for their businesses. “Creating valuable content that gets seen amongst the clutter will be what pushes a brand to the next level,” Anderson adds.
Another reason viral marketing is part of modern brand strategies is the low barrier to entry. You can seemingly score a game-winning touchdown without having to fork over a Big Game-sized budget. “You can be a scrappy, small business with limited resources and still launch a successful, case study-worthy, viral campaign that catapults your business,” Lowy says. “Brands are after virality with their marketing to grab attention, increase engagement, get in front of larger audiences, brand awareness, and/or impact sales.”
How to create a viral marketing campaign in 2022—and beyond
Though you may strike out more than once, creating a viral marketing moment is about being tied in to the latest news and cultural trends, as well as being willing to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself. Here, experts share their best tips for success:
Pay attention to cultural moments
Being one of the first to jump on a trending post or moment can sometimes be the key to going viral. Of course, this isn’t something you can strategically plan for, but if you’re willing to be flexible and fast, you could carve out the space before others within your industry.
For example, when Drake debuted his album art for ‘Certified Lover Boy,’ Lowy says many brands quickly edited the artwork to advertise their own products. The best edits went viral on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram within hours—if not minutes—of the launch.
If you’re short on design resources, find affordable solutions online, like Canva, which Lowy says allows brands to move quickly to get their content live. “Even without having design experience, you can quickly create social media templates that tap into millennial trends using GIFs, memes, and more,” she adds.
Zig when everyone else zags
‘Disrupt the market’ is a catchphrase that’s thrown out in many viral marketing conversations, but what does it mean exactly? To put it simply, Anderson says it’s when you zig while everyone else zags. “Think through the industry you exist in and develop a moment that genuinely disrupts thinking,” Anderson explains. “Take a fundamental attribute of your product or service that you can own and compare it to your competitor, which simplifies the difference extraordinarily.”
Look at Burger King's ‘moldy Whopper’ campaign: they showed the difference that fresh ingredients make in the ongoing burger wars' competitive landscape. “No one expected a top three fast-food chain to show a decaying product as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign, but it worked,” Anderson added.
Lean into storytelling and data
If all brands could snap their fingers and find the perfect cultural moment, there would be viral marketing campaigns left and right. But, most of the time, you won’t have a trend to play off of, so you need to create it yourself. That’s why Lowy recommends leaning into consumer insights to craft a campaign that elicits an emotional response— and reason to share can be key.
If you make people laugh, cry, or allow them to talk about themselves, they’re more likely to share. “When we see brands focus on a customer's story, like Spotify's yearly 'Wrapped' campaign, it's almost impossible to scroll through your feed without seeing your friends and people you follow sharing their data,” Lowy continues. “Providing your audience with something uniquely personal and shareable can take your concept from just a marketing campaign to a viral social media marketing moment.”
Consider investing in celebrities and influencers
Though hiring celebrities, influencers, or ambassadors within your niche can be expensive, it could be the silver bullet that turns a traditional release into a viral marketing moment. You don’t need to hire Kim Kardashian to see a return on your investment, Lowy says. “Don't underestimate the power of micro-influencers, as they're speaking directly to your target audience in a more authentic way than your brand ever can, and their followers help make your content shareable,” she continues. “Anytime you can get a real person to advocate for your brand and turn followers into customers, it's an opportunity.”
Go where your competitors haven’t before
Risk is the most crucial part of a viral campaign, Anderson says, so don’t be afraid to take a chance. It forces you boldly go where your competitors are not. “With the amount of content being produced today in any individual market or industry, the only opportunity to stand out is to think differently,” Anderson continues. “It is not essential to be obscene, rude, or crass. But it is important to be unapologetic in your pursuit of driving a conversation forward that happens to include your brand.”
In 2017, State Street Global Advisors, an asset management company, commissioned and executed one of the best viral experiential campaigns to date—interrupting our societal norm to show the changing of the guards. The project was called ‘Fearless Girl'—and trust us, you know it. It was a bronze statue depicting a girl at 4-feet high to promote women's empowerment ahead of International Women's Day, placed strategically in front of the New York Stock Exchange in downtown Manhattan. “It was very sophisticated and a very bold move to let the world see that finance is no longer a gentleman's game, but it is something that young girls can aspire to be, and women are running today,” Anderson explains. “This indeed created impact and went viral overnight.”
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