Viral Video Campaign


In March of this year, the Internet went ablaze with first kisses. A YouTube video featuring a group of 20 suspiciously — but, okay, plausibly — good-looking strangers making out took over Facebook walls and Twitter feeds alike. “You HAVE to watch this,” read captions typed out by everyone from web-hip grandmothers to sensitive dudebros, each won over by the voyeuristic thrill of watching awkward first contacts swiftly dissolve into full-on face sucking.

The video was poignant, irresistibly sexy and utterly human. It was also totally fake: an ad, it turned out, for Los Angeles-based clothing retailer Wren. The “strangers” were all actors who knew what they were getting themselves into; some viewers reportedly felt cheated by the ruse. But nearly 85 million YouTube views later and counting, who cares?

When done right, social media marketing campaigns grab people’s attention and don’t let it go. And because they function through grassroots proliferation, a well-placed campaign can be remarkably inexpensive to execute. The secret for success is in the sharing. But, how can a business owner guarantee their online marketing campaign will pick up speed?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” says Mark Evans, Digital Marketing and Content Strategist. “There’s no tried-and-true formula.”

According to Evans, getting a piece of promotional video or well-directed Twitter campaign to make its rounds through the right channels (that is, in front of the eyeballs of a brand’s target market) is a combination of science, art and a whole lot of luck. The biggest piece of advice he can offer is that businesses be creative and think outside of the box when putting their idea together.

He points to a 2012 campaign by Venice, California-based as a case study in small business video marketing done right. Its most successful video, which featured a spokesman talking viewers through an oddball tour of the company’s stockroom and touting the “f***ing great” quality of his company’s razors, amassed millions of views almost instantly — almost 15 million to date.

According to Evans, the sheer quirkiness of the DollarShaveClub video was what made it work. “The reality of the marketing landscape is that there’s a lot of noise out there,” he says.  “Unless you do something different, it’s really hard to capture people’s attention. At the same time, there are opportunities for smaller companies to be successful if they do something different.”

Still, it isn’t just small businesses who benefit. “It’s important to note that for brands today, online marketing isn’t necessarily a “should we” but a “we have to,” says Brett Purves, CEO of Stir Communications Group in Vancouver. In order to compete it’s essential that all businesses — from one-person operations to massive multinationals—get on board with Facebook-promoted post campaigns, Google Adwords, social media engagement campaigns, and more. “In order to succeed and grow, you have to “play” where your target market plays, and in 2014, that’s online.”But going “viral” shouldn’t be a brand’s top priority. Instead, Evans advises that small businesses focus on marketing that’s interesting and creative while also offering some kind of value.

“The goal should be to stay true to your brand and the people that you want to reach and do as good a job as you can,” says Evans. “If you happen to hit it with something people love, then that’s a bonus.”

On the other side of the coin, a poorly conceived campaign can go viral to negative effect, and even tarnish a brand’s reputation. Purves points to a 2012 McDonald’s Twitter hashtag campaign, #McDStories, as an example of online marketing gone awry. The campaign, which was meant to encourage clients to share positive stories of their interaction with the fast-food giant, quickly devolved into a series of criticisms and gross-out tales — a lesson in why it’s important to not only be creative, but to consider how a campaign might be shared through different online channels.

Aaron Adams, owner of Expert Viral based in Littleton, Colorado, points out that keeping current is another key consideration for a successful online marketing campaign. “Search engines value fresh content. Remaining active and consistent is as important as remaining engaging.” Sticking to a content release schedule that’s steady and predictable helps to stay in people’s consciousness. It doesn’t hurt SEO results, either.

And, as with any kind of marketing campaign, establishing a well-researched and carefully-crafted strategic plan before starting is of the essence. As Purves points out, it’s important that this plan also includes measures of success and milestones so that you can refer back and ensure things are on track as you go.

Finally, it’s crucial to be honest about budgetary limitations and what’s reasonable when working within them, especially when it comes to video. This was the beauty of the DollarShaveClub campaign, which managed to be zany and to-the-point in spite of (or maybe because of) its endearingly low production value.

“If it’s honest and quick and clear,” Adams says, “that’ll live forever.”