Are viral campaigns a viable form of marketing?

Given the overwhelming success of viral campaigns such as Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’, or the spectacular failures of those such as the McDonalds #McDstories, we ask: Can viral campaigns really work as a cost effective form of brand building?

“NO” says Nagham Akileh, Associate Director – Social Media, OMD

NaghamAkileh“I don’t believe marketers can engineer virality. It’s better for brands to focus on authentic storytelling”
If you start with the objective of creating a viral campaign, then nine times out of 10 it won’t go viral. If you take a look at what has gone ‘viral’ from brands, a lot of them have either had some sort of media or PR push to make them spread. Truly viral advertising means a brand does not pay for its distribution. So technically they can’t be considered as ‘viral campaigns’.

There’s a lot that stands in the way of a brand that wants to achieve ‘viral’ status. For one thing, online behavior is simultaneously very predictable and unpredictable. People will share, for example, cat videos or emotional stories that courage and show optimism. However, no one really knows which of the thousands of cat videos will appeal to people the most and get shared, or which emotional story will command people’s attention. There are also all sorts of bizarre things that catch people’s attention and go viral, like The Dress. Memes are another example, from the early days of the O RLY owl to Doge to Leonardo Di Caprio with a water gun. While they all have something in common, nonsensical origin stories, no one really knows which of the thousands of silly things online will end up becoming a meme and why. If we did, everything would go viral.

The second major challenge for a brand to go ‘viral’ is cutting through the noise. Millions of minutes of video content are being uploaded online every day, along with millions more GIFs, images and articles. Brands are not just competing with others in their category, they’re going up against everything online. The odds that a campaign is going to go ‘viral’ are slim at best.

Marketers also tend to overlook the source of virality. A lot of viral online content starts from sites like Reddit and services like Vine and Tumblr, before they make their way to mainstream social networks (and then die on 9gag). So, unless one of the guys on those sites pick up on your content and think it’s awesome enough to share, your slim chance of going viral just got slimmer.

I don’t believe marketers can engineer virality. It’s better for brands to focus on authentic storytelling and storydoing to add value to consumers while achieving their brand objective, using resources at their disposable for measurable success. There’s nothing wrong with pushing something online with media investments or PR to help a great idea catch on, but let’s not call it ‘viral’ because it isn’t.

Now, can we please erase this word from our buzzword dictionaries?

“YES” says Ramzi Haddad, Managing Director, Carat UAE & Lower Gulf

Ramzi“I really believe that all consumers living in the urbanised jungles of this world are no longer impressed with what advertisers do.”

What are we propagating here? Very simple: It’s great if you can make a campaign go viral, but you have to make it good. Brands tend to over think ‘viral’ videos by trying to build in super complicated messages about their product and end often end up communicating them in a super un-inspiring way. In order to say yes to viral, you need to understand that the value of entertainment needs to be higher than the product message you are building into it. Oh, and Mr. Brand manager, what you think is fun and entertaining is going to have zero value to your audience.

The proof in this comes from companies like LG who are successfully using viral videos to drive new product features, like their super thin LED – done in such a surprising way, using a realistic surveillance camera style that really makes you think twice about what you’re seeing. It also makes you want to press that share button and make that video go even more viral. Who remembers seeing the press ad for that campaign? Nobody! Because LG made the viral element the main comms vehicle and it has paid off.

I really believe that all consumers living in the urbanised jungles of this world are no longer impressed with what advertisers do, especially when they do it repetitively. The novelty wears off pretty quickly on almost all ad messages out there no matter how ‘glitzy’ they are, whether they are on the biggest mediums or the smallest. If online time is such a personal time that takes up almost one whole day a week for the young and restless audiences in this region, then the next question to advertisers should be: what content is worthy of winning those young and restless eyeballs’ attention?

Just think – is this good enough to get a million views on YouTube, on the first day?

So yes to viral. It’s like skateboarding for me. I don’t usually do it but I will always stand up and applaud a good trick.

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