So you went viral, now what?

It's every marketer's dream, but what do you do after your brand's video is everywhere?

ice bucket

The story appears in the October 2014 issue of strategy.

Brands have been busy of late creating experiences for consumers and sharing them in online videos – from an ATM that delivered prizes to a fridge that dispensed beer for singing the national anthem. And for a few weeks this summer you couldn’t scroll through a Facebook News Feed without seeing someone dump ice water on their head. These viral videos garnered millions of views, and in the case of ALS societies across the globe, millions in donor dollars.

But how can marketers guarantee these campaigns add up to long-term growth – and not get them pilloried by the public? And how does a brand leverage a viral effort started outside of its boardroom? Industry pundits weigh in on how to navigate the fortune and fallout of going viral.

Ride the wave

By Tammy Moore

The Ice Bucket Challenge was started by a young man living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), who personally challenged his friends and family. In that initial video, he directed the momentum of an existing activity to a charitable area to which he was deeply connected.

The challenge solidifies that people want to be a part of something that has meaning – they appreciated it was not contrived by an organization. It was never our campaign, so our role as brand managers was to ensure we aligned to meet public demand and expectations. Still, we learned some lessons from which other brands can benefit.

Become a part of the story
As the leading non-profit ALS organization in Canada, our success was dependent on respecting and understanding that this challenge’s power came from being unbranded. We approached it not as a marketer, but rather as an equal participant, integrating ourselves into the story by making sure we were seen within social realms answering questions, commenting on posts, re-tweeting videos and acknowledging and validating the public’s efforts to support the community.

When we heard rumblings of the challenge, we could never have predicted its mass popularity. But we started setting up infrastructure to meet demand and ensure we were “first in market,” setting up an Ice Bucket Challenge website and ensuring the public knew we were available to answer questions.


Leverage support networks
We harnessed the support of the media, conducting close to 100 interviews. We brought together our provincial societies for regular update meetings to help us adjust and evolve our key messages. With things moving quickly, it was critical for everyone to be aligned.

Stay focused In some ways, it worked in our favour to not be too corporate and polished in our response, as it showed our grassroots connection. But as the challenge’s popularity grew, it became hard as expectations to respond increased, so we had to add more resources.

There was a lot of noise and clutter surrounding our organization and the challenge itself. Staying focused on what truly matters – fulfilling the public’s need to contribute and be validated in a transparent way – helped to disempower attempts to shed a negative light on both public efforts and our organization.

Tammy Moore is interim CEO, ALS Society of Canada

Heed the hazards

By Alison King

Every marketer dreams their idea will go viral. But, like Frankenstein’s monster, creating something with a life of its own has potential pitfalls. Here are a few, and how to handle them.

Loss of control
Your campaign is now pop culture and no longer strictly your own. Your video might appear on websites that you’d prefer not to be associated with. Your beloved mascot might become a meme.

You need to decide if your organization will be comfortable letting go. You don’t need to jump in with both feet on the first try, but ensure being risk-averse won’t hinder your ability to be competitive.

Things go bad
alisonSocial media allows you to speak directly to your fans, but it also allows your critics to join the conversation. This has been said before, but worth repeating: prepare in advance responses to topics of frequent criticism and install a rapid response team. Journalists in particular are going to look for dissent and opposition to tell a balanced story.

You jump the shark
Oh my God! We love it! We love it…we’re over it. Things move fast and you’re going to be old news in a heartbeat. So, don’t give it all away the first time you find yourself with an audience. Consider the overarching narrative arc for your campaign and how different tactics will allow you to evolve the story over time. There are some fairly predictable phases – discovery, speculation/editorializing and then the story of the campaign’s origin. Be ready to participate but also be ready to exit stage left when your arc is done. Always leave them wanting more.

Alison King is president of independent PR agency Media Profile

Make it meaningful

By Geoff Craig

As large Canadian brands continue to humanize themselves through social media, we’re seeing a glut of content being manufactured and packaged for the sole purpose of building stronger consumer-centric relationships. Branded “viral” videos, delivered through the lens of uplifting gestures of social goodwill, tug at heartstrings, exercise tear ducts and feast on our natural human inclination to share emotionally-driven, uplifting stories with our social graphs.

This movement to personify brands and showcase their sensitivity shows no sign of slowing down. However, it must be asked whether this technique is effective in building authentic, long-term relationships with fans and followers, or if it alienates and appears self-serving.

I believe as more brands jump on this method of corporate social responsibility, consumers will grow increasingly skeptical and desensitized to this “feel-good” content. A by-product of the Photoshop and internet age has been an augmented wariness regarding what’s real and fake, and as brands continue to blur the line between being corporate conglomerates and community-oriented organizations, so too will our cynicism and suspicion of their motives and actions grow.

If brands are to form authentic, lasting and effective relationships with their consumers/fans today, they must fully embrace the same dynamics that help marriages and friendships persevere – mutual respect and admiration, transparency and empathy. The real reward is the transition from short-term brand affinity to long-term brand loyalty, and this can’t be achieved through viral videos alone. It has to be an organization-wide commitment to be authentic, transparent and community-focused.

No matter what the viral execution is, it still has to live up to and meet the fundamental beliefs, culture and strategy of the brand. Any manufactured viral attempt by a brand should be viewed as a single execution that supports a larger overall strategy.

Geoff Craig Photo

Flash mobs (one of the earlier forms of social viral marketing) are a perfect example of one-off thinking: the vast majority were stand-alone pieces that would occasionally go viral because of their uniqueness, but typically never laddered up to a strategic insight or supported strategic initiatives. This ultimately made them utterly forgettable and ineffective.

Long-term loyalty is driven by a more complex cocktail of bringing value and utility to people’s lives (often beyond the product or service itself), and no entertaining cat video or a one-off, feel-good, tear-jerking stunt will achieve that loyalty Holy Grail.

Geoff Craig has a history with viral videos for brands like Dove, and most recently “The Undeading,” using zombies to promote CPR, as CMO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation