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Debate: Going viral is more trouble than it’s worth


Debate: Going viral is more trouble than it’s worth



“Going viral is more trouble than it’s worth.”


Simon Small

Planning and insights director

Visual Jazz Isobar


The challenge facing brands that want to ‘go viral’ is that without skills and experience in creating compelling content, it’s a high-risk strategy that most likely won’t deliver a return on investment.

What constitutes ‘viral’ will be different for every brand. Typically, we define it as content that generates ongoing reach without any paid media support.

From an idealistic standpoint, making content that goes viral means you’re truly connected to your audience and know what they’ll share. Realistically, you’ve got to balance business objectives with reaching the right audience.

Successful brands have a long term content strategy that engages their community and influencers. The famous Old Spice campaign was an amazing piece of content engineering that delivered real business results. It’s one of the few viral campaigns that has been so accountable.

Old Spice marketers didn’t just get lucky. They’ve been publishing content on YouTube for years with relatively little success in terms of huge viewer numbers. But over that time, they gained the experience to create the worldwide hit.

Do you – or your agency – really have the chops to create content that will compete with the experts? Maybe you can leverage existing content experts to create it for you, as Google has done recently with Lady Gaga and her YouTube Q&A.

Creating something shareable is no mean feat. Community influencers are usually what tips content into the viral realm, so get your social media strategy right first. Who are the influencers in your community? What makes them shout out to their fans? Once you know this, then you can go about creating the content.

Marketers should focus on creating content that engages your social community and delivers on your business objectives. Build a team in your business or agency that can create content your community will love. If it goes viral, that’s just an added bonus.
Nic Hodges

Head of innovation and technology



First, I want to shoot the elephant in the room: the ‘V’ word. Viral is something that happens, not something that is. You don’t make a viral, you make content. If that content is brilliant, it becomes famous.

In this context, the statement becomes: “Making great content is more trouble than it’s worth.” If you’re an advertiser, or someone who makes advertising, and you truly believe that statement, please quit now. The world has enough shit advertising.

“But hold on!” I hear you say, “In a world where 30 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, good content simply doesn’t cut it.” And this is absolutely true. Just because you’ve made a great video doesn’t mean it will become famous. You must have strategies in place to give your content the best chance of success.

In this context, the statement becomes: “Making great content famous is more trouble than it’s worth.”

A lot of traditional media, PR, and creative agencies would have you believe this is true – seeding strategies, influencer outreach, community management and video promotion are all new media tools that seem pretty complex when you’re used to TV and print ads.

But the truth is that with the right tools, some clever people, and a lot of learnings, making good content famous in today’s world is absolutely possible. In just the past 12 months, we’ve helped a bunch of our clients create content and make it famous using our SEED tool.

We’ve clocked up more than four million views as a result of SEED. This is awesome content. It isn’t shouty traditional advertising. It’s interesting, it’s entertaining, and people want to watch it. And when you’re starting with content like that, making it famous isn’t just worthwhile, it’s amazingly rewarding.


Lucie Austin

Marketing director

Coca-Cola South Pacific


Marketers have always strived to unlock value in their brands through great story-telling. This has always been the objective but a major change in recent times is the role the consumer can play in the telling of those stories. We know that today’s consumers are more connected and more empowered than ever before. While this represents challenges for marketers and obvious risks, it is also provides fantastic opportunities. Today we have the ability to create stories in which consumers can play a very active role. When done well this creates more connection between consumers and our brands and ultimately can assist in unlocking even greater value.

It certainly isn’t an easy thing to achieve, but then again the development of great marketing communications has never been easy. What it has always taken is the ability to understand a problem, strategically and creatively work out a solution and implement that solution successfully. Today it’s not really any different other than understanding that the solution may also involve a role for the consumer. We don’t think it’s about losing control, or handing over your brand, but it is about developing your communications with the empowered consumer in mind and building the capability to listen and react in real-time to how your consumer is helping to shape and tell your story once it’s begun.

Of course all of this is new to marketers and it could easily be argued that it’s too risky and therefore not worth it. The simple truth, however, is that it’s not a question of whether it’s worth it or not. The empowered and connected consumer is the reality. We have to understand and embrace this reality and use it to our advantage if we’re to successfully manage brands and marketing communications in the 21st century.


Brian Giesen


Social@Ogilvy Australia


As brand marketers we need to work hard every day to create content and campaigns that are predisposed to spread virally.

Fundamentally, going viral is all about getting friends, family, and peers en masse to recommend something – whether that’s an interesting video, a Facebook experience, or an offline event. Generating mass awareness is the new barometer of success in today’s communications environment – where personal recommendations and peer-to-peer communication trump advertising in terms of driving purchase decisions.

But how do you make it more likely your content or campaign will spread virally? In my experience, there are three things that are required. First, you need to be listening to your customers every day and understand what drives them to talk online and pass along information to their friends. An ongoing listening post will also enable you to measure when something does go viral. Second, as part of the campaign planning process you need to ‘tick’ each of the seven word of mouth drivers:

  • Do we have a good story to tell?
  • can people show their involvement in some way?
  • do we offer something new to talk about?
  • do we let supporters be creative?
  • do we invite people to participate?
  • do we offer something of value (which could be humour)? and
  • are we asking the right people – including influencers – to spread the word?

Finally, you need to plan. There’s a common misperception that the viral Holy Grail is a chance happening. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and knowing the level of research and analysis that goes into developing a virally successful campaign, I’m sure most brand marketers would be offended by such a belief. By doing your homework and combining the power of paid, owned and earned media, you’re positioning your content for success and ultimately increasing its reach and appeal.

Developing a creative, shareable, targeted campaign that goes viral – that’s every marketer’s mission.


Who do you agree with? Who do you disagree with? Join the debate via the comments section below, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Marketing‘s LinkedIn group.


Cover image attribution: Connie Shu (CC BY 3.0) via The Noun Project.


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