Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Want a successful viral campaign? Let somebody else do it.

In Ideas, Insight on April 1, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Today, the foundation of marketing glory is built upon the shifting sands of YouTube, forwarded emails, consumer generated content and a host of other factors. Predicting what will scratch the itch of the cultural zeitgeist is about as easy as herding cats. When marketing and communications professionals lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, they beseech the Gods, “If only I could create the next This Spartan Life / Grey Album / All Your Base Are Belong To Us.”  

Yes, creating the next catch phrase – remember when Saturday Night Live used to fill that role? – or most queried Google search is the Holy Grail, but actually doing so is much harder than it seems.  Sure, there was a time when the sledgehammer approach worked. Run enough “Where’s The Beef?” commercials and eventually politicians are using it in campaigns and third tier rap outfits are paying homage to it in song.

But the rules have changed and consumer habits have changed. Making brand-generated buzz, especially in the viral arena, a tricky operation. Sure, it can be done. Burger King hit one out of the park with the Subservient Chicken, but that was the exception more than the rule. Had the braintrusts at Coke and Mentos got together for an off-site, is there any way they would have come up with this?

Rather than focusing on coming up with the next Chocolate Rain, marketers should be devising ways to create the tools that will allow consumers to make the magic happen. Chris Burke didn’t create the Halo franchise or Machinima, but he used them as tools to create This Spartan Life. Similarly, Danger Mouse, like a modern day Marcel Duchamp, took what already existed – albums by Jay-Z and The Beatles – and created something new out of them.

Yes, for every gem there will be a lot of dross, that’s the cost of doing business in this arena. But the only way to succeed, to truly create something memorable enough to shake consumers out of their seats, is to fail and fail repeatedly. You can’t focus group your way to PostSecret.com.

But what you can do is allow consumers access to your images, music, video, icons and logos. Make it easy for them to build, create and share because you really only have two choices: Help them create something magical or stand by and watch them do it anyway. Which do you think you’re brand will benefit most from?

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