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The campaign may go viral, but it is not up to the brand

What made the #IceBucketChallenge go viral in mid-2014? Why has ALS, the non-profit organisation associated with this campaign, not created another viral campaign of same or bigger proportions since then? Is it because it is not easy to replicate such a mega-successful campaign? Is it because this one was a fluke? Or is it me who has been out of touch?

I shall come back to the question above later.

 

Definition of a viral campaign

One of the toughest challenges that confront digital marketing agencies is creating client campaigns that are guaranteed to go viral. We face that ourselves here at eNitiate.

DEFINITION: A viral campaign in the context of this post is an explosion of brand or marketing messages across the media landscape, driven initially by social word of mouth (WOM) with influencers’ active participation, and later picked up media brands for amplification on own digital and traditional media platforms.

A perfect South African example was the 2014 NSPCA campaign that tapped on national election campaigns of some of the participating political parties, and went viral.

 

My observations

If it was up to digital agencies to create viral campaigns, then brands were going to have a field day every day, switching such campaigns on and off as they wish. We would be having throngs of planned viral campaigns on social media all the time and there would be pretty much nothing else to talk about. Even Julius Malema – arguably the most popular South African politician right now – would have to hire an agency to constantly keep his name on the lips of the South African netizenhood.

To date, there is no concrete evidence that brands and their agencies have control over virality of their campaigns. At best, some brands are adept at launching campaigns that have a higher talkability factor, but are not necessarily viral. A classic brand example that tends to get it right a fair amount of times is Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken. This is attributed to the brand’s irreverent, humorous and somewhat risque’ personality, and it’s integrated social media strategy.

 

What are the ingredients of a viral campaign?

Logic would dictate that if a campaign’s creative idea is appealing (or kul, as the millennials describe it), implementation plan well thought through (t’s crossed & i’s dotted), perfect timing picked (seasonality/leveraging of a trend), and is backed by a generous budget; then surely such a campaign must go viral? Let us test the logic by breaking down these elements:

  • – Appealing/kul: who is the judge of this – agency and/or client? Can this be judged before implementation? Is the market pre-test a sure predictor of likability and take-up by the market?
  • – Thorough planning of implementation: all possibilities considered, all media channels integrated, risk assessment done, crisis plan in place (just in case), etc. How long would this have taken? Consider next point.
  • – Perfect timing: who/what determines this, in this age of un-predictability? Who’s time are we referring to here? Let us explore this point further – how do we define perfect timing for these campaigns that were once on digital media fire – #OscarPistorius #Brexit #Trump #feesmustfall #FordKuga #GalaxyS7 #BlackLivesMatter #WeAreANC?
  • – Generous budgets: this will guarantee reach, OTS and frequency. But will it guarantee engagement by highly influential netizens such as #Somizi? What if these very influencers don’t like your campaign despite the generous budget?

 

Going viral is not under the control of a brand

A brand can ideate, develop, pretest, and launch a campaign, but its virality is dependent on social media market forces, circumstances and, yes luck too. If this was not the case, then Nandos, MTN, BMW, AT&T and KLM were going to have viral campaigns daily. To illustrate the point, the past 7 days were dominated by the

To illustrate the point, the past 7 days were dominated by the #PaidTwitter scandal, linked to the ANC’s alleged smear campaign of the opposition during the 2016 municipal elections. Apparently 45% of all of South Africa’s social mentions were attributed to this topic for the week in question. Add to this fact that Julius Malema had a press conference a day before the scandal broke. Thus, any unrelated digital campaign that was meant to break in the earlier part of the said week when this topic was in overdrive was not going to see the light of today, in share-of-voice terms. This is where luck (or lack thereof) comes in.

 

Is influencer marketing the answer to viral campaigns?

The reality that a viral campaign is more a chance than a sure event, this mainly due to social mood, has lead to the booming of paid influencer marketing, based on the principle of WOM. Does this guarantee success? What if your influencers get the script wrong?

The screen shot above shows how Oprah Winfrey gets it wrong in November 2012, tweeting about Microsoft Surface tablet using iPad. Clearly, this was a paid-for tweet, executed using the wrong device.

Think of it this way, it is estimated that only 5% of Twitter’s total database of more than 300 million worldwide contribute most content to this microblog, the rest are mainly listening or Rt’ing. The most influential social netizens come from this 5%. What if I told you that this handful cannot influence their potentially savvy and increasingly cynical followers to be interested in every brand and campaign they talk about? There are matters of natural fit to be considered, and this line gets crossed as money starts influencing the influencers’ choice of topics.

By the way, you can check your tweet value in case you are thinking of tweeting for money. See how I compare to Trevor Noah:

 

My proposed solution

I hope this settles it once and for all. Brands whose custodians read this blog should stop demanding viral campaigns from agencies. The solution is to rather demand campaigns that have high talkability factor, as this can be achieved. But as to how the social media will react to the campaign, is a throw of dice.

Here is a guideline for a campaign with high talkability factor:

  • – Clear definition of the target audience.
  • – A message that resonates with the intended audience.
  • – Relevancy. A campaign’s chance of doing better is enhanced if it is in line with the current mood. If a campaign can borrow directly but cleverly from current affairs, even better. Check out #PoleKwaMwirigi – a hashtag that trended in Kenya in May 2015 – for a perfect example.
  • – Controversy sells, just ask Nando’s. However, this has to be dictated by the brand’s own personality.
  • – Timing is everything. However, be aware that this has to be from social media’s and not brand’s perspective, and is a moving target.

 

And back to the #IceBucketChallenge question

I asked why ALS charity organisation has not had a follow-up campaign to #IceBucketChallenge. It turns out this highly successful campaign started as a bet between 2 golfing friends trying to raise funds for their chosen charity organisations, and was not created by ALS itself despite being associated with it (campaign) and being the largest beneficiary with over $15 million raised in the end.

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