5 Myths you still believe about viral marketing

Viral Marketing Myths

Whether you’re a dramatic chipmunk or an aspiring small business, nobody minds becoming an overnight sensation.

It’s natural for entrepreneurs to crave the spotlight, and with ordinary products seemingly going viral all the time, everyone dreams of being the new Old Spice Guy. Nevertheless, it stops at wishful thinking for most business owners.

For a number of different reasons, it often feels impossible for businesses large and small to successfully crack the ‘virality code’. Making online waves with your product is far from an exact science, and no matter how creative or data-driven your marketing campaigns may be, there’s always an element of luck involved.

Still, it’s important to differentiate between reasonable advertising concerns on the one hand and unwarranted excuses on the other. Here are 5 of the biggest viral marketing myths businesses still believe:

Myth #1: It has to be expensive

Of course, every new ad by Apple, Pepsi or Ford gets millions of views and lights up the Twittersphere, right? Yours would too if you were a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate!

There’s no denying that having a 6-figure marketing budget can (putting it lightly) help alleviate your virality efforts. Still, you’re wrong if you think it’s necessary.

Take Blendtec, the now-legendary brand of blenders as a prime example of what an effective marketing campaign launched on a shoestring looks like. This was the company’s first Youtube video, posted nine years ago. The essentials? A lab coat and a pair of protective glasses, one of their own blenders, 50 marbles, and one simple question: Will it blend? To date, Blendtec’s web series is still considered one of the most successful and long-lasting Youtube marketing campaigns.

There are countless examples of companies compensating for the lack of an advertising budget by thinking outside the box. WePay, one of PayPal’s rivals, decided to take a jab at its competitor’s reputation for freezing some of its users’ accounts. The plan? Turn up at PayPal’s annual conference and drop off a large block of ice with some frozen fake money inside and a clear message: ’PayPal freezes your accounts’.

The stunt got picked up by TechCrunch, and WePay saw a 300% increase in weekly traffic and 225% increase in customers. Find your ice block. Your idea doesn’t need to be expensive – it just has to be unique and original.

Myth #2:  Your idea has to be unique and original

Didn’t see that one coming, did ya?

Look, if you’ve got a wildly creative plan to get the word out about your business, more power to you! That being said, not every viral campaign has to feature Jean Claude Van Damme doing a split in between two Volvo trucks.

In fact, ‘your’ idea doesn’t need to be yours at all. ‘Newsjacking’ was a term coined for when brands try and leverage popular news stories to draw attention to themselves. It has since expanded to describe pretty much any attempt to piggyback on someone else’s content, be it news, popular events, tv shows or even other companies’ viral campaigns.

Case in point: following the first episode of this season’s Great British Bake Off, Lakeland sent an email newsletter to its loyal customers, announcing the launch of its very own GBBO collection (how convenient). This type of stuff happens on Twitter all the time, with brands giving their own take on current events and trending topics. It’s quick, easy, and can be very effective if done right.

A good example of this type of virality comes from a popular infographic RenegadePharmacist.com recently made about the hazards of drinking Coca Cola. The twist? The actual content was almost entirely based off of a 9-year old article someone else wrote for another site.

Now, there was likely a syndication agreement here, and credit was visibly given to the original article. Still, the point remains: if you can’t think of something unique and original yourself, there’s plenty of ideas online to go around.

Myth #3: The product must be ‘interesting’

I recently came across an article that literally said: ‘good luck having a campaign on socks go viral – nobody cares.‘

And while it’s true that some products and services naturally have a ‘viral aura’ to them (like the Yo App or this smartphone add-on for taking selfies with your pet), it’s far from impossible to have an effective viral campaign for any product, even something as ordinary as socks. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Just ask Happy Socks.

This is probably one of the most common misconceptions among small businesses. They usually think their product is too boring ever to go viral or get people talking. The truth is, all products have value and are interesting to someone: otherwise, no one would buy them.

Remember Blendtec? Or how about the famous ad for Dollar Shave Club, a subscription service for cheap razors? They spent 4500$ on a commercial that’s now been viewed more than 22 million times on Youtube. The ad has not just cemented their online presence – it has also turned their product into a movement.

Whatever industry you’re in, just remember it’s usually not your product that goes viral anyway – it’s the story and the narrative you’ve created around it. Sometimes that means snowboarding among the clouds to sell socks, sometimes it means putting marbles in a blender. Hey, nobody said any of this made perfect sense.

Myth #4: You must follow the ‘virality formula’

This one refers to a variety of tips and tricks often mentioned when talking about virality. These include: ‘organize contests or giveaways’, ‘offer unique value with your campaign’, ‘make sure the production level is super high’ etc.

To be clear, I’m not saying any of these, and similar tips don’t work. They all have merit. What I am pointing out, though, is the fact that the concept of virality has evolved so much over the years, it has a tendency of becoming a parody of itself. In other words, whatever formula for going viral might have existed in the past, doing the exact opposite could work just as well nowadays.

Of course, it’s a good idea to organise giveaways and focus on providing value to your customers. Intentionally not doing so, however, seems to be very effective as well.

Cards Against Humanity is a notoriously popular card game. Every Black Friday, rather than offering special deals for their customers just like everyone else, they do the opposite. Two years ago, they actually increased the price of their game on Black Friday for 5$. The people loved the paradox. Last year, for just 6$ a piece, everyone could order their very own…bag of poop. Literally. They ended up shipping over 30000 bags of actual poop. Finally, this year they offered ‘the ultimate Black Friday experience’ – the ability to buy nothing, for 5$. It wasn’t a donation, mind you- the company made it clear that they’ll be spending the money however they please. They ended up making over 70000$.

Of course, it’s a good idea for your ad to be well produced. However, the Web has become so saturated with quality content, intentionally making something look worse is becoming a legitimate anti-strategy. For proof, look no further than this cheesy transmission commercial. The ad went viral in a matter of days, and most people didn’t even realise it was created by longtime Youtube celebrities, Rhett & Link. The ad was real, but the idea was to spoof the typical quality of local commercials. And it worked like a charm.

Bottom line: anything and the exact opposite of it can work, as long as you can find the right angle.

Myth #5: It has to be short and simple

Our final misconception stems from the belief that the Internet has turned most of us into deeply-preoccupied, inattentive goldfish. Apparently, we no longer have the time nor the interest for complex reasoning and emotion, so if you’re looking to go viral, better make sure your message is idiot-proof. And if you managed to recognise sarcasm just there, congratulations, you’re one of the few that made it to the other side intact.

Short-form content has proven its viral worth countless times. From everyone’s favourite man your man could smell like to countless newsjacking attempts such as this one by Tide, ‘short and sweet’ seems to be the go-to mantra. However, and especially if we’re talking blogs and the online written word, longer content often demonstrates a wider viral reach compared to 500-word scribbles.

This is in no small part due to the fact that search engines began favouring in-depth guides and awarding them with better rankings and higher visibility. However, it’s also inherent to the human nature. There are simply things important to all of us that can’t physically be consumed in less than 2-3 minutes. Also, it appears we still enjoy reading and sharing intellectually-stimulating pieces from time to time. Be it a new study your company has commissioned or just a very well-written opinion piece, long-form content consistently pays dividends.

Waitbutwhy is a website famous for producing long, explainer-type articles that reach a massive audience. Fivethirtyeight is a blog founded by statistician Nate Silver which often uses math to analyse current events. The site is not just read by millions, their pieces have even gone viral enough to directly influence the events it analysed. All in all, if you’ve got a lot to say, don’t be so sure there’s no one still willing to listen.