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Viral ads: Everyone’s at it but few get it right

4 Mins

Remember all the headlines over the summer about Old Spice and its phenomenally successful viral campaign? I remember thinking: “Old Spice? My granddad used to smell of Old Spice!”

Views of the commercial have risen to 20,585,541. It’s sparked a volley of variations, copies and spoofs, some of which have been viewed more than ten million times.

So, more than 20 million people have watched the commercial – for zero cost, other than the production, which is impressive by any standard. But are they the right 20 million people? And what impact has the commercial had on sales?

Within a month of the advert launch, sales of Old Spice increased by 107 per cent in the past month. It’s clear this viral campaign worked very well, but it begs the question: can this medium work for all businesses?

As the name suggests, a viral campaign acts like a virus being passed from one person to another. I’ve just asked Ann-Marie, Hayley, Hollie, Sharon and Sonya (the five women in closest proximity to my desk) and this very unscientific survey confirmed that they’ve all seen the Old Spice commercial (although none had been persuaded to buy it for their husbands, boyfriends or brothers just yet), and each of them had received the ad from a friend, who had received it from a friend and so on.

No doubt you’ve received several virals – perhaps the German coast guard (“What are you sinking about?”)? Or Kylie Minogue riding a mechanical bull? While these stand out, there are thousands that don’t. Videos on YouTube receive more than two billion views every day; 24 hours of video are uploaded every minute. More video can be found on YouTube in the next 60 days than appeared on US television for the first 60 years. So, everyone’s at it but very few get it right.

Successful virals are either funny, sexy, thought-provoking, or all of the above. The first thing you need to consider is: can your company/product/service be presented in this manner? I’m sure the answer from most is a resounding “yes”. But what if I asked you: “Are you prepared for your business to be made fun of, or portrayed in a way some will find offensive?” I’d gamble most of you will say “no”. That’s why so many virals fail – they aren’t funny/clever/sexy enough to be passed on. Virals only work when they are edgy, push boundaries and break taboos. And, often, they upset a few more people than they delight. Are you prepared to do this?

Yes, business is serious, but we might do well to stop for a moment and ask ourselves if it always has to be. Can we communicate our message in a way that entertains, amuses or even arouses our target audience, rather than boring them to death?

The trouble is, our tendency is to be conservative and eliminate risk. Instead of seeing the potential to create something, for negligible cost, that might cause a 107 per cent or more increase in sales, the majority of us will shy away and be scared off by the risk of upsetting a few people.

It’s a real shame, because if something that smells like my granddad can be an overnight hit, just think what your product or service can achieve.

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