Ever heard of the term “six degrees of separation”? Well, it’s the idea that you can connect to anyone in the world through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. Essentially, if you share something with a friend, and your friend shares it with his/her friend and so on, within six times of sharing, your message can basically reach everyone in the whole world.
Now, with more than 3.2 billion people with internet access in this day and age, it’s easy to say that anything or anyone can become viral overnight. But unlike traditional marketing campaigns that can have varying degrees of success, viral marketing involves less grey area. They can either be very successful or so controversial that requires the business to pull down the ad or publicly apologize.
Kaplan and Haenlein (2011) have perfectly categorized four types of social media viral marketing campaigns: Nightmares, Homemade issues, Strokes of luck & Triumphs. They can be initiated by either customers or the company, and have either positive or negative results.
Just like its name, Nightmares are customer initiated negative viral marketing. The perfect example of this is the recent United Airlines ordeal where a passenger was assaulted and dragged off the flight due to over-booking issues. Other customers happened to witness the scene and recorded with their mobile phones, causing United Airlines to go viral in a negative way, of course.
Homemade issues are company-initiated marketing campaigns that go viral with negative feedbacks. Example? According to Independent, Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) from London launched an “anti-vegetarian” marketing campaign early last year, with taglines like “vegetarians, resistance is futile”, “you’ll always remember when you gave up being a vegetarian” and “they eat grass so you don’t have to” along with an image of a cow.
Of course, angry vegans and vegetarians brought this to social media and the backlash was so bad that Gourmet Burger Kitchen eventually had to pull the ads and publicly apologize.
Heard of Salt Bae? He really had a “stroke of luck” when he and his steak houses went viral after his customers uploaded pictures and videos of him flamboyantly sprinkling salt crystals onto delicious-looking steak (Source: The Sun). He has since become a viral sensation and even Leonardo DiCaprio visited his restaurant. He now regularly uploads videos of him preparing and cutting meats with his signature salt sprinkling gesture on Instagram with over 6.9 million followers. I’m sure this boost of popularity has improved his business.
Lastly, triumphs are company-initiated positive viral marketing campaigns. Example? A tattoo-parlour in Thailand uploaded a half-staged prank video as promotion for their business (Source: Metro). In the video, the tattoo artist’s girlfriend pranks him with fake balloon breasts that explode in the middle of the tattoo session. The video went viral as the headlines were eye-catching, successfully attracting potential customers to know more about the parlour. The idea was extreme, but at least it managed to raise its popularity.
In my opinion, when it comes to customer-initiated marketing campaigns, there really isn’t much businesses can do other than making sure they are providing good services or products at all times. If the outcome is positive and the business is recognized for its good efforts, great! Otherwise, businesses should practice their response and have a contingency plan ready to minimize the damage.
As for company-initiated marketing campaigns, whether the aim is to make it viral or not, businesses should always review, test and double-check to ensure the content is appropriate with good reasoning. There is a difference between eye-catching and controversial or unethical.
Do you agree with my examples? Please share some viral marketing campaigns that you’ve come across, especially homemade issues! I’d love to discuss with you about how it went wrong! Haha 😝