The study of what makes something go viral online has been some of the most diligent research done in the early 21st century. Virality basically guarantees success when it comes to digital advertising and marketing, as it leads to more organic shares, deeper engagement and a wider reach.
Key to creating viral elements in campaigns is the fact that consumers gravitate toward unique, highly creative ads and marketing. Some companies use unexpected elements to go viral; others prefer to stir up controversy to grab attention and move their brand forward, which can carry significant risk.
Below, 14 experts from Forbes Agency Council explore how companies can safely attempt to go viral by infusing unconventional messaging and highly creative elements into their campaigns.
1. Make Sure It’s Grounded In Strategy
It must be grounded in strategy and brand-authentic. You owe it to the client who wants something big or provocative to ensure there’s a strong business case for doing so, or you waste your time and their money. Don’t be tone-deaf in a sad, scary time for many. Make sure your message is genuine and not opportunistic, or you will alienate customers and activate “cancel culture.” – Stephen Rosa, (add)ventures
2. Root It In The Core Message
The bold approach has to be rooted in the core message of the organization. Whether through controversy, crazy tactics, engaging a celebrity, etc., it has to drive home the point of the campaign and be meaningful, interesting and exciting for the target audience. – Nathan Miller, Miller Ink, Inc.
3. Always Stay On-Brand
Always be on-brand and stay consistent with your promise and values. Don’t use viral opportunities to establish your brand reputation. Instead, think of these agile tactics as a way to strengthen and reinforce what is already in action and evident in your products, services, company culture and social responsibility programs. – Carey Kirkpatrick, CKP
4. Study The Market’s Behavior
Going viral isn’t that simple. You have to study the market’s behavior and map out the customer journey so that you can target that moment when something can be effectively shared. “Attention-grabbing” content or “shock” content can only go so far if you want to ride the wave of a certain content trend. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
5. Make Sure It Aligns With Company Goals
Producing a campaign with unexpected or controversial elements just for the sake of grabbing attention will often work against a long-term brand position. My advice to companies wishing to engage in that would be to only attempt it if it would help their customers achieve their goals. More often than not, misalignment of an organization’s campaign with its brand promise will backfire. – Roger Hurni, Off Madison Ave
6. Ask About Their Risk Appetite First
Be careful what you ask for. Out of millions of clips on YouTube, only about one of them will go viral. At the same time, too many campaigns go viral for the wrong reasons, either for being badly executed or for being too controversial. So if your client asks you to make them go viral, ask them about their risk appetite first. Anyone can get famous, but not always for the right reasons. – Lars Voedisch, PRecious Communications
7. Make A Single And Simple Point
If you try hard to make something go viral, it never will. Tell an amazing story, frame it around a tight niche, tap into existing conversations with an interesting angle or play on “folk-isms.” Most important of all: Keep your message to a single, simple point. Do that, and there’s a good chance it will resonate with the audience and be shared (and possibly go viral). – Mike Boogaard, MOI Global
8. Play It Safe With Controversy
My No. 1 piece of advice would be that advertisers need to play it safe when attempting to be controversial. We live in a time when “cancel culture” is everywhere, and one wrong move can end a legacy of great moves. Remember, it takes years to build trust, but only moments to lose it. – Garrett Atkins, VIE Media
9. Lead With The Attention-Grabbing Elements
Make sure that the attention-grabbing and unexpected elements happen within the first five to seven seconds of a video because you may not get longer than that to grab someone’s attention and hold it. You can’t build up to it; you need to jump right in. – Spencer Hadelman, Advantage Marketing
10. Consider The Current Social Climate
Consider the current social climate and weigh the risks of your campaign. My top advice would be to avoid chasing viral content, as it is rarely engineered successfully. But if your client insists, make sure you don’t shoot yourself or your client in the foot with something that sends the wrong message. Trying too hard reeks of insincerity, which consumers will definitely pick up on. – Dmitrii Kustov, Regex SEO
11. Develop Talking Points And Responses
If you’re going to use marketing that is edgy or controversial, develop talking points and responses to potential objections in advance. Your take on the issue might not satisfy everyone, but it will show that the idea was considered from multiple perspectives and perhaps help clarify your intentions. – Hannah Trivette, NUVEW Web Solutions
12. Look At What Worked In The Past
Before you execute this type of disruptive strategy, look at what was successful in the past so that you don’t water down or blow the client’s old methods (which were proven to be successful) completely out of the water. You need to know where they came from before you can show them where they can go. Aiming to go viral can be a shortsighted campaign strategy. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency
13. Ensure It Supports The Brand’s Future
Does this approach support the creed, mission and values of your company today as well as the future of your brand? Going viral, especially today, is a double-edged sword. If it works, it will likely be a “flash in the pan” in terms of attention. If it doesn’t work, the impact can linger for years. So don’t simply be controversial without weighing the risks. – Bernard May, National Positions
14. Keep It Above Board
Unexpected and attention-grabbing elements can be incorporated into a campaign to attract user attention, but this can be done above board without having to resort to any controversial or gray areas that might be risky for a brand to enter. If you question the controversial nature of a tactic or campaign, the viewer most certainly will, and it will be amplified. – Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, Hawthorne LLC