From T-Mobile’s flash mob ads to Old Spice to Evian roller babies, viral marketing has swept through the advertising business like, well, a virus.
With their ability to cut through to huge audiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional campaigns, viral has become an important weapon in many brands’ marketing war chests. It is also affecting the way that ads get made and how agencies function.
Steve Coll, ECD for Havas Australia, points out that building a viral campaign is a big departure from the traditional repetition-based approach to advertising. “It may not be a message you are particularly interested in, but you will see it many times. There’s a certain talent to write that, but not the same kind of talent you need to do viral ads.”
Coll, whose viral successes include the Fundawear ads for Durex Australia (see Case Study), and the Cannes Grand Prix award-winning ‘Walkers Sandwich’ campaign, says agencies are now challenged to come up with “creative ideas that people want to see. It’s a belief in ideas that are naturally newsworthy, rather than ideas that demand repetition, that is the difference between what we might have done as agency two to three years ago and what we do now.”
It is also part of the digital-driven shift to two-way or conversational marketing.
Vysia Duffield, founder of newly-launched Vysion Communications, says it is about creating ads that will delight or make audiences laugh or trigger sharing. “In a way, the only barrier to entry is digital know-how, whether someone is plugged into the zeitgeist.”
Richard ‘Goz’ Gostelow, joint regional ECD for Razorfish, says that, pre-digital, a memorable ad was one “we talked about in the pub. We probably knew our audience would be sitting on the couch in the living room watching a 30-second spot. Now, our audience could be anywhere; we have many more options. Plus, everything is instant.”
Duffield agrees, citing Oreo’s famous Superbowl blackout tweet. “The life cycle of campaigns has also changed. You now need to ride on a trend and ship your creative as fast as possible,” she adds.
Coll says his big education in viral was the ‘Walkers Sandwich’ campaign three years ago, in which celebrities descended on the humdrum British town of Sandwich: Jensen Button drove a cab, Frank Lampard and Gary Lineker turned up at football training, Pamela Anderson pulled beers, and so on. As well as generating huge social and mass media buzz, the campaign helped the small brand force its way onto the major supermarket shelves and shift an extra 16 million packets of crisps.
But Coll says the biggest single requirement for viral marketing is a collaborative mindset. A successful viral campaign is a cross-disciplinary exercise — the creative, the digital and the media teams and the PR partner all play a critical role.
Duffield says the biggest change she has seen is the average age in creative teams becoming younger. “At the beginning of my career, the creative teams I dealt with were usually in their mid- to late-thirties, now most of them are in their twenties,” she says
When it comes to hiring, a premium is placed on candidates who have “high online presence, who know instinctively what kind of content is sharable”, she notes.
Coll says agencies need “some really hot talent,” but people coming into creative departments know what will be required of them. “In particular the young ones — they come in understanding that they don’t just want to produce 30-second ads. They want to create something that five or six million people will want to see. They want to see the numbers rise on YouTube.”
Mahesh Neelakantan, MD & APAC hub director, OgilvyAction Kuala Lumpur
Mainstream creative teams used to work a bit like relay teams. Each member had a specialisation and their respective roles cut out and they used to pass the baton until one guy finished the race. However, with the advent of viral marketing and brand activation our creative teams and the agency itself operates a bit like a football team. We all do have our own starting positions in the field, but the goal can come from anyone. Even the goalkeeper.
Depending on the brief, the team combination and composition is purpose-built for the project, just as in football where you set the starting formation 4-4-2 or 5-3-2 according to the opposition and strategy.
To be able to do this, we have created a more participative, open-source, ideas-driven culture. One that allows us to pull in people with different skill sets to work together.
For example, in the case of our ‘Cadbury — Say it with Chocolate’ campaign, while the idea and activation came from one creative team (which specialises in shopper marketing) the viral video was conceptualised and executed by another team that was skilled in developing brand videos and viral content. Both teams worked together to bring the overall campaign to life alongside account management.
On occasions when the brief demands it, we do what we call a ‘one-night stand’, where the entire office stays late and works together in three or four SWAT teams on the same brief, and we don’t leave until we have something.
We don’t do this often, but on every occasion we have done it, the output has been spectacular, with practically the entire office collaborating in developing the work. This has proven great for building teams and training young creatives.
Steve Coll, ECD, Havas Australia
In Australia, Durex was a distant second behind category leader Ansell, which had secured consumer loyalty. Durex possessed a competitive advantage in its innovative product line, so Havas Australia decided to build a campaign around this to raise brand awareness.
Most people associated the brand with safety rather than fun, so we needed to highlight its playfulness. We created a non-traditional campaign with a newsworthy innovation to showcase Durex’s other innovative products.
To do this we created Fundawear — an innovative range of underwear from Durex which uses dedicated technology to accurately communicate touch over the internet for the first time.
Using the Fundawear iPhone application, a signal is sent via a real-time server to their partner’s smartphone. The signal is then sent to touch-actuators woven into the fabric of the partner’s underwear.
We filmed the first test of our Fundawear prototype with a real couple and became Australia’s top YouTube video in April, with more than eight million views (see "Durex shows Australia, and the world, the future of foreplay"). Our innovation was covered globally, allowing us to show off all of Durex’s other innovative products.