5 great viral marketing campaigns (and what small businesses can learn from them!)

At crowdSPRING we talk a great deal about how we can leverage our limited marketing resources to drive traffic and revenues and build strong community. Some of the traffic-tactics we use involve good old fashioned payola: paid search, banner ads, affiliate programs, etc. Other tactics leverage partnerships with other businesses to create mutual value and introduce our respective communities to one another’s services or product offering. Finally, we work hard to create marketing value in the social media space and work to engender word-of-mouth and the viral effect. This last category of tactics, includes everything from providing meaningful content in our Twitter stream and Facebook pages – and watching for the invaluable re-tweets and friends that materialize – to pitching stories to the media about our industry, our community, and the great businesses that post their projects on crowdSPRING.

We try to learn from what other businesses have done with their own (sometime limited) resources and try to learn from their successes. Here are 5 campaigns we greatly admire that used relatively scant funds and some of the lessons that small businesses can achieve from an analysis of their success!

1. That crazy chicken. Burger King’s brave new world.

In April of 2004 Burger King and their agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky had an insight that led to what was, at the time, the most successful viral effort ever launched by a business: the Subservient Chicken. The insight was that adult “cam” sites had grown widely in popularity based on the real-time interactions between the audience of internet users and the models posing in front of their web cams. If people enjoyed instructing, uh, strippers to do their bidding on camera, why not have them interact the same way with a 6-foot tall chicken acting out their commands on a bare-bones living room set? The result was spectacular: 46 million views in the first week, dozens of stories in industry journals, blogs, and the mass media. And skyrocketing sales for the new chicken sandwich BK was hawking.

What can a small business learn? Look for opportunity where none existed before and try to learn from that which is around you every day. If you are part of a trend, or can spot a trend, think hard about how your audience might be influenced. Most important lesson: hire a 6-foot tall chicken to promote your brand.

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2. OK Go, or how to use exercise equipment for visibility and profit.

OK Go is an indy rock band formed in 2002, with three albums released since their inception. In 2005 the band released their 2nd album of songs, Oh No,” which included the single Here It Goes Again.” Prior to the release of this song, the band had achieved limited success, never breaking the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and had realized little awareness of their existence outside of their existing fan base. With the release of the video for “Here It Goes Again” that all changed virtually overnight. The video’s mix of a catchy song, with simple direction, and incredibly imaginative choreography captured the collective imagination of the internets and within a week had recorded well over 1 million views. Within 3 years it had been downloaded over 9 million times and the video has now been viewed by more than 52 million visitors!

What can a small business learn? Keep it simple; OK Go had a simple pop song, and made it into a devilishly simple video. One camera, no edits, imaginative choreography, and 17 takes made this effort an international triumph.

3. Yes we can! The Obama campaign and viral video.

The Obama campaign leveraged the lessons of the Internet and viral campaigns to drive a successful run for the most powerful office in the world. Along the way they registered over 13 million users on my.barackobama.com, raised over $500 million in small contributions, and eventually won the election with 53% of the popular vote, beating John McCain by almost 10 million votes! Many contributed to this viral effect, both from inside the official campaign and from without. One of the most successful efforts was the video “Yes We Can” produced by the hip-hop star Will.I.Am. This simple video, which used as it’s underlying soundtrack Obama’s speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention, enlisted dozens of celebrities from the worlds of music, film, and television to deliver a unifying message and help engage the online audience in a massive way.

What can a small business learn? Inspire them with your message. Your audience can be motivated to action and your brand can inspire them to a higher purpose.

4. Mentos and Diet Coke – a fizzy partnership.

Although completely unofficial, and never sponsored by wither Coca Cola or Perfetti Van Melle (parent company of Mentos), the original video, and the hundreds of others inspired by it, collectively accrued well over 60 million views! The idea was so elegant, that other YouTube users started to create their own videos showing the fun that would begin by mixing two volatile confections: condom rockets, bombs, toilets, light sabers, and more were result from the combo! The viral awareness and PR that this mania built for the two brands was unprecedented and incalculable. And the best part? All the brands had to do was sit back and let it happen.

What can a small business learn? use your own efforts to encourage others to do the same. Many businesses have produced videos or other owrk and invited their own audiences to to participate by creating their own content on a given topic or subject. Let a fizzy competition for UGC begin!

5. Patience, Grasshopper. How a small business used a guerilla tactic to build buzz and drive traffic.

A good example of a small brand leveraging the viral effect comes from Grasshopper, an online provider of virtual phone systems. Grasshopper’s inspiration was to start a direct mail campaign which involved sending out 5,000 boxes of chocolate-covered grasshoppers to their users and inviting them to create and upload videos of themselves eating the, um, treats. The results were phenomenal: 250,000 views of the videos, 8 TV news segments, 1,461 tweets, 199 blog posts, and a 93% increase of direct traffic to the company’s How it Works page!

What can a small business learn? Use what you have; leverage your own audience in a way they find fun and engaging. How better to promote a company with the name “Grasshopper” than by asking their customers to literally eat the business?

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