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Real or not: making a success of viral campaigns

Last year yielded two very good examples of viral campaigns, which were hugely successfully in entirely different ways.

First we have the young woman who quit her job using a series of white board messages, which she emailed to her entire office. The story broke on TheChive.com but it was picked up by virtually everyone, including BoingBoing and Mashable. For one day, the woman (who was called Jenny) was hailed as an “office heroine”. (You can see all 33 boards on TheChive)

She starts out with a simple enough message:

And that she’ll miss everyone except her boss Spencer, because:

Apparently, for the sake of her career, she put up with his temper and bad breath. Until she overheard him call her a HOPA – Hot Piece of Ass. Then there is sorrow.

And then there is revenge, as she informs him that the office calls the trash a garbage diSpencer and that they know about the office snitch that monitors their time spent online. How does Spencer spend his time online, she wonders? And she enumerates, gradually building up to:

She finishes with a cheery HOPA goodbye:

But it wasn’t long before people started to question the validity of the exercise and the very next day the owners of TheChive admitted that they had created the whole thing as a hoax. The brothers, John and Leo Resig, said that it was conceived to entertain their readers and that they hadn’t expected to take off the way it did.

The reasons it went viral are numerous. But there are a few factors that anyone interested in replicating this kind of success might want to consider.

Firstly, “Jenny” is quite a pretty girl but she’s not knock-out beautiful and out of reach. You could easily believe how this attractive, seemingly professional young lady could be dismissed by a callous boss as a HOPA. And, more importantly, we like to believe in and sympathise more readily with people who are attractive.

Secondly, we can all relate to the subject matter. Who hasn’t had a nightmare boss they’d like to publically denounce? Who doesn’t resent the scrutiny to which we’re all subjected in our work lives? We like that Jenny stood up for herself because we feel as though she stood up for everyone who has ever been made to feel microscopic and diminished by their boss.

Third, it was funny. It wasn’t LOL or ROFL, but it was funny. The images accompanying the messages were a great touch and the wardrobe change at the end was a touch of genius.

Fourth, it was achingly simple; and simple is probably the key to any successful viral campaign.

The second example was definitely intended to go viral. There can be no other reason Roger Federer would take pot-shots at a bottle on someone’s head. Essentially, during a shoot for a Gillette advert, Roger takes some time off to prove a point to one of the behind the scenes guys and hits a bottle off the man’s head with his serve, twice. The video apparently received 2 million views within a day or two of being released on YouTube and was picked up by the likes of Huffington and Mashable.

Almost immediately, people questioned its veracity. Gillette and Federer have both played coy, with Federer saying that a magician never reveals his secrets and Gillette saying that they’d leave the debate up to the fans.

You can see the clip here and again in slow-mo here. I’ve watched both videos several times and I still can’t make up my mind. Sometimes I’m almost convinced that the dodgy angles and speed make it impossible to be real and then in the slow-mo clip I think ‘holy cow, he really did it’.

Regardless of the truth, it was amazingly successful as a viral campaign and here’s why.

Everyone loves Roger and the few who don’t (there are some, mostly because they think all the success has gone to his head and that he’s embraced the cheese of his own identity) love to hate him. And everyone knows that he has a killer serve (curiously absent from the US Open semis). His accuracy is also legendary. So, it really is possible that he could knock a small bottle off a guy’s head, twice, in a row. And, we all like magic, or like to believe in magic, or want to believe in magic and Roger’s kind of magic is more real than David Copperfield.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most likeable men on the sports circuit. He’s remained scandal-free and that’s been scarce on the ground among sportsmen lately. And, we’ve seen him work similar miracles before, particularly with his famous through the legs shots.

It also didn’t hurt that the video came out about a week before the US Open, so it worked out well for Gillette, Federer and the US Tennis Association.

If you want to make a viral marketing campaign successful, you can do a lot worse than use these two examples as case studies. They go to show that while it helps to have someone famous, it’s not necessary and good guys always win.

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