Why People Hate Your Viral Marketing

Rick Roll

Viral marketing doesn’t exist unless your content actually goes viral. This is contrary to what countless advertising, production or guerrilla marketing companies will tell you. (Sorry guys.)

When a piece of marketing does go viral? It will either burn out fast and furious or enjoy infamy and adulation from its many fans.

What separates the two makes the difference between success and failure. After all, the message that your company sucks may go viral, but it doesn’t make you successful and will end up hurting you.

How can you avoid the pitfalls and dangers inherent with widespread impressions?

Listen and learn:

You stole.

Half the internet is stolen content. Possibly more. The recycling of content is an endless cycle and originality isn’t something that gets anyone offended (most hardly notice). The difference between Coca-Cola and Lyre567 ripping off content is a major issue though.

One is a huge conglomerate with countless resources. The other pirates movies in his studio apartment. Coca-Cola can probably pay someone to be original or at least acknowledge where the idea came from.


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Case Study:
Now, nothing is original. However, does that mean that agencies can co-opt an important piece of a culture for their own ends? Inspiration or not, the decision by BBDO Mexico to use the exact concept is well, just stupid. Think it through kiddos. You aren’t just nibbling. You’re regurgitating. ~Agency Spy

You weren’t honest.

How many times does a production company have to shoot grainy “amateur” footage of a proposed viral before people realize that this is going to horrendously backfire? Great content can stand on its own merit. It doesn’t need to be watered down and made more grainy to appeal to the masses.

Note: This only applies to things that could technically be possible. Shawn Johnson jumping over a bobsled? Obviously fake and in the clear.

Case Study:

With all our talk about the brilliant viral marketing campaigns for movies like Funny People and District 9, I figured it would only be fair to point out that sometimes viral marketing schemes can also crash and burn. Case in point: this weak attempt at creating online buzz for the movie I Love You, Beth Cooper. ~ Film Junk

Your content sucked.

Not everything deserves to go viral. In fact? 99.9% of content that is out there doesn’t merit the originality to be created in the first place.

Just because you spent $5 million+ on something doesn’t instantly make it a success. Ask Michael Bay.

Case Study:

Unilever’s success with socially responsible Dove viral ads found resistance when a Youtube user made a mashup of the Dove ads and some of Unilever’s Axe commercials, which many consider sexist. Axe ads were used to show how on one hand the company objectifies women, while on the other, it pretends to care about the daughters of America. ~ Dan Zarrella

You pissed off the wrong people.

Anything worth doing content-wise is bound to upset a few people (possibly even a lot). The important things to remember? Don’t piss off your target demographic. Don’t pick on anyone who doesn’t deserve it. And most importantly? Don’t piss off 4chan.

There is a reason that Nazis have been the go to villain for the last 50+ years. Everybody hates them, even the ACLU.

Case Study:

If you weren’t following what was happening online this weekend (yes, yes, ok you’ve got a life) there was a Groundswell against Motrin’s latest viral advertisement that was rejected by mothers in Twitter, spread to blogs, and YouTube. I’m not a mom, so at first glance I didn’t understand the offense, but apparently, it was condescending to moms who perceived wearing babies in a sling as ‘fashionable’ accessory, and who didn’t wanted to be labeled as an ‘official mom’. The original video, which was trying to lean on the light side, took to many generalizations with mothers and resulted in a revolt capped by this backlash video. ~Jeremiah Owyang

You were intrusive.

This is the most important (and overlooked) aspect of viral marketing. Does it get in people’s way? Does it disrupt their morning commute? Does it take over your desktop?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions? Stop and rethink what you are doing. Will it be considered more trouble then it is actually worth?

Some content that is intrusive is unbelievable, innovative and kind of cool. Take this with a grain of salt though: I’m a marketer. If your content will lead to someone duct-taping all of their windows to avoid a zombie plague apocalypse? You might want to reconsider. (I’d still think it was awesome though.)

Toyota Campaign

Case Study:

It’s probably a bad idea to market to consumers by tricking them with practical jokes. It’s definitely a bad idea to make a consumer fear for her safety over a five day period because she thinks a stalker is coming after her. That’s why a woman in Los Angeles is suing Toyota for $10 million after being on the receiving end of a Punk’d-style stunt to promote the Toyota Matrix. ~The Consumerist

Good content stands on its own merit. You don’t need to pull off fancy tricks to make it fly. Simply doing something awesome is usually enough to get people to take notice.

In order to be successful: Seed, fertilize and tend to your content with care. Your effort should be worth it. Whether or not it takes off? Well, that’s an act of God or MSaleem.

Image Source: Wendy Berry

36 thoughts on “Why People Hate Your Viral Marketing

  • “That's why a woman in Los Angeles is suing Toyota for $10 million after being on the receiving end of a Punk'd-style stunt to promote the Toyota Matrix.” That and the fact that some lawyer in this litigious society of ours saw an opportunity to make money :).

    Other than that: Great Article!

    And: Davina, I would say “perceived to be genuine” rather than just “genuine” (especially since there is some doubt as to whether the “pants on the ground” phenom actually was “genuine”) … It remains funny nonetheless.

  • Stuart, Think you nailed it. I think most people hate the corporate “viral” content because it's manufactured, prefab, tested, riffed from better sources and sucks. It's totally fake, rhymes with bovine feces. It's not real, a la AT&T's fake blogger guy talking about the network and the iPhone. Sure “viral” needs a push, like an Atlanta rapper whose “Pants on the Ground” takes off after AI exposure but it needs to be genuine to connect to “real” people. FWIW.

  • I don't hate viral marketing because I am not a fan of viral content to begin with. Take Coke and Mentos for example; it was viral marketing, either intentional or unintentional but that was the effect that it had. Everyone and their mother wanted to see if they could do the same. Some ads, like the Motrin ad, were outright disrespectful. But the bobsled and the movie tie-in; who really cares? The bobsled had over 600,000 views, which technically makes it a success even if people do not go out right away they will in time. In fact I might go by nestle crunch right now because I wasn't thinking about it previously; I never eat those candy bars. The skateboarder made me want to go find the original video, in fact given the high budget of the ad I would probably prefer to watch that more than whatever low budget video they stole that idea from.

    What marketers understand is that viral marketing often fails because they tend to use ideas that are entirely too big. In fact the only really disingenuous thing about the nestle crunch ad is that a Black man in Akron was doing that for years and posted videos, and that is probably where they got the idea from. However, if you never saw those videos you wouldn't know any better. There was a point in time where “ninja jumping”, or whatever you call it, like jumping from one floor of a building onto the top of a garage or jumping over a dog that is coming at you into a tree was really cool. But I don't know anyone who watches those videos anymore so they are sort of late to the party.

  • Thanks Davina. Seeding, seeding and more seeding is required for any ATTEMPT at viral marketing.

    To go in and assume that you aren't going to do any work and let the content speak for itself? That's just plain dumb.

    Content is only viral if people see it.

  • So many people slap “Go Viral” into their Business Plan! I will be linking to this post as required reading for students and starters alike from now on! I guess this is not the place to say that I find the Motrin Mom video hilarious, ineffective, but hilarious. I think there is no safe place to admit to liking this video:)

  • Great post! This was not only entertaining but also very informative and thought provoking. When companies try to hard to go viral they usually fail drastically. I'm not sure if there are any apprentice fans in the house but a few years back when they were hired to make a viral ad they all failed drastically. They tried too hard!

    If its too sexy – people wont share it cause they don't want to seem like a perve. If its too funny – it may become corny and no one wants to be seen as the guy with the horrible sense of humor. These are some great examples of viral marketing failures! Thanks for making this post, i'll definitely be coming back to it when looking for examples of failed Viral campaigns..

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  • Toestor- Great point about “perceived to be genuine.” I forget to mention it, but whether it's SM authenticity, brand value, anything really, it's always about perception.

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  • Clever summaries.

    Two thoughts: Viral success is random, and it is fleeting. To go viral, you have to experiment because no one can predict what will take off. And even if you succeed, the downside of the viral popularity curve is as steep as the upside. Skittles? Subservient chicken? Good stuff, and now all over.

    The problem with viral is it is unpredictable and unsustainable. I'd spend the marketing dollars somewhere else.

  • Love this post… An actually honest post about why you aren't liked… Because YOU messed up. Seriously, if you have a good product, your honest, and your are polite: you probably will do well for yourself.

  • Hold on a minute, Stuart. Your entire article is about why videos are or are not viral, yet video for video, they appear the same. Where are the number of views, where are the number of comments? Or, do you judge each aforementioned “case study” solely on the quotation you include about it?

  • If you're referring to me saying “I'll definitely be coming back to it when looking for examples of failed Viral campaigns” (Keep Reading) If not “MY BAD” –

    I value what Stuart has put together here and would argue its the best example of Viral Marketing failures I've seen in some time. I would never go steal all the videos & blurbs and make my own post claiming Stuarts work to be my own. Nor would I change the words or add an extra video here or there – I would however, share this link on LinkedIn or another network if someone asked for a solid case study where Viral Videos failed or something similar.

    Do you think that sharing a link with someone else is recycling content or just when they straight up steal the content? I'd go with the latter but that's just my opinion.

  • I don't think you can say all viral success is random. I mean look at the Numa Numa guy campaign with Geico. I think its pretty obvious that a video like that is going to go viral before it is even made. Now I do agree with you with the unsustainable aspect of viral marketing. These viral videos tend to have an extreme spike and then die down gradually…

  • Although some people are able to provide fresh content every couple weeks – Its not realistic to expect everyone to create posts within a niche that no one else has ever come up with. It can be expected that if you subscribe to five personal branding blogs you are going to come across at least 3 posts about “Optimizing your online brand using Twitter.” If you subscribe to a bunch of Lifestyle Design blogs you're sure to find 4 posts about working less and playing more. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that most people don't do it on purpose.

    I think when bloggers focus on a specific topic there are only a number of ideas out there for them to share. If everyone acted upon their niche passions instead of taking the safe road (Social Media, Branding, Lifestyle Design, Etc) we'd see less “recycled posts.” That however, will never happen.

  • I wasn't referring to any specific statement, but by recycled I guess I mean the lack of new ideas that are surfacing. People speak before they practice and almost 99% of the blogs I've read are examples of this.

    Lots of repeating what the experts say without really understanding why they're doing it.

  • It's not always possible, but take for example what Seth Godin does…something new very often (often every day).

    My point is that you need to practice before you preach. There are a lot of people blogging because they think it's an easy $ than because they are Lifestyle Designers.

    I'm just saying it's the same old crap everywhere you look, and at some point, it has to stop. Like you said, it's a matter of taking the safe road.

  • I love this.. In fact, I just wrote something similar: http://flrrsh.com/blog/2010/02/community-first-

    My problem with 'viral' or 'word of mouth' is that it's basically a cop-out. It's trying to get the benefits of the Web (info spreading quickly) without the hard work of building a community around your brand. That takes time. People just want something quick and easy that will make them money.

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