Are viral campaigns a viable form of marketing? Nagham Akileh says ‘No’

If you start with the objective of creating a viral campaign, then nine times out of 10 it won’t go viral. If you take a look at what has gone ‘viral’ from brands, a lot of them have either had some sort of media or PR push to make them spread. Truly viral advertising means a brand does not pay for its distribution. So technically they can’t be considered as ‘viral campaigns’.

There’s a lot that stands in the way of a brand that wants to achieve ‘viral’ status. For one thing, online behavior is simultaneously very predictable and unpredictable. People will share, for example, cat videos or emotional stories that encourage and show optimism. However, no one really knows which of the thousands of cat videos will appeal to people the most and get shared, or which emotional story will command people’s attention. There are also all sorts of bizarre things that catch people’s attention and go viral, like The Dress. Memes are another example, from the early days of the O RLY owl to Doge to Leonardo Di Caprio with a water gun. While they all have something in common, nonsensical origin stories, no one really knows which of the thousands of silly things online will end up becoming a meme and why. If we did, everything would go viral.

The second major challenge for a brand to go ‘viral’ is cutting through the noise. Millions of minutes of video content are being uploaded online every day, along with millions more GIFs, images and articles. Brands are not just competing with others in their category, they’re going up against everything online. The odds that a campaign is going to go ‘viral’ are slim at best.

Marketers also tend to overlook the source of virality. A lot of viral online content starts from sites like Reddit and services like Vine and Tumblr, before they make their way to mainstream social networks (and then die on 9gag). So, unless one of the guys on those sites pick up on your content and think it’s awesome enough to share, your slim chance of going viral just got slimmer.

I don’t believe marketers can engineer virality. It’s better for brands to focus on authentic storytelling and storydoing to add value to consumers while achieving their brand objective, using resources at their disposable for measurable success. There’s nothing wrong with pushing something online with media investments or PR to help a great idea catch on, but let’s not call it ‘viral’ because it isn’t.

Now, can we please erase this word from our buzzword dictionaries?

This article was originally published by The Media Network and can be viewed here.

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