Viral marketing: When to jump on a viral moment

When to jump on a viral moment: “Shut up and let it play out.”

Viral marketing is all about speed, timing, knowing what to look out for. Sometimes, however, there’s a great deal of serendipity involved.

When that video came out of potato worker Nathan Apodaca gliding along the highway on his skateboard, singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams and swigging Ocean Spray cranberry juice – the Internet went wild.

TikTok blew up with users recreating the scene – even Mick Fleetwood himself, who created an account purely for that purpose.

But Ocean Spray played it cool, letting the viral video gain traction for a week and a half (AKA a really long time in the digiverse) before they even acknowledged it.  

Knowing when – or whether – to ride the viral marketing wave is something of a fine art. We talk to brand strategist Mark Braddock from Block Branding about the best approach.

Let’s take a look at viral videos and why people share on social media.

Why do some things go viral?

Honestly, it’s a bit of a mystery – even if “beardy marketing managers” might tell you otherwise. “I get quite annoyed when people claim to know what makes things go viral,” says Mark. “Nobody really knows – it’s combination of things, and those things are completely serendipitous.”  In the case of the Dreams video, it captured a feeling – a laidback, ‘it’s all good’ exhale – that we were collectively craving in a stomach-churning 2020.

Of course, for Ocean Breeze (and its newly minted CEO Tom Hayes) it was a really lucky break, with some 15 billion media impressions and a reported uptick in sales.

How can I make a video that goes viral?

Don’t even go there.

“If you try to make something ‘go viral’, it will never work,” says Mark. “It tends to backfire when brands try to create those moments artificially.” It was the spontaneity and authenticity of Apodaca’s video, after all, which really cut through.

Besides, chances are TikTok teens aren’t your target market, anyway. “The reality is for most products, it’s not the kids on TikTok making the purchasing decisions,” says Mark. “For a fruit juice, it’s mum and dad making those decisions – it’s not their 16-year-old that’s doing the weekly grocery shop.”

So if you find yourself caught in a viral moment, when should you respond?

Ocean Spray ended up playing their cards just right. They gifted Apodaca a cranberry-red pick-up truck stocked with juice (he was skating in the video because his car battery died, leaving him stranded), while Hayes did his own take on the viral video. But this was after letting the challenge play out organically for almost two weeks. It was a smart way to continue the story without feeling opportunistic or forced, or risk “blowing it out sooner.”

“Brands tend to overplay their hand,” says Mark. “You’ve got more to lose by trying to inject yourself into it, it can make it play out much quicker.”

In marketing, restraint can be a powerful tool. Early in his career, Mark worked the Timberland account in the US at “about the time rappers and hip hop culture adopted Timberlands as their shoes.” Instead of capitalising on their newfound cool, Timberland “just kept doing what they were doing, keeping their messaging about going trekking and the outdoors. They never used it in their advertising  – I think they thought there was potential they could kill the golden goose.”

Likewise, jumping on a viral moment too early can squash its lifecycle. A whiff of overt commercialisation could have seen the Dreams video lose its ‘chill’ magic.

“As a brand, your intention should always be the same: connect with your audience and deliver the message,” says Mark.

And if you find yourself swept up in a viral wave of epic proportions? “Shut up and just let it play out.”

Don’t rely on viral marketing. Discover how you can devolop a social media strategy.