Why Going Viral at All Costs Cannot be the Goal

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Every client we have wants to grow their brand. We assist in crafting their messaging.  We seek out the influencers and existing communities that their target customers are already engaged in so as to build their community.  We do a lot of different things, but at the end of the day the companies who hire ArCompany want greater brand awareness that leads to sales.

Usually, by the time they get to us they understand that they must grow their community, drive it to their website and then convert it into real customers who actually purchase.  But businesses are more social savvy now.   They understand that, at the end of the day, their community size doesn’t necessarily matter; how it impacts sales does.  Yes, there are a tremendous amount of ‘extras’ that come into play: customer service, communication, transparency, understanding what resonates and why – all of that is measurable, and all of that matters.  But, at the end of the day ALL of us are in business to do business, and it’s our job to increase sales.

Quite often, although our clients ‘get’ what we’re supposed to do for them,  they don’t know how to make that happen.  Part of our job is guiding them through and explaining the process.  Strategy and tactics may vary somewhat, but there is one thing almost all of them ask for: they want us to make something ‘go viral.’  And no, we do not have a magic bullet for that.

What it takes to Go Viral

Yes, I felt silly even writing that subtitle; no matter what you have been told, there is no magic recipe to make something viral.  Of course you need ‘great content. ‘ Kittens and babies help, but not so much for business.    You need compelling content, you need a community ready to consume and share, and sometimes, you need luck.viral at all costs

Yes, there are great content developers who create more of their own ‘luck’ than others, but for smaller companies without a huge community, it takes a bit more luck.  And there are some shortcuts that we don’t recommend.

Yes, Ethics Come Into Play

Sometimes I’m accused of being an idealist when I say ethics and integrity are an integral part of marketing, but I’m not wrong.  I am so assured of this because I’ve been paying attention to the rise and fall of marketing campaigns for years.    Yes, there are times when a self created (i.e. made up) PR story has earned a company a flare up of attention, like Chipotle’s fake twitter hack back in June to ‘celebrate’ its 20th anniversary.  I scoffed at it then for this reason: what lasting impact did it have on Chipotle’s brand?  I think it was a singularly un-creative stunt.

Last week Gini Dietrich wrote about publicity at all costs on Spin Sucks.  In the post Gini talks about being  “accused of being ethical to a fault, particularly when someone needs something and I make their job harder because we can’t do it for them.”  I have also watched her organization grow and prosper, and I firmly believe there is a correlation between the high standards Arment Dietrich has established for itself, and its success.

No, ethics aren’t everything it takes to garner attention for your brand, but if you are looking for long term impact, it is essential.

Yes, I’m Going to Talk About GoldieBlox

If you are unaware of GoldieBlox, it sells products that ‘get girls building.’     When the company ‘parodied’ the Beastie Boys’ “Girls,”  changing the lyrics to pro-girl wording, The Beastie Boys objected.  GoldieBlox appeared to be waiting for the objection, because they immediately filed suit against the Beastie Boys, meanwhile acting as if they were the victim – a little ole company being challenged by a famous band.  Claiming that they were parodying the song, GoldieBlox also attacked The Beastie Boys for their misogynistic lyrics.

goldieblox beastie boysThe Beastie Boys responded by writing an open letter to GoldieBlox:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

It also became public knowledge that Adam Yauch, a member of the band who passed away, explicitly prohibited Beastie Boys music from being used to sell any product in his will.

As you probably know, the matter concluded with GoldieBlox withdrawing their lawsuit and posting a ‘let’s have a truce’ type of post on their blog.  Over on Mashable Todd Wasserman deems the event a win for GoldieBlox, basing his judgment on the 9 million views the original ad garnered.  I beg to differ.

The Possibility of a Backlash

I am a 45 year old woman raising a daughter with messages of empowerment for women.  I’m a huge Lean In fan and I’m not afraid of using the term ‘feminist’ to describe myself.  I was disgusted by the GoldieBlox faux niavety and ploy for attention.    I have a lot of female friends who share my feminist views – you know, the type of women who would purchase  the products GoldieBlox sells.   They all shared my disgust.  In fact, I didn’t find one woman who believed that ‘all is fair in marketing.’

When purpose driven consumers are your target, things like ethics and honesty matter.

And I believe that most people care about truthfulness.  This isn’t naivety, this is real life.   The rise of social media marketing sprang from consumer’s desire to circumvent the ‘messaging’ that they had been traditionally force fed – it allowed them to communicate with and about the brands they liked or disliked.

Yes, consumers have the power to blow your brand up if they embrace the content you put out, but when you get too cute, or too clever, or you flat out mislead them, well, they may walk away just as quickly.  We’ll be watching GoldieBlox and see if the stunt was worth it.    We’ll also be using this story to instruct our clients on the pitfalls of disingenuous advertising.

0 thoughts on “Why Going Viral at All Costs Cannot be the Goal

  1. DwayneAlicie says:

    Excellent thoughts here! I LOVE your attention to and admiration for ethics in marketing. I agree with just about everything here, except for one thing which I will cautiously reveal in a second. I feel like “going viral” is such a mixed blessing and wildly shortsighted as a goal. It’s a flash in the pan. And you’d better have the infrastructure ready and waiting to handle any increased interest, or damage will occur as people roll their eyes at your unpreparedness. And then the attention flatlined again, just like you note with the Chipotle silliness. More and more, I think sticking to the basics is best. Segmentation, targeting, positioning. Focus on your customer. Tell your best stories to the right people at the right time.
    The one thing I differ on — and I’m pretty sure I am in the minority on this one — I kind of liked the Goldieblox spot and I think the Beasties look a little crotchety. Of course I believe in the sanctity of intellectual property though, so that is definitely an issue, but … were they really being devious or were they honestly and earnestly trying to inject their philosophy into their messaging? I vote the latter as of right now.

  2. AmyMccTobin says:

    DwayneAlicie Great comment in the first paragraph 🙂
    I’ve read enough about their video and Donna Sterling’s past to think – c’mon now!  They were playing the victim hard. Now, my view may be skewed because I always admired the Beastie Boys as artists and pop culture commentators, but I don’t think so.  GoldiBlox did the same thing with ToysRUs – this is their marketing strategy.  
    You cannot take a song and use it without licensing. Do you think the Stamford Grad CEO didn’t know that?   I want to like GoldieBlox too, but I can’t right now.

  3. DwayneAlicie says:

    Ah, see, I didn’t know the history of the brand or the people behind it! The information you’re sharing is convincing. There are definitely multiple issues at play — intellectual property, potentially insincere co-opting of causes for marketing purposes, definition of advertisement — and they each warrant examination separately as well as together! It’s definitely gross to think of them creating this expecting drama to erupt and vault them into the news.

  4. AmyVernon says:

    YES. I was very bothered by the cynical way Goldieblox approached this. They could ahve done this so many other ways that problably would have done well – they do, after all, have friends at Upworthy and other outlets that would have given them attention. What they did was wrong. Period. And they knew it.

  5. AmyMccTobin says:

    AmyVernon And they KNEW it.  Now, I want to see how it impacts their business… I know people who contributed to their kickstarter campaign that are disgusted….
    When I first started this series we were chronicling the impact of the social mob on sales – I wonder if we’ve all become cynical enough that Publicity at All Costs IS worth it. I hope not, and  my gut tells me it isn’t… but we shall see in this case specifically.

  6. DwayneAlicie says:

    AmyMccTobin AmyVernon I’m really looking forward to see how this shakes out, as well. Will it just go away?  The timing of right before American Thanksgiving and the holidays might bury it. Or is it egregious enough to make big enough waves?  And  — we are marketers.  How will the target market react, or will they? I saw people sharing it with positive sentiments before the controversy erupted around it. Will be an interesting case!

  7. hessiej says:

    DwayneAlicie AmyMccTobin AmyVernon Funny thing with brands these days:  any press is good press. Is it any different than Kenneth Cole taking advantage of a trending tweet? Eventually things die down —- YES but as a brand you are now marked for life!

  8. AmyMccTobin says:

    DwayneAlicie AmyMccTobin AmyVernon Well Dwayne, it may not have an impact… but I’m thinking that it may impact the most loyal, core customer for GoldiBlox – people like me who are pro feminist messages for children.   I will never shop there for my daughter now.  
    But there may be others who don’t care – just like the discussion on my post last Sunday about Social Good companies – there are people who don’t care at all about morality and ethics – I just choose to think there are more people who do.  We’ll monitor them.  I’m getting ready to do another post on the top 10 social mob blow ups and where are the companies who were the targets…

  9. DwayneAlicie says:

    Nice, I eagerly await the Where Are They Now you’re cooking up for us!

  10. ajenkins says:

    Having worked with an organization that represented the rights of music publishers in the past, I can appreciate the reaction of the Beastie Boys. They played it professionally but still exerted their rights. For GoldieBlox to blow them off as if they were the slighted ones only detracts from their brand and not that of the Beastie Boys, especially when you think about Adam Yauch’s stipulation in his will – so disrespectful. I wonder if someone will use GoldieBlox in their own video without the permission of GoldieBlox and then we can all sit back and see how they respond.

  11. AmyMccTobin says:

    ajenkins What I wonder the sales repercussions will be for this….

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