Over the last decade, social media has played a bigger and bigger role in brand awareness, challenging marketers to be increasingly inventive.
How do the cleverest brands create truly viral marketing in a crowded media landscape?
We are especially interested in guerrilla marketing—unconventional ideas deployed on (relatively) small budgets. Here are a few that stand out:
1) State Street Global Advisor’s “Fearless Girl”
If you were alive in 2017, it’s a near certainty you read about, saw pictures of, or debated at the water cooler over “Fearless Girl.”
Even Fearless Girl’s critics can’t deny its massive victory as a marketing strategy, whose principal aim was to raise awareness for State Street Global Advisors’ Gender Diversity Index fund while making a statement about women’s rights.
The unveiling was timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, and emblazoned with a plaque referencing the double entendre of its ticker symbol (SHE): ”Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference”.
Almost immediately, this 4’2″ bronze statue became an ideological rorschach test: a refreshing and clever symbol of feminism to some, and a corporate hijacking of everything feminism represents to others.
Whatever your conclusions, the stunt earned an estimated $7.4 million in publicity, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast.
2) Delta’s “Dating Wall”
Tinder, one of the world’s most popular dating apps, matches 26 million hopeful singles around the world every day.
Who needs to actually travel to far-off lands when you can literally walk around the corner?
The stunt proved to be a clever and successful marriage of physical space with online engagement—no easy task.
3) Snowbird Ski Resort’s “Too Advanced” print ad
Let’s get a little more down to earth for those who can’t afford to commission statues and massive wall murals.
Gotten a bad online review lately? A challenging ski resort in the Rocky Mountains of Utah turned one of theirs into marketing gold in a two-page print ad:
While not every business has the flexibility to indulge this sort of tongue-in-cheek humor, it’s a great example of turning a smear on your reputation into a badge of honor. And since online reviews clearly aren’t going away anytime soon, why not?
3) Geico’s “crushed” video ad
“Skip ad”. Now there’s a button we’ve all been tempted to push from time to time when searcing on YouTube (ok, maybe every time). What’s a brand to do that wants you to actually stick around and watch?
We like Geico’s playful approach to this conundrum with their “crushed” ad: they’ve literally condensed the ad (compactor style) to playfully fit within a smaller amount of time. Almost makes you feel bad for not sticking around, doesn’t it?
It reminds us of Nail’s “unskippable” ad, that threatens to electrocute a puppy if you don’t watch. Got time for that?
4) Buzzfeed’s watermelon experiment
It’s easy to forget that Facebook’s live streaming tool only became public in 2016. And the most memorable use of that tool is still Buzzfeed’s April ‘16 test to see how many rubber bands a watermelon can endure before it explodes.
Let’s go by numbers: 807,000 people watched the video at the same time, and it’s garnered at least 11 million views in total.
Nothing has quite captured the live attention of the internet in the same way since. The New York Times even turned the stunt into a meditation on the future of news (read: how the hell can real news compete with exploding watermelons?).
However, live “unveilings” aren’t all sunshine and watermelons. Game of Thrones went a bit too far this past year when they made devoted fans sit through 15+ tedious minutes of a melting ice block (also on Facebook Live) just to see the premiere date of season 7.
5) Burger King’s “Google Home” video ad
For sheer audacity from a big brand with a lot to lose, this idea takes the cake. At 15 seconds, it earns points for economy, too.
The meat of the ad (pun intended) is a carefully worded query by the actor—“OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?”—tailored specifically to trigger Google devices into reading out a Wikipedia definition of their signature offering.
The kicker? The Wiki entry had been edited into marketingspeak ahead of time. When viewers got wise, it quickly took on a life of its own as pranksters edited the entry beyond recognition (hilarity ensues here).
Chaos ensued, Google intervened, and the Wiki entry went back to normal. But in terms of reach and impact, the “damage” was done.
Talk about capitalizing on new technology.
6) Heineken’s “Worlds Apart” video ad
Heineken “popped the lid” on something very tricky with this spot.
Arriving on the heels of Pepsi’s disastrous “can’t we all just get along?” Kendall Jenner ad, Heineken managed to convey believable, authentic encounters with people across the political spectrum.
Who knew simple, honest moments between regular people could feel so compelling in 2017?
7) Sweden’s “Swedish Number” campaign
When Sweden runs a tourism campaign, they don’t mess around. In fact, they invited anyone to call “the country” and be routed to a random participating Swede. What better way to learn what Sweden is all about than to just call up one of its friendly residents?
No matter the number of distractions in our lives, real person-to-person engagement is still the ultimate currency. And Sweden knows it.
There you have it: a battery of recent, inventive viral market campaigns that don’t rely on massive ad budgets. What other campaigns have caught your eye that we missed? What’s coming next that’s really going to blow our socks off?