The entire nation is absolutely captivated by the Balloon Boy and his parents. Since it was determined a hoax, the range of emotions are just amazing. We're angry with Richard Heene, and his wife. We're now suddenly horrified at celebrity-worship. We're breathlessly reviewing good parenting techniques (Jon and Kate seem to also bear some of this blame). And, we're simultaneously self-congratulatory that cable news can uncover the hoax, while broadcast news exploits it.
And it's also a great lesson for us as we put together our content marketing strategies.
Is there a right way to design content marketing to go viral?
Let's look at the differences between three viral content marketing efforts:
1. The Balloon Boy
2. The Wedding Proposal At Disney Land
3. The JK Wedding
What's the difference between the three? Well, the first was a dishonest, manipulative and ultimately wildly successful campaign that generated a ton of publicity. Why do I say successful? Well, certainly only time will tell – but as much as we all hate it, I predict the likelihood of Richard Heene returning to our small screens is extraordinarily high. And, in the end wasn't that his ultimate goal?
The second viral effort was actually a concerted marketing effort. It was a wonderful video, purportedly of a young man proposing to his bride-to-be in the middle of Disneyland. Then, just when you think it's over, a "musical number" breaks out. It was subsequently found out to be a "fake". But, here's the thing – nobody cared. It was sweet, and Disney ultimately came clean on it and put their name behind it.
The third, of course, is the now wildly popular video made by Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz. If you're one of the four people on the planet who haven't seen it, the video shows the wedding procession of the couple, as their guests dance and pose their way down the aisle to the accompaniment of Chris Brown's Forever. This, as we know, wasn't any kind of focused marketing effort – but was rather just a couple trying to share their fun and special experience. However, Sony and Chris Brown jumped on the opportunity – and turned it into a wildly successful marketing effort
So, three viral experiences, with three separate origins. One was an outright lie, one a subversive marketing effort, and one genuine viral piece of content that a brand quickly reacted to monetize.
So, which one was most successful?
Well, as I said, time will tell on Richard Heene and the Balloon Boy. The latest (as of this writing) is that Mayumi Heene (the mom) has admitted it was a hoax, and Lifetime has actually pulled the episodes of Wife Swap on which the Heenes had appeared. I wasn't able to find any real statistics – but needless to say the cable news networks are the only ones who seem to have profited big on this. And, if we look at the Heenes, unless they get the reality show they were so desperate for – I think we can all agree that this was a colossal failure.
As for the Disney video, as I write this, the marriage proposal has generated almost 2 Million views. I can't imagine that it didn't motivate at least a few people to go to the resort. And with such a low production cost (I'm guessing at this) it just really wouldn't take much to get an ROI on this type of content. Not to mention the metrics of engagement and general branding value.
But in my view, the real winner here is the JK Video. This didn't cost Chris Brown or Sony a single penny. The video just appeared on the scene. Remember, this was right when Chris Brown was not the most popular guy in Hollywood. He had just appeared in court after hitting his girlfriend Rihanna. But when the video came out, instead of sending takedown notices for having the song playing over an unauthorized video, Sony and Chris Brown used YouTube's tools to monetize the effort and gave permission for the song to stay on the video. Where the digital sales had been hovering about 3,000- they jumped to more than 50,000 for the week ending July 26th. The album also jumped 130% in sales.
Then, the video and the song went viral *AGAIN* when the NBC show The Office spoofed the video for Pam and Jim's wedding episode. This, of course means more positive exposure, more sales and more revenue for Chris Brown and Sony.
This is the best case study for content marketing going viral.
So, what's the moral of this content marketing and viral story.
Well, no surprise – it's about transparency, honesty and earnestness. But maybe most of all, it's the ability to listen and react quickly to opportunities that present themselves. Sometimes your content will earn value from the most unexpected sources. That's the real marketing magic of viral content.
One thing is for certain it's not in manipulation, and it's not in trying to trick your audience. And it's certainly not about tricking them in a way that makes us think that a child is in danger. That's a sure way to make sure your marketing gets sick.