They're weird. They're funny. And they're incredibly powerful marketing tools. Here are seven campaigns that caught fire online, going wildly viral.
This spoof video released by Grasshopper, a start-up based in Needham, Massachusetts, that provides a virtual phone system designed to help entrepreneurs, was a play on Jay-Z's hit single "Empire State of Mind" from 2009. With lyrics like "Now I'm in the blogosphere / Now I'm in the twitterverse / Fans get so immersed / But I'm a nerd forever," the video has attracted more than 1.3 million views since March 2010. "The music video below is pure viral marketing," TechCrunch noted in a write-up of the campaign. "But we'll bite 'cause it's got a catchy tune."
Zach Galifianakis, Tim Heidecker, and Eric Wareheim (stars of the Tim & Eric comedy tour) were commissioned by Absolut Vodka to make a short movie for the vodka company's website. The comedians were told there were no rules, so long as "Absolut" was mentioned. The result? A bizarre and hilarious viral video that's attracted nearly 2.5 million views over three years. The viral success of the first film inspired several more short films, all just as satirical as the first.
Florida-based creative agency Crispin Porter Bogusky (CP B) conceptualized this viral campaign for Burger King's TenderCrisp chicken sandwich, which featured a "subservient chicken" (a man in a chicken costume) that was programmed to respond to various commands from online viewers like "Jump" and "Try to do a headstand." The campaign actually began as a traditional television commercial, but exploded once the site was posted—it attracted 15 million hits within the first five days and the average time spent on the site was nearly six minutes. Since launching in April, 2004, the site has attracted more than 450 million hits.
With $500, college student Jeffrey Harmon put together a quirky video to promote Dr. Bob's tongue cleaner. He titled it "How to Tell if You Have Bad Breath," and with a small marketing spend, the video quickly became viral. Two years since its launch, it has more than 15 million views. Then, by leveraging fans of the first video, Harmon launched "Diary of Dirty Tongue," a weekly video featuring Morgan, a foul-mouthed tongue with no social skills.
People like to see stuff destroyed. That's the idea behind "Will it Blend," a viral marketing campaign from George Wright and Tom Dickson, creators of Blentec, a food blender. They've blended everything from whole chickens to iPads, and since the company launched the campaign in October 2006, it has attracted more than 160 million views.
Virgin Blue—the holding company that owns and operates Virgin Australia—thought up a clever Twitter promotion in 2009 that quickly went viral. The Australian airline's "Tweet Seats" sold domestic tickets through its Twitter account for just nine bucks a pop, selling 1,000 tickets in just three minutes. The $9 promotion was to celebrate the company's ninth birthday, and though the company took a loss on the promotion, it has since attracted more than 33,000 followers to its Twitter account.
Sometimes a company doesn't even intend to have a viral hit. Take Threshers, for instance. The U.K.-based liquor store sent out an e-mail to its suppliers offering a 40 percent discount on wine and champagne. The discount, however, was not intended for the mass-market, but once people started distributing the coupon on blogs and e-mail, the company received enormous attention. "Queues have formed at one store while the Threshers website has crashed under the strain of demand for the offer," the BBC reported in 2006, when the campaign went viral. "It was never intended to get this big," a company spokesperson later told the paper.