Results may vary: Viral marketing not always successful


Matty Roberts, a community college student in Minnesota, was bored at 2 a.m. on June 27, when he posted a Facebook event page which he titled “Storm Area 51: They Can’t Stop All of Us.” 

Over the summer, the page went viral and started an internet sensation and meme called "Raid Area 51." More than 2 million people liked the Facebook page and seemed interested in going to the event. What started as a joke by Roberts turned into an actual event, which unfortunately was not very successful. 

When the day of the event actually came on Sept. 20, only approximately 100 people showed up — not even a quarter of the people who liked the page. Although the creator himself wasn’t serious about his own raid, the people who liked the event and actually showed up in Nevada found others who had a passion for aliens.  

But this raid does demonstrate the difference between passively liking something and constructively liking something on social media. By constructively liking something on Facebook or Twitter, you are making an active promise to attend an event or buy a product. By passively liking something, you are simply doing so because you like or are entertained by what you see. 

Although many companies are trying to go viral as a marketing tool, this raid shows that it may not always be as successful as thought to be because many people simply passively liked the idea of raiding Area 51 and so few actually came to raid it. 

But one instance in which virality was a helpful marketing tool was with Popeyes’ popular chicken sandwich last summer. Due to Popeyes’ viral twitter feud with Chick-fil-A, it drove customers to buy its sandwich in droves. It sold as many as 1,000 chicken sandwiches a day and greatly increased its sales by 30%. 

Another instance in which virality was a successful marketing tool was when Always — a feminine products company — created its #LikeAGirl campaign which became viral with 76 million views on YouTube, a 195% increase in Twitter followers and increases in sales of 16%. 

Although Popeyes and Always have successfully increased sales using the viral sensation to their advantage, one company which tried to use this tactic and failed is the razor company Gillette. 

Its viral advertisement, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” focused on toxic masculinity during the #MeToo era, greatly backfired in sales and lost $8 billion. Although the Area 51 meme and Gillette both became viral and popular, they did not have the same success in their goals as other companies did. 

Based on these examples, it seems as though that virality only has a good outcome if it has a personal benefit to the person liking the tweet and if it appeals to the viewer. Virality also only works if it requires the person who is liking and/or viewing the tweet to do the least amount of work. 

Liking an event page and then going to Nevada to raid a possible alien hosting site is a lot of work for the person sitting behind the computer. And watching an ad that presents a different view about masculinity didn’t seem appealing to most viewers, which helped drop Gillette's sales. 

But simply liking a tweet about a sandwich or watching a video about women empowerment is easy and appealing to do, which is why those companies had success in their viral marketing tactic. 

Therefore, although making a product go viral may seem successful, the only way companies can actually profit off this virality is by making it appealing to its viewers and easily accessible for its viewers to do. 


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