The Ups and Downs of Going Viral

The Ups and Downs of Going Viral

It is every marketer’s dream come true – your campaign manages to spark the imagination of the masses, and it goes viral, reaching millions of people around the world. But is that really a good thing?

The problems start when the message starts to get lost. A great example of this is the most current viral hit: the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. In the original challenge, users were asked to either donate $10 or pour a bucket of ice water over their head to help raise awareness. The exact origin of the challenge itself is credited to several different sources, but the impact is undeniable: around the globe, everyone from ordinary people to top-name celebrities are getting in on the action.

On the one hand, ALS Association is reporting that since the challenge went viral in late July, they have received more than $93 million in donations. To put that in perspective, during the same period last year, they raised $2.7 million. So there is no denying the campaign has been a massive success in raising awareness – and donations – for both the disease and the association trying to find a cure.

On the flip side of the coin, the challenge has morphed into a series of one-upsmanship attempts, where each new person is trying to do a bigger, more impressive video than the last. And sadly, it has resulted in injuries both minor and major, and just this week, it resulted in the first death.  This is the dark side of going viral. The videos have become more about people trying to gain Internet fame with outrageous stunts, barely paying lip service to the cause that started it. Or worse, major advertisers start to use it for their own purposes, as was the case with Samsung, who didn’t even mention ALS at all in its commercial version.

Given those potential pitfalls, should marketers be trying so hard to find the next viral hit? The answer is yes—there is no denying it has been a huge benefit for the ALS Association, and this kind of awareness just can’t be bought. But savvy marketers shouldn’t just toss their campaigns into the wind and hope for the best. There are a wide range of excellent tools—and people who are more than willing to manage them for you—out there to track social media on every level, including when things go viral, with the ability to respond immediately if they start to go off track. While even that isn’t a guarantee everything will head in the right direction, it does stack the odds in the marketer’s favor much more firmly.


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