A lot of people have opinions about viral marketing and "what works."
Over the years, a set of accepted beliefs have been established that tend to guide creative development efforts. Having some basic ideas about what might go viral—and what surely won't—has saved countless brands a lot of time and effort.
Many times when brand and agency leaders set virality as an objective, what they really want is free distribution for brand messages.
That won't work.
Virality is about capturing people's hearts and emotions, about inspiring people so much that they want to distribute the ideas that affected them to people they care about. It's not about millions of people spontaneously deciding to distribute videos of paper towel side-by-side absorbency tests.
But given that creativity thrives on innovation and rule breaking, it seems worthwhile to determine if the accepted rules are actually valid. Here are eight brands that broke the viral rules and won fans over in a big way. With each example, we'll begin with the generally accepted rule, and then show how a particular brand was able to get results even though it broke the rule.
1. Oreo's "Daily Twist"
Fallacy: Going viral is a one-time thing; it's not for the long haul.
The astounding Daily Twist campaign—no, that isn't hyperbole—put Oreo at the center of daily news and conversation throughout its several month run. Oreo published a daily photo that used its cookies to illustrate an important event of the day.
Daily Twist helped drive colossal growth in Oreo's Facebook followers, which now total almost 29 million. Almost 180,000 Web pages have mentioned or highlighted the campaign. Surprisingly extensive fan pages adorn the Web, as well.
Does it say more about the brand or our culture that Kraft—that venerable Midwestern family company—chose this illustration to kick off the campaign?
From the London Olympics …
… to the landing of the Mars rover …
… to welcoming a new Nessie photo …
… Oreo was there in a magical and iconic way. Visit the Daily Twist archive to see the daily genius.
2. Dollar Shave Club
Fallacy: You can't talk about the product too much in a viral campaign.
Many industry observers—including me—have spent countless hours telling the world that product focus and viral success don't mix. What idiots we were.
Dollar Shave Club proved us all wrong.
This ad scored 4 million views in its first four days online, and the company sells truckloads of razorblades every month. The immensely entertaining blog and the brand's quirky contests keep the irreverent spirit going daily.
Its success has spawned a virtual publicity machine with coverage on CNN, The New York Times, BBC, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, and more.
3. The pink slime debate
Fallacy: Motivating views is one thing, but motivating action is quite another.
What's in your hamburger? Well, what was in your hamburger?
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver drove awareness of pink slime, something the industry calls "lean, finely textured beef," with a website and viral video that captured the attention of tens of millions of Americans, especially parents.
In weeks, grocers and restaurant chains stumbled over each other to tout that they no longer sold beef containing pink slime.
A big part of this success was the name attached to the product. Names can create opinion and set the public agenda.
Shortly after, the leading maker of the stuff closed three of its four factories and took to the airwaves with an impassioned plea for people to rethink their opposition.
Whatever your opinion on lean, finely textured beef, this campaign offers ample proof that viral can move people and prompt action.
4. Procter & Gamble's "Olympic Moms"
Fallacy: Viral campaigns need to be funny.
The CW says that for something to be viral it has to be funny or dirty. Procter & Gamble (P&G) proved that to be wrong with its wonderful "Olympic Moms" campaign. There's nothing funny here. Instead, P&G delivered something warm and unbelievably touching. Dare I say "sweet"?
This video garnered more than 10 million views on a variety of video sites across the Web, pulling in eager viewers worldwide:
5. FinnAir's Indian Republic Day
Fallacy: Viral campaigns need to be original.
I love flash mobs, and adore the T-Mobile series, the Tourism Ireland effort in Australia, and any of the dozens of other flash mob efforts that have delighted viewers.
This particular video from FinnAir juxtaposed multi-culturalism with good, old-fashioned flash mob fun, and garnered more than 5 million viewers. That's about one for every man, woman and child in Finland!
What worked so well here? Was it the delight of seeing Finns getting their Bollywood on? I suppose that is original, in a way.
Have organizations done this before? Yes. But was this fun and successful? Definitely.
6. Cartier's Jaguar ad
Fallacy: Simple messages work best.
I cannot, for the life of me, figure this one out. Cartier's reimagining of its 165-year history is an orgy of beauty and lack of clarity. Yet, it worked. More than 20 million people sought out this 3.5 minute ad.
The company hooked me when the Great Wall came to life. This is a triumph of production values (and "Frenchness"). I find myself imagining the storyboard meeting for this baby. To the account people who got this through company approvals: I have nothing but awe and admiration for you!
7. Coca-Cola's music video
Fallacy: Viral campaigns should stay away from politics.
In our republic that's divided on blue and red lines, it probably makes sense for brands to stay away from issue politics. But this magnificent Coca-Cola music video is a celebration of a universal political value: the freedom from oppression.
Featuring a huge cast of Tunisians who connect with their athletes and hard won freedom, this video has an infectiously optimistic spirit.
The Coke logo is present throughout the video, but the commercialism is fairly minimal, as the brand plays second fiddle to a nation in genuine celebration.
And maybe, just maybe, people in other countries—including the U.S.—can remember that the values that connect us matter more than whether we consider ourselves blue or red.
8. Google Maps and Nintendo NES
Fallacy: Viral campaigns should be cool.
Geek alert! The delightful dweebs at Google—and I mean "dweeb" in the nicest way possible—created this entertaining April Fool's Day spot in which the company integrates Google Maps into yet another platform: the 8-bit Nintendo NES.
The deadpan employee presenter, exquisite graphics, and wonderfully strategic underpinnings really make this work. The messages are that Google Maps is available on any platform, Google wants to help everyone, and everyone matters.
Nothing cool here, but it's funny in spades.
Jim Nichols is vice president of marketing at Mediaplex. A version of this article originally appeared on iMediaConnection.com.