As Friday afternoon came to a close last week, a work colleague pulled me over to his laptop.
This is standard practice for many office workers as ‘Beer O’Clock’ approaches. Watching and sharing the random YouTube clips that invariably make their way into one’s inbox over the week (or into one’s twitter feed, as is now often the case) is fast becoming a national pastime.
Like many, I watched Clare Werbeloff’s description of “wog” on “wog” violence in Kings Cross with my eyes widening in equal proportion to Werbeloff’s. Despite the sad event that initiated the interview, we laughed at the political incorrectness of Werbeloff’s account and felt slightly superior at being (obviously) from a higher intellectual spectrum than the Kings Cross eye-witness.
Of course, the joke was on me. On Sunday, the Herald-Sun newspaper revealed that the account was made up.
For those who haven’t yet seen the clip, here it is.
Within one week, beginning when the Channel Nine clip was first published on YouTube on Sunday 17 May, Clare Werbeloff has achieved what many in the entertainment industry spend a lifetime pursuing (usually without success): national fame.
By unwittingly offering some seemingly candid remarks for a national television crew, Werbeloff joined the world’s small but elite list of ‘instant internet celebrities’, alongside ‘Tron Guy‘, ‘Star Wars Kid‘, ‘Lonely Girl 15‘ and who could forget ‘Scarlet’ (of ‘Scarlet takes a tumble‘ fame).
In fact, it could reasonably be argued that Werbeloff has acquired the highly impressive distinction of being Australia’s first instant internet celebrity.
According to social media monitoring company Buzz Numbers, Clare Werbeloff has already been discussed online more than 40,000 times.
In one week, nearly 300,000 people have watched her account online, she has already apparently brokered an exclusive ‘cash-for-comment’ deal with Channel Nine’s A Current Affair and has become the subject of numerous spoof clips (some of the best of which can be found on mUmbrella) and a range of beer coasters and t-shirts.
And that, of course, is now the real story (and the real subject of this post).
How did one anonymous reveler become so famous for doing, well, nothing? And how can we learn and draw business lessons from her unintended fame?
Anatomy of a Viral Campaign
If you are reading this blog, it’s safe to assume that you are in some way involved in growing a business (most likely as an entrepreneurial business owner).
If that’s the case, it’s probably also safe to assume that you have contemplated (or even attempted) launching your own viral campaign at some time for the purposes of building brand awareness, web traffic or promoting a product or service.
For many, a digital viral campaign seems to offer outcomes too good to be true.
This is because many people believe that a viral campaign doesn’t cost a cent, other than the time (or consulting fees) it takes to create an entertaining video, game or other gem of digital content. And, therefore, a successful viral campaign offers a significant, exponentially increasing ROI (return on investment), as the campaign propagates throughout the infinite passageways that are the world-wide-web.
Just see what Werbeloff was able to unwittingly achieve! Right?
If only it were so simple.
So, why do only a small number of viral campaigns seemingly jump from computer to computer with the ease and speed of a digital gazelle, while the rest (the vast majority) are instantly deleted, sent immediately to the ‘trash’ basket to die a slow and quiet death?
Given our readers’ evident interest in digital marketing, I thought it might be worth exploring the anatomy of a successful viral campaign by looking closely at the success Werbeloff’s clip (also now known as ‘the cult of chk-chk boom’).
So, let’s break it down.
1. The clip was ‘remarkable’.
The obvious definition of ‘remarkable’ is something like: unusual or striking. But in the digital domain, ‘remarkable’ has a more literal meaning. The item of interest is worth making a ‘remark’ about. By forwarding the clip, along with countless others, I was endorsing the clip as ‘remarkable’ by remarking on it. It’s not rocket science but it’s what most viral marketing attempts lack.
2. What made it remarkable?
Firstly, it didn’t seem contrived. If you haven’t noticed, most successful viral campaigns seem effortless (with some obvious exceptions, such as the Carlton Draught ‘Big Ad’, which successfully poked fun at its own contrived efforts and those of its competitors). Secondly, Werbeloff’s account was rich in humanity. Everyone wanted to share this unexpected slice of “real” Australia (pronounced “rule” Australia, Kath and Kim-style).
3. Employing ‘schemas’ and breaking ‘guessing machines’
I, personally, first learnt about ‘schemas’ for marketing purposes when I read Dan and Heath Chip’s 2008 book on marketing, Made to Stick. A ‘schema’ can be described as ‘an internal representation of the world’. For example, if I were to say, “He has a head like a Pomelo,”you probably wouldn’t understand me. But if I said, “He has a head like a supersized grapefruit,” you would. (A pomelo is basically a supersized grapefruit.) In the second instance, I employed one of your existing internal representations of the world to make my message clear. The clip featuring Werbeloff’s account is very familiar to us from the outset. Clearly a news clip, it sets up a number of expectations… then brakes them.
4. Harnessing the unexpected.
Of course, surprise is often at the heart of successful marketing and the same can be said of many viral clips. When surprised, we physically respond by opening our eyes wider and focusing our attention. Surprise is, quite simply, a super-powerful tool for making a message memorable. But how does surprise work? By helping us to ‘guess’ what will happen next, our brains have evolved to become very effective tools for keeping us alive. If I see an elderly woman, my expectation is that she will drive a sensible car. If she climbs into a Ferrari, my ‘guessing machine’ is forced to re-calibrate and I find myself in a state of ‘surprise’ (I will respond in a similar way if I unexpectedly find a snake in my bed).
The following account was unexpected, on many levels.
“There were these two wogs fighting. The fatter wog said to the skinnier wog, ‘Oi bro, you slept with my cousin, eh?’ And the other one said ‘Nah man, I didn’t do shit, eh.’ They pulled out a gun and CHK-CHK BOOM!”
5. The evolving story
The final, most telling reason why this clip was so successful at attracting attention came from the evolution of the ‘viral’ story itself. Anecdotes and snippets of gossip emerged around it and Werbeloff almost from the outset, beginning with the rumour that Werbeloff had been approached by an agent and that she had then brokered a deal with Channel Nine. The T-shirts followed and it wasn’t long before digital media mavens, such as Cameron Reilly, had commandeered the use of Werbeloff’s image as Twitter icons and for Facebook image profiles. And, of course, the concluding ‘twist’ (the entire story was fake) will add to its lingevity, as everyone disects this case of the ‘tail wagging the dog’.
Of course, Werbeloff did not deliberately initiate this viral clip, so the outcomes as they relate to her success and career advancement are largely moot.
However, in the commercial world, the author of any viral clip will, of course, want to also make sure from the outset that the intended outcomes do indeed reflect the corporate message. (No one wants a viral campaign to go ‘chk chk boom’ in their face.)
The above views are just that: My own opinions, based on our own various successes and failures attempting to market the Anthill brand (and, of course, observations based on other people’s successful and unsuccessful campaigns).
If you’ve attempted your own campaigns, please do share below.