8 viral campaigns that broke the rules and still crushed it

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 kerplunk brand messages. That is something that won’t work. Viral is about capturing people’s hearts and emotions — about inspiring people so much that they want to distribute the ideas that have affected them to the people they care about. It’s not about millions of people spontaneously deciding to distribute videos of paper towel absorbency side by side tests. 
But given that creativity is a field that thrives on innovation and rule breaking, it seems worthwhile to determine if the accepted rules are actually valid. Here are eights brands that broke the viral rules and won views and fans 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 they broke it. 

Oreo’s “Daily Twist”

Fallacy: Viral is a one-off thing. It’s not for the long haul.The astounding — no, that isn’t hyperbole — “Daily Twist” campaign put Oreo at the center of daily news and conversation throughout its several month run. The effort published a daily photo that used Oreos to iconically illustrate an important event of the day.
“Daily Twist” helped drive colossal growth in their Facebook followers — which now total almost 29 million. (Including the author, who is still incredulous that he chose to follow a cookie.) 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 salutes to 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 and see the daily genius.

Dollar Shave Club

Fallacy: You can’t be too much about the product in a viral campaignMany industry observers, including the author of this story, 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 dead wrong.
This stand up presenter ad scored four million views in its first four days online, and the company is selling truckloads of razorblades every month. The immensely entertaining blog and the brand’s quirky contests keep the irreverent spirit going daily.
Its success have spawned a virtual publicity machine with coverage on CNN, NY Times, BBC, NBS, WSJ, etc.

The “pink slime” debate

Fallacy: Motivating views is one thing. Motivating action is quite another.What’s in your hamburger? Well, what was in your hamburger? British “celebrichef” 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 were stumbling over each other to tout that they no longer sold beef containing pink slime. In my view, a big part of this success was the name they attached to the product. Names can create opinion and set the public agenda.
Soon the leading maker of the stuff had 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.

P&G “Olympic Moms”

Fallacy: Viral needs to be funny to workThe CW says that to be viral you have to go funny or dirty. P&G proved that dead wrong with its wonderful “Olympic Moms” campaign. Nothing funny here — instead, Procter & Gamble delivered warm and unbelievably touching. Dare I say sweet?
This particular piece of copy garnered more than 10 million views on a variety of videosites across the web, pulling eager viewers in worldwide.
So strategic, on brand, and wonderful. This is so Procter & Gamble.

FinnAir “Indian Republic Day”

Fallacy: Viral needs to be completely original to work.I love flashmobs and adore the T-Mobile series, the Tourism Ireland effort in Australia, and any of dozens of other FlashMob efforts that have delighted viewers even if they have been done and done
This particular ad from FinnAir juxtaposed multiculturalism with good old fashioned flashmob 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 a scosh original, in a way.
Done before? Yes. But fun and successful? Definitely.

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. And yet it worked. Some 20 million plus people sought out this 3.5 minute ad.
The company had me hooked when the Great Wall came to life. I dare say that 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!

Coca Cola’s look at Tunisia

Fallacy: Stay away from politics.In our republic divided on blue and red lines, it probably does make 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 connecting with their athletes and their hard won freedom, this video has an infectiously optimistic spirit.
Throughout the video, the Coke polar bear is an ever-present element. But the commercialism is ultimately 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.

Google Maps takes on the look of Nintendo NES

Fallacy: Be cool, people. Be cool.Geekiness alert! The delightful dweebs at Google (and I mean dweeb in the nicest way possible) created this entertaining April Fools spot in which Google Maps is integrated into yet another platform — the 8-Bit NES.
The deadpan employee presenter, the exquisite graphics, and the wonderfully strategic underpinnings really make this work. The message is that Google Maps is available on any platform, that Google wants to help everyone, and that everyone matters.
Nothing cool here, but funny in spades.