Lenovo tried it in 2009, long before viral videos were a real deal. Apple had launched the first MacBook Air in 2008, and to counter that, Lenovo did this viral stunt where they showed honey bees stuck to a laptop and the laptop flies! It was shortly debunked widely (including by Mythbusters, who showed why it isn’t possible, technically) and Lenovo eventually claimed credit.
Cadbury Bournville tried it in 2013. The video, created by Ogilvy India, went massively viral (Adage | The National) all around the world. Eventually, it was debunked and media wrote a second set of headlines explaining that the brand was behind the video.
In both these examples, the brands didn’t utilize the virality directly – they relied on media and people realizing the manufactured viral on their own and hoped that there would somehow be a connection in their mind… enough to consider the product for a purchase, perhaps.
Such viral stunts offer unpaid reach. Much like how a paid teaser helps a subsequent campaign – only, in the case of virals, there is no pay. There’s only an initial seeding. And there’s no promotion in the 2nd phase either – the brand expects people to realize that the earlier video was fake and consider, for some reason, their product in a positive frame of mind!
Volkswagen’s new campaign does something much smarter. They seeded a viral video that did go massively viral – 33 million views in phase 1. There was no brand logo or mention in the viral video. It had all the hallmarks of a viral video – shaky, home-video-like quality, starts and ends abruptly, and looks crazy enough to evoke a visceral reaction. This is a far cry from the impeccably produced brand videos and advertisements that go through a million checks for brand safety guidelines.
DON'T try this at home… That was close! ??
UNILAD ????? ?? ????? ???? ??????, ?? ?????, ????
I do wonder, though, if the publications that helped in seeding the video in Phase 1 (like Daily Mail, UNILad, Ladbible etc.) knew that they were peddling a brand-created/brand-sponsored video?
But what Volkswagen did in phase 2 is the clincher. They let the phase 1 video go viral, and in phase 2, they spent money claiming ownership directly. So Phase 1 went organically viral, while Phase 2 was engineered for targeted reach. This is clever and well executed. You cannot expect to reach the same people twice in an organic campaign; for that matter, you cannot even expect to reach them once – because it is organic, to begin with. At best, you can pray to a favorite God that it reaches someone relevant. To imagine that those who saw the first viral will also somehow see your follow-up communication and make a mental connection between both is wonderful wishful thinking at best.
So Volkswagen’s plan seems a lot more focused and purposeful. The Phase 2 video adds the brand and the context of what they are trying to convey. For the younger set of audience they are trying to reach with the Polo, it makes sense that the video is like what they’d ideally share/consume.
Volkswagen Australia produced 3 videos as part of this series, through RIOT content and DDB. Of the 3, the one that directly shows the car is my favorite – the other 2 have no car featured in them and the connection, even in the reveal seems very indirect.