Over the past week and a bit, I have (like many others) marveled at two viral sensations on very opposing ends of the spectrum. It is rare that two viral concepts are prevalent simultaneously but with both FlappyBird and NekNominations being so different - it has provided room for both. In this regard, there are some key marketing lessons to be learnt from each one...First let me give you some context:
Flappybird is the brainchild of Vietnam developer Nguyễn Hà Đông. It is an extremely simple mobile game where the objective is to fly a bird (by tapping the screen) through small gaps in a series of pipes for as long as possible. When the bird hits one of the pipes or falls to the ground - the game is over and you return to the beginning. It feels surprisingly familiar to people because of the 'AngryBirds' feel to it as well as the 'Super Mario' inspired graphics.
The highly addictive nature of the game has skyrocketed it to the number one most downloaded game in January 2014 across all the major App Stores in absolutely no time. In such a competitive space, it's viral rise has been unprecedented and it seems that the developer cannot handle the pressure. He recently announced that he will be removing the game from all the distributors with immediate effect - in an attempt to get his life back, free of media, publicity and controversy.
Whether this is genuine disdain for the spotlight or a brilliant marketing move to create scarcity - the game will undoubtedly be a part of our immediate vernacular for a short time to come.
NekNominations are an online drinking game originating in Australia, where the nominated person videos himself/herself downing an alcoholic beverage as quick as they can before nominating someone else to do the same. The viral hook that makes this different is that the nomination only lasts for 24 hours forcing people to quickly produce the video and share it online. This time pressure has enabled the fad to spread like wildfire across social networks.
As often happens with trends like this, the game quickly turned into a competition where each nominee attempts to out-do his/her predecessor by doing something crazier and more daring for the camera. The entertainment factor of each new video has kept many people glued to their Facebook wall for a good few weeks now watching video after video.
Both of these viral explosions have confirmed one thing for me in my mind. I can see no discernible patterns whatsoever in the concepts and ideas that go viral (Gangnam Style, Rebecca Black's 'Friday', Wrecking Ball) - it appears to be completely random and unexplained. There is no formula.
However, we cannot deny the incredible power that a viral sensation can have. It can transform a product or a song or a movement into the global spotlight in an instant. Thus, where potential is - firms will inevitably flock. Companies and organisations are continually searching for the next viral craze - trying to create content that goes viral and will catalyse huge results for their business. There are 'marketing firms' who specialise in viral marketing campaigns - where they actually promise viral success to their clients.
This is ridiculous.
No-one knows why things go viral and no-one can expect them. So to claim that you can manufacture them is naive.
Firms, organisations and indeed us individuals, should not be trying to make something viral (a slave to complete uncertainty) - but rather be focusing our attention on consistently crafting valuable, thought-provoking content - to connect with our communities on a more stable footing - where there are long-term relationships to be sculpted.
Don't be over-awed by the brightness of the viral spotlight, rather focus on building the accompanying room lights - which will be there for you consistently even when the spotlight has left.