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DIGITAL: The Quest for ‘Virality’: Lessons From a Viral Anti-Palm Oil Campaign

22 January 2015 at 10:40 am
Lina Caneva
Going viral isn’t an accident, it takes work, writes Richenda Vermeulen, Founder and Director of digital agency ntegrity.

Lina Caneva | 22 January 2015 at 10:40 am


DIGITAL: The Quest for ‘Virality’: Lessons From a Viral Anti-Palm Oil Campaign
22 January 2015 at 10:40 am

Going viral isn’t an accident, it takes work, writes Richenda Vermeulen, Founder and Director of digital agency ntegrity.

A new video from American group SumOfUs has amassed over 1.3 million views since its upload to YouTube last week, with a further 4 million views on Facebook. The campaign urges Doritos and its parent company, PepsiCo, to adopt a responsible palm oil policy.

The parody ad shows a Doritos-obsessed couple learning about the damaging effects of deforestation that result from PepsiCo’s reported purchasing of 427,500 tonnes of palm oil each year.

Doritos-obsessed couple

Image: SumOfUs

Here’s our viral video checklist to help you create shareable, engaging content for your Not for Profit or brand.

Create great stories.

Most charities have a goldmine of highly engaging, life-changing stories which are begging to be shared. Curate these stories to spread your message and impact. The SumOfUs ad works because it follows a cardinal marketing rule: aspire to inspire. It doesn’t chastise the consumer, but instead pushes them to use their wallets to vote for a more sustainable world.

Talk to people’s emotions.

People are much more likely to share your content when they feel something while watching it. Remember that some emotions spread better than others, so stick to narratives of joy, happiness, and progress, rather than those of fear and despair. SumOfUs included shock-factor, which was motivating and thought-provoking for viewers.

Shorten your video. Shorter videos spread better.

Shave off every second that isn’t contributing to the story, or asking the viewer to get on board your cause. The longer it takes to consume your content, the greater the barrier to absorbing and sharing it.

Write and rewrite your headline.

This will be what motivates people to click, share, and talk about your content. Brainstorm the most effective and efficient way to prick up people’s ears. This ad was intriguingly billed as ‘the ad Doritos don’t want you to see’. However, be careful not to say too much… what will your audience have to stay for if you give everything away?

Be the first.

Say something unique, or approach an age-old problem from a fresh angle. No-one will watch content they’ve seen a hundred times before.

Find great talent.

SumOfUs’ video was created by homegrown talent, Sydney based Briony Benjamin from Motion Picture Company. There are hundreds of talented producers and creators in our own backyards who can work within your budget. Search for talent who understand the tone of digital and will be able to tell a meaningful story. Spend time looking at their reels, because the style you’re searching for will come regardless of age or experience.

Get support from others.

A repost is like a gold stamp of approval, giving you access to other audiences. Greenpeace UK posted a copy of SumOfUs’ video on Facebook which drummed up a further 3.7 million views. When people see others sharing your content, they are more likely to do the same. Try to get your content posted on other platforms/sites, such as Reddit, Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Jezebel.

Be patient.

The SumOfUs video has had a considerably slow burn for a viral video, receiving only 200,000 views in its first three days. The internet is a hungry beast which works in its own way, so let your content run its course.

Spark discussion.

You want people to be talking, rather than simply watching. If you’re asked questions, respond with accurate and constructive answers. Don’t ignore them, like Doritos and PepsiCo have done since the launch of the attack campaign. Silence will kill the momentum of your content.  

Learn from the fails.

If your content doesn’t get traction, analyse what did and didn’t work. Pick yourself up and try a different approach with twice as much vigour.

Refine your call to action.

A warning: viral campaigns like this are great for awareness, but they don’t always successfully lead to action, donation, or conversions which is why we’ve seen the rise of slacktivism. In this instance, SumOfUs’ concurrent petition hasn’t increased anywhere near as rapidly as its video views, which is a real downfall of the campaign.

The most important lesson to be learnt is that each campaign will be different. Experiment with your approaches. Be brave. The digital world rewards those who take risks. I look forward to seeing your viral content in my newsfeed in 2015!

About the Author: Richenda Vermeulen is the Director of ntegrity, a Melbourne-based digital agency that empowers brands to become digital. Prior to ntegrity, Vermeulen spent a decade in the Not for Profit sector, launching social media at World Vision Australia and World Vision USA.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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