What You Can Learn from 2014’s Biggest Viral Stunts

Going viral is one of the greatest goals that many a person on the Internet has had at some point or another. There are countless people on YouTube who would be positively ecstatic if their video suddenly went viral, even if they never saw a dime from the ads that YouTube displays with all those videos. Becoming “Internet famous” feels pretty great in its own right.

As Internet marketers and professional bloggers, we can learn a lot from some of the most successful PR stunts of the year that happened to go viral. It all starts with a cool idea.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

You surely noticed the ALS ice bucket challenge that was making its way around the Internet and through social media channels during the summer. You may have even gotten tagged by one of your friends and you may have even participated.

While some people questioned the spectacle of it all and whether the ice bucket challenge was really raising any awareness at all about the disease, the bottom line is that the campaign ended up raising north of $100 million. That’s far more than what had been contributed to ALS research in past years, grabbing the attention of celebrities like Jimmy Fallon, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates… which helped to provide even more exposure and more fundraising opportunity.


So, for those of us who seek to make our living online, what can we learn from the ALS ice bucket challenge? First, the thing that goes viral, the thing that gets the attention really doesn’t have to have anything to do with your end goal. There’s no connection between dumping cold water on yourself and raising money for ALS research. You need to think outside the box.

Second, the ice bucket challenge created a spectacle. People like watching the shocked reactions of their friends as that freezing water trickles down their back. When considering your viral campaign, are you creating a strong visual?

Third, tagging or “challenging” your friends was an inherent part of the campaign. It really pushes the viral aspect when the person tagged has to not only complete the challenge (or face potential public shaming), but also has to keep the tag train moving along. This is why you see so many Instagram and Facebook contests where part of entering requires you to tag your friends. It’s a lot harder to say no when you are called out as an individual and not impersonally as part of a group of followers.

DHL Is Faster

This wasn’t so much a viral campaign as much as it was a marketing stunt. What happens when you get the UPS delivery guy to walk around busy areas in a major city with a box that is clearly stating that the competition is superior? Online magic.


Of course, UPS wouldn’t have participated if it had known what was going on. DHL had to be pretty sneaky with some fancy thermo-active foil to pull off the prank. Some people may argue that this was a little unethical and unprofessional, but it got the job done. That’s the first lesson. Sometimes, you have to be willing to break a few rules if you want to succeed. It’s not like DHL did anything wrong, but it was certainly snarky.

If you can figure out a way to get your competitors to do your marketing for you, even if they are doing it unwittingly, you’ve won on the Internet. And even if these people are not your direct competitors, it’s utterly fantastic when you can get other folks to do the heavy lifting (so to speak) after you’ve put the pieces in place.

And again, as with the ALS ice bucket challenge, seeing a UPS delivery guy push around a box that proclaims DHL is faster is quite the striking visual. That’s got punch and that’s got appeal.

Anyone Can Go Viral

The great thing about the Internet is that it can do a great job of leveling the playing field. You don’t need to be a large company like Samsung or DHL in order to get the attention you desire. The ALS Association was hardly the best known or most popular charitable organization either.

There are no guarantees and you’ll surely need some luck on your side, but you can give yourself the best chance at success if you do the right things. Then, you’ll be ready to open the door when opportunity knocks.

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