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What a Dress and Llamas Can Teach Us About Taking Risks in Digital Marketing

Viral is not a spell anyone can intend to cast. It is something that happens when you least expect it, with no warning or formula. But there are ways you can align yourself with contagious content. In this post we explore certain factors that led to yesterday’s viral sensations, and talk about how to adapt them to your brand strategy. Enjoy.

The internet, despite being the most wonderful resource of information and media ever created, has a way of growing stale over time. On a normal day, we lazily drift back and forth from our inbox to Facebook to chat, wondering why we’re not running away to the Appalachians and starting that duck farm we’ve always wanted. (What, just me?) Yesterday though, the stars aligned. We got not one, but two incredible instances of the internet providing one-of-a-kind experiences and reminding all of us why we stick around.

First: #llamawatchTwo llamas trounced about an Arizona retirement community while dodging their would-be captors, much to the amusement of all us streaming the chase from our desks. Several attempts were made to corral the ridiculously shaped creatures, giving the peanut gallery plenty of content to work with. One hero even made a Twitter account for the furry fugitives. At its peak, the high speed thrill ride was seeing about 5,300 related tweets an hour.

Next: that damn dress. Essentially, some people see the dress as white and gold, and some see it as blue and black. But more importantly, never have I ever seen my Facebook feed universally aligned to a topic. Distant uncles, exes, my smelly comedian friend… every single one of them posted about this dress. Some were on the black / blue team, some on white / gold, some telling everyone to “shut up about the dress already”, and some reveling in the science of it. But each person felt it necessary to say something. 

And that’s the ideal, right? This is what all those bright eyed, bushy tailed clients mean when they say they want something to go viral. They want to create a phenomenon that spans age, race, their target demographics, everyone and everything. As far as they’re concerned, social media experts promised them total brand salvation in 2008, so where the hell is it? Where is their dressgate?

Let’s take a look at some of the similarities between these two happenings, and see if we can discern some rhyme or reason to what makes a piece of content potential viral fodder. Maybe then we’ll have a better answer when we’re asked, “Why didn’t this tweet go viral?”

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

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In all internet phenomenon, there’s a functional obsolescence. A fool believes that the dressgate / llamawatch craze will last long enough to sell more than a few t-shirts. That is part of why we stay connected to the hivemind through all the boring days; we don’t want something incredible to happen while we’re away. And in the case of both of these events: you just had to be there. The gifs leftover from llamawatch aren’t nearly as fun as watching the event unfold in real time, and the arguments about the dress seem totally disingenuous and falsely passionate now that there are countless articles written about the science of it. Additionally, the folks that are left out seem almost angst-y at everyone’s good time. It’s a programmed instinct. Stay relevant. Stay current. Or you will be left in the dust. FOMO.

I Want to Be How You Hear About It

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The carrot to FOMO’s stick is the psychological incentive to be the torchbearer. “Look what I have brought you, my followers!” these brave internet scavengers say, with their influencing and trendsetting. Our net-enabled minds are now clued in to when something has viral potential, so when a friend finds something that they think has legs for a wide audience, it’s a race to beat all your other friends to be the first in front of your eyes. I have experienced the roller coaster ride of emotion of excitedly going to post a link and finding out everyone is already talking about. It’s… it’s heartbreaking.

Good, Clean, Totally Surface Level Fun

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Yesterday saw a huge victory for net neutrality, with the FCC voting to make internet a public utility. This battle has been going on for a long time, and almost every big web service, including Google, Netflix, and Reddit, at some point threw their hat in the ring. And yet, I only saw one mention of it. Why? Because anything of actual real world weight needs a a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, and tech-heavy bureaucratic jargon ain’t it. Take the ALS ice bucket challenge for example; a movement so distilled that many spectators has no idea what it was for. It was successful of course, because it took a serious, heavy topic and made it as digestible as two adorable llamas juking out cops. Viral content is whipped cream, and we are fourteen-year olds at Starbucks.

Real Random in a Sea of Irreverence

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Like water, the internet is composed of two main elements: hyperbole and irreverence. The goal is to be more aggrandizing and random than your neighbor. Every thing that happens to you was the weirdest and worst thing or the craziest and best. But when everybody talks like that, there comes a malaise. If everything is crazy, nothing is. So despite this being the knee jerk way of speaking and creating for digital denizens everywhere, all the cats shooting laser beams and presidents wrangling volcanos epicness is actually pushing us back to simple, Seinfeldian pleasures. Both of this article’s instances of virality are ultimately pretty boring: a dress looks weird and two llamas are hanging out in an old folks home. The key is that they take your expectations for everyday goings on and legitimately surprise you without flash or CGI explosions.

And this random element is something you simply can’t plan for. You can insert a little bit of all of the above in an attempt to gain traction, but you cannot call “going viral” an action plan. The only way to do that is to take a seemingly simple risk: hire agencies who are willing to do something truly new for you. Not to imitate Old Spice in form, but in strategy. Then maybe you can create something almost as good as a weird dress and a couple of llamas.

If you’re interested in digital marketing, branding, Internet trends, and keeping up with our most recent posts, follow us on Twitter (@Object9) or like us on Facebook.

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