A cheap way to promote your brand

On a lighter note, the efforts of marketing departments to achieve the modern holy grail of getting a product or brand to go viral on the web, remain hit and miss. How do you produce something – a video, an ad, a slogan, a web-based game or puzzle – that will tickle the fancy of the casual logger-on to the degree that it will be passed on by e-mail and social-networking, achieve massive popularity on YouTube, and bring your brand to the attention of millions for virtually no outlay?

There is no obvious formula – if there were, traditional advertising would be moribund by now. But one of the pointers to success is that counter-intuitive thinking and zany humour are important ingredients. Take Blendtec’s ‘Will it blend?’ campaign, in which CEO Tom Dickson stuffs an improbable variety of items into one of his firm’s blenders, always asking “Will it blend? – That is the question.” Over ninety different videos featuring items being mashed up, from an iPhone to half a dozen lighters, float around the web. The bizarre idea, the distinctly untelegenic nature of Dickson, and the slightly weird personal touches (he blends some toy cars, because his grandchildren left them out and he stepped on them) all contribute to the appeal. According to the firm’s marketing director, the idea arose spontaneously from the product-destruction testing bench. “We spent $50 on a white lab coat and a few items to blend, set up the camera and invited Tom to demonstrate some extreme blending,” he says in an interview with online magazine .net. Result? “Online sales have increased by a factor of five times. All areas of our sales, including commercial, have felt a significant impact as a result of this campaign.”

If you are lucky enough, you may find your brand going viral without your knowing anything about it. Currently there is a melodrama in four episodes doing the rounds on YouTube and beyond, featuring a murder, hidden treasure, adultery, and amnesia. Called ‘IKEA Heights’, it is shot against a familar background of Swedish meatballs (eating them brings the amnesiac’s memory back) and soft furnishings inside the firm's Burbank store – and was filmed without their knowledge. Again, the bizarre idea, the reactions of the passing shoppers and staff to the mayhem of murder and adultery, the deliberately corny acting, and the affectionately satirical nature of the project form an irresistible combination.

The opportunity is there, but without any guarantee of success. Is someone in your organisation thinking about the least likely thing your product can be used for, that can be turned into a $50 video with a couple of amateur actors, or the CEO on his day off? If not, there probably should be.