The Secret to Going Viral

In today’s digital world, to be noticed you have to step outside the box and do something that might seem risqué. Whether it’s a red button that unleashes drama or a devil baby, guerrilla marketing stunts are the secret to going viral.

We Know Drama

In 2012, the American cable channel TNT created “A dramatic surprise on a quiet square” to promote its launch in Belgium. The network put a big red button in the middle of a quiet Belgian square with a sign reading “Push to Add Drama.”  When the button is pushed, drama ensues and it is incredible! It’s produced by one of the leading agencies of guerrilla marketing stunts in Europe, Duval Guillaume Modem and has since become the second most-shared ad ever.


Duval Guillaume Modem declared that “A dramatic surprise on quiet square” gathered over 10 million YouTube views and 1 million Facebook shares in less than 24 hours, and since then it’s been viewed over 48 million times. The video research company Unruly has listed it the second most-shared global ad of all time; to date it has been shared over 4 million times. The only one with a better result is the 2011 Super Bowl ad from Volkswagen called “The Force”.

Another goal of the campaign was to generate national press coverage and it also passed this target with flying colours. As outlined by Duval Guillaume Modem, all major Belgian media (including TV, radio, newspapers and magazines) reported on the stunt and it was even picked up by several international media outlets, such as ABC News, The Sun, Deutsche Welle, Financial Times, Forbes, The Morning Show and Time Magazine.

“A dramatic surprise on quiet square” has also been widely recognised by the advertising industry. The awards range from nine Lions at the International Festival of Creativity in Cannes (including five gold) and one Epica’d Or at the International Advertising Awards to one gold award at the IAB Mixx Awards and eight awards at the European Festival of Creativity Eurobest in Lisbon.

Marketing Magazine looked into the popularity of the ad and explains the phenomenon by several sharing triggers, which are packed into this less than two minutes long video. In addition to being surprising and offering a twist on the familiar flashmob phenomenon, it is spectacular, funny and smart. In the campaign’s first couple of days, it also benefited from being picked up by highly influential sites 9gag and Reddit, which significantly boosted its social-media spread.

Devil Baby

Similarly in January 2014,  the people of New York were getting scared out of their wits by a demonic baby popping out of a stroller with horrific screams and projectile vomiting. OK, so it isn’t a real demon baby. It’s a remote-controlled animatronic creation that surprised random New Yorkers while hidden cameras captured their reactions. And it wasn’t just a prank; the stunt is actually a viral promotion for found-footage horror movie, “Devil’s Due.”

The video is the creation of Thinkmodo, the NYC-based viral marketing company that’s been grabbing attention online for three years. They “hacked” the giant video screens in Times Square to promote the Bradley Cooper thriller “Limitless.” Then they made it look like flying people were soaring over Manhattan for “Chronicle.” And last October, they started an online sensation with their “Carrie”-inspired prank where an actress appeared to wreck a coffee shop using telekinesis (actually, it was all practical special effects). That video went on to be viewed over 52 million times on YouTube.

Interestingly, there weren’t any hurt feelings from the victims of the prank. Thinkmodo founder, Michael Krivicka, told Yahoo News, “People were totally cool with being in the video after getting the living hell scared out of them. Each reaction ended with a laugh, and everyone loved the look of the baby.”

Playing it safe

Now my issue is why aren’t more brands learning from these lessons and jumping on board? I understand this medium isn’t suitable for every brand however for many it’s the perfect solution. For my recent Zombie brief, we took inspiration from the TNT commercial and came up with a concept of a zombie stunt in Manchester, UK. We thought we were on to a winner, it had all the ingredients to successfully go viral. However when we pitched the idea to the clients, they weren’t convinced. They argued that too many people would be offended, it would cause disruption and even the police would to get involved.

I’m puzzled how you can release a Devil Baby in New York City but a few Zombie actors in the UK is not practical?

What do you think? Are brands playing it too safe or are pranks overused?


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