What the Mannequin Challenge Can Teach Us About Viral Content

Blog_MannequinChallenge11.29.16

Freeze! Now hold It. But don’t blink!

From the White House to professional locker rooms and roller derby teams to university campuses, the Mannequin Challenge has stopped everyone in their tracks (pun quota met!). Heck, your Aunt Ruth’s Wednesday knitting club is even getting a piece of this viral trend – yes, auntie has Instagram and her contribution to this cultural phenomena wasn’t too bad.

The Mannequin Challenge, if you don’t know, is the collective art of not moving – freezing in dramatic poses – while being recorded for social media. The challenge is more akin to planking than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in that it’s a feat and not a form of philanthropy. But whatever it is, it’s certainly enjoying its perch atop our cultural consciousness – for now.

Going "viral"

When it comes to these viral trends and the work of an advertising agency, there’s a definite overlap. We often hear clients say, “We want it to go viral.” However, if the one thing you’re trying to accomplish is “to go viral,” then the one thing that probably won’t happen is, well, going viral. What’s more, brands, agencies, celebrities or whoever rarely decide what goes viral; that’s left up the people and the vastness of the internet. See, the thing about going viral is…

Consider the shelf life

While going viral can increase traffic or YouTube views temporarily, the nature of going viral is simply that it doesn’t last. Remember the Charlie Bit My Finger video? It was cute and funny and the kid’s English accent was adorable. But Charlie is probably 10-years-old by now and permanently marked as a biter. A teething toddler biting his sibling is one thing, but that scarlet letter is going to be hard to look beyond.

Similarly, that’s probably not how you want people to view your brand or campaign. If you manage to go viral, great! People will talk about your campaign or product for a solid 10 to 15 minutes. But then Kim Kardashian will inevitably break the internet again, and then you’re hanging out in the basement of the interwebs with the likes of Chewbacca Mom and Ken Bone – totally forgotten about.

Think longevity and honesty

Unless your campaign is selling life insurance to mayflies, stay true to message and audience. You can’t count on – or even plan for – your brand, campaign or project to go viral. What you can count on is a well-crafted, targeted campaign endearing your brand to your authentic audience. This is not to say that you sacrifice creativity, strategy or hard work, but you don’t have to actively try to create viral content or jump on every viral trend. Honestly, for every good Mannequin Challenge you’ve seen, there are 10 more that make you laugh for the wrong reasons (blinking, quivering, awkwardly holding back laughter, etc.). What does that say about your brand? That you can fail at being "cool?" Probably not the right message.

What you can do is rely on your own knowledge, audience awareness and brand equity – these are all aspects you can leverage to achieve a successful campaign. And if it takes the world by storm, that’s awesome. Congrats! Your hard work and inspiration really paid off. But understand that the internet has the attention span of goldfish and after those 15 minutes are up, you’re still responsible for your brand or campaign and how you want to represent yourself. Especially because the internet certainly doesn’t forget.

Thoughts on this Mannequin Challenge phenom? Other viral marketing campaigns that created such a buzz? We want to hear from you!

 

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