What a dress and llamas can teach us about taking risks in digital marketing

How does a post become viral? How can anyone possibly plan for or create viral content?

Through our experiences, there’s no formula and it happens when you least expect it. But there are ways you can align yourself with contagious content, for example jumping on hashtag conversations. In this post we explore certain factors that led to recent viral sensations, and talk about how to adapt them to your brand strategy. Enjoy!

The Internet is quite possible the most complete resource of information and media ever created, yet still 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 rabbit farm we’ve always wanted. (What, just me?) On certain days, though, the stars align. We’re, of course, talking about the Llama Watch and Dressgate. On this rare occurrence, 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.
#llamawatch. Two llamas hopped 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.
that dang dress. Long story short, 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 heck 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)


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


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
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
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 volcanosepicness 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.

Travis_bio Written by object9’s Travis Broyles who is a copywriter and self appointed internet curator at marketing communications and advertising agency Object 9. He’s created content for clients big and small, and loves to provide the social perspective during campaign conception. He once achieved mild fame for having penned a Craigslist ad, culminating in an interview on All Things Considered, and maybe more impressively, the frontpage of Reddit. He’s obsessed with media in all it’s forms, and prides himself on his Twitter game. In his off hours, he attempts to write YouTube sketches and TV scripts, some of which end up readable. The original post can be seen on Object 9 site – keep up to date with them on twitter @Object9 or on Facebook.