How Not To Go Viral: 4 Examples Of Publicity Gone Wrong

We live in an age where scrolling through social media is the first thing that several people do when they wake up. It is all about “trends” and about what’s “viral”. When something goes viral on social media, people talk about it, share it with their friends and engage with the post. That’s something that looks good from a brand’s standpoint, don’t you agree? That is why brands strive to go viral, most if not all! 

After all, when there are so many communication channels out there, brands approach social media seeking customer engagement, better reach, and of course, new leads. Going viral can make all these happen. While we do share this opinion we should also warn you that negative virality is very much real too. Sometimes brands go viral for the wrong reasons.

Some might argue that “there’s no such thing called negative popularity”. But remember that it is your brand’s reputation at stake. Every little thing you post on social media, and every little effort you make to go viral can make or break the trust your customers have in your brand. That’s why it’s equally important to know about the not-so-ideal ways to go viral. To understand this better, let’s talk about some brands and their campaigns that backfired. 

Shall we begin? 

The craze about going viral 

The below image shows the views on a viral video, titled “Gangnam Style”. Probably a video almost all YouTube users have watched or at least heard about! 

Tens of millions of views weeks after posting the video – now that kind of engagement is any social media content creator’s dream. Brands are no exception! No wonder there is so much buzz around creating content that can possibly “go viral”. 

In fact, though we talk about social media every time we talk about an effort to go viral, the truth is that virality is not a new concept. It is centuries old. It dates back to the times of ancient communication media like letters. Have you heard of chain mail? Why even take the group-forward trends that existed in the text-messaging times, for that matter! All of these were attempts to go viral. 

However, going viral is not easy

Based on a study of “The Structural Virality of Online Diffusion” by Microsoft and Stanford, the chances of a post becoming a “viral hit” is about one in a million. There is no rulebook that directs you in the path of producing viral content. So, if someone says there is one, take it with a pinch of salt. 

If the chances are bleak, why all the fuss? The answer lies in FOMO – the fear of missing out. When everyone is talking about a video, a social media trend that is supposedly “viral” people want to try them. Because they do not want to feel like an outsider on social media. And this mass participation and large-scale engagement can look good on a brand’s social media marketing portfolio. 

For all these reasons and more, brands are always on the lookout for strategies that help their content go viral. This includes following social media trends, setting new social media trends, creating videos that challenge perceptions, and so on. If the ideas the brand experiments with work, then the brand can gain from the spike in popularity. And add a few extra followers too. 

However, we cannot ignore the fact that going viral for reasons unintended can backfire. Let’s look at some brands that learned it the hard way. 

4 examples of how not to go viral 

While defining how to go viral might be a difficult thing, it is easier to define how not to go viral. Take it from the instances where brand publicity went wrong. After all, as you are busy drumming up the support of your customers, you cannot let missteps cause negative virality. So, below are some examples of brands that went viral for the wrong reasons. 

1. Audi –  #PaidMyDues 

Well, the campaign did not exactly pay its dues! 

As a part of its promotions for a new sedan, A3, Audi created the #PaidMyDues campaign. For the campaign, the brand went on to share a series of posts on Instagram and Twitter. Take a look at a few posts in the lineup and pay attention to the comments on these posts. 

Customers expressed their disappointment in the comments. This had to do with the posts looking “out of place” and irrelevant to the brand. While the campaign idea itself was great, the creatives that the brand came up with did not go well with its audience.

Some said that these posts made them doubt if they were on the right page and some even expressed their doubts if the “Audi account had been hacked”. 

Kimp Tips:

For the sake of experimenting with something out of the ordinary, you do not want to upset the apple cart. People have a particular perception of your brand. If you mess with the harmony unnecessarily, it sometimes backfires. Especially for a distinguished brand with a very specific brand image, like Audi. 

Notice how some users spoke about preferring competitor pages for content and how some spoke about abandoning the page if they did not “see cars again”. While the campaign on the whole was not a flop, posts like these can be severely damaging. Disappointed customers head over to your competitors. 

Now let’s compare the above posts with another image. Can you say that this is a snapshot of the Audi Instagram page? That instant recognition is the result of a strong social media aesthetic. 

Want to create such a strong and recognizable social media aesthetic for your brand? Get in touch with the Kimp team today. 

2. The Starbucks Red Cup bickering on social media 

Can a brand go viral for introducing a red cup for Christmas? Well, anything can happen with Starbucks! 

Starbucks is known for its festive cups around Christmas. But back in 2015, the brand decided to cut the frills and released a plain red cup. The reason Starbucks introduced its solid red cup was to let customers doodle on them and personalize the cups to their tastes. 

However, not everyone was happy with the plain red cup. It sparked a lot of conversations on social media and gave birth to the #MerryChristmasStarbucks trend. 

The social media crowd was divided in this case. Some were not happy with the Christmas accents missing from the Starbucks cup. While others argued that “ItsJustACup. 

Leaving aside the dispute of the red cup, the fact remains that this event did go viral. It led to “Starbucks” being mentioned 474,000 times over a period of one week. 

As Trevor Noah puts it, “the cups are red and green” and that’s Christmas enough! But yes, you never know what the social media generation feels attached to. 

Kimp Tips: 

In this case, the buzz was because customers love the Christmas markings that appear on the Starbucks cup. There is one thing to learn from this incident – one way to avoid negative virality is to carefully monitor customer sentiments. Understand what customers think about your brand, the brand elements that they are most attached to. Think twice before touching them. 

And your packaging design can be a big deal, especially around popular holidays like Christmas. People like designs that are aligned with the season and festivities. 

Don’t worry if you need a quick retouch on your packaging. The Kimp team is here to help. Here is a Christmas-ready packaging design by Kimp. 

Design by Kimp 
3. Coca-Cola – GIF The Feeling 

Coca-Cola is the epitome of marketing creativity. It has an unshakeable brand position and reputation around the world. The way the brand was trolled on social media in its GIF The Feeling campaign is proof that even well-established brands cannot escape the ramifications of negative popularity. 

The campaign was about crowdsourcing content – letting users personalize the brand creatives. The brand allowed users to customize and share their GIFs. While the intention was clear, the reaction was not entirely as expected. Responses from trolls became more popular than those from customers who love the brand. 

Kimp Tips: 

You cannot be oblivious to the fact that in addition to your target audience, there are social media trolls who might notice your campaigns. Yes, always scrutinizing the little details to avoid being trolled might seem like a stressful job. But just be sure that your creatives and your campaign on the whole do not send out the wrong signals. In the early stages, when you are in the process of shaping your brand image this is a risk you should avoid. 

Problems like these might exist even in the case of ideas like Snapchat Takeover where influencers are allowed to create content for the brand. Influencer marketing has a lot of benefits but to actually reap those benefits you need to choose the right influencers whose audience aligns with that of your brand. 

4. The U.S. Air Force Yanny or Laurel Meme

Remember the viral Yanne or Laurel debate that took the internet by storm? What reportedly started out on Reddit soon had the internet debating over what they heard – Yanny or Laurel. 

Just around the time this audio illusion went viral, people started sharing memes and brands started launching Yanny and Laurel merchandise. Jumping into the trend, the U.S. Air Force Twitter page posted a Tweet on this theme. But people around the world highlighted how insensitive the reference was since it was a nod to the grave situation and the shooting in the Afghan city of Farah by the U.S. Military. 

Responding to the backlash, the U.S. Air Force Twitter page withdrew the tweet and apologized to the users. 

Kimp Tips: 

Sometimes posts that appear contextually relevant and topical might not exactly sound right or look right from your brand’s perspective. So, before you hop on to a trend, ensure that it would not cause your campaign to go awry with respect to your brand messaging and brand values. 

Posts with a great copy but misleading, controversial, or ambiguous design or great design but with copy that is not on-point can both lead to such issues. So, ensure that you have a strong brand style guide or brand guidelines that record the brand tone of voice and brand messaging.  See to it that your copywriting team and design team both refer to it to ensure that the overall design stays true to your brand. 

And if you need any help putting together your brand guidelines, the Kimp team is here. Take a look at the below brand guidelines designed by Kimp. 

Design by Kimp 

A few quick tips to avoid a social media debacle 

Recovering from being trolled on social media and being ridiculed on a large scale is not easy. The best idea, therefore, is to prevent such mishaps. Here are a few quick tips based on such big internet disputes and backlash that these famous brands were part of. 

  • Ensure that your campaigns and all the promotional collateral including visuals and copy are perfectly synchronized with your brand message. You do not want to confuse your audience about what your brand stands for, for the sake of a momentary campaign. 
  • When trying viral trends, understand the real meaning behind the trend and the reasons why it went viral. There are emotions attached to such trends and emotions attached to your brand. If these are not on the same page, then it is better to skip the trend than mislead or disappoint your customers. 
  • Define your social media aesthetic and ensure that it is in line with your brand identity on the whole. This influences how your customers perceive your brand. When you create topical content or content that follows trends, incorporate the signature elements that people instantly recognize and associate with your brand. 

With all these little things in mind, go make that attempt to go viral, more confidently. 

Going viral or strategizing a rebound – anything is possible with Kimp designs 

Advertising is no easy feat. Even the best-laid plans can sometimes backfire. But it is all about learning from these unprecedented hiccups and bouncing back with a bang. A creative campaign aligned with your brand, a thoughtful message to your customers – there are so many ways to recuperate your reputation. For all the creatives you need to deploy in the process, the Kimp team is here to help. With unlimited designs delivered every month and super-fast turnaround times, you can keep[ churning out content that helps you get back on track. Good content is all it takes to help consumers forget about that one miscalculation you made in the past. 

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