Three of the top viral spots from 2007 offer clues to success

By Ann Cooper

The most popular and successful viral campaigns of 2007 included Cadbury's "Gorilla," Smirnoff Ice's "Green Tea Partay" and Ray-Ban's "Catch" from agencies Fallon, London, JWT, New York and Cutwater, San Francisco, respectively. What they all have in common, is, quite simply, or not so simply: a funny idea. In today's world, filled with competitors jostling for their share of youthful eyeballs and willing to throw almost anything at the global Web in the hope that something sticks, it's almost reassuring to know that some things remain constant: A good idea is a good idea, irrespective of the medium.

Take for example, "Gorilla," which started off as a 90-second TV spot featuring a drumming ape to promote Cadbury's Milk Chocolate in the U.K. Directed by Juan Cabral, who also created the hugely successful "Balls" for Sony, the brief was to "reignite the nation's love affair with Cadbury's Dairy Milk." When it gravitated onto YouTube in September 2007, it attracted 500,000 hits in the first week, achieved cult status and spawned a host of parodies.

The spot, from Cadbury's new in-house production company, A Glass and a Half Full Productions, opens on a close up of a gorilla's face as Phil Collin's 1981 hit "In the Air Tonight" starts playing. The camera then pulls back to reveal the big ape sitting behind a drum kit. As Collins' drum solo starts, the gorilla explodes into action on the drums. The scene fades to a product shot of a Dairy Milk bar over the tagline, "a glass and a half full of joy."

So, what on earth has some guy in an ape suit and an old Phil Collins hit got to do with eating chocolate? Well, given that there was nothing new to say about the over one hundred-year-old product, the aim was just to make consumers smile. It's a strategy that apparently works. Cadbury, which was facing a host of problems to do with product recalls, an ad controversy and cost-cutting measures, saw sales of Dairy Milk increase 9% during the time "Gorilla" aired from the same period in 2006. And brand measurements showed that 20 percent more people looked favourably on the brand after the campaign's release, than before. It received six million hits from across the Internet, which prompted the re-release of "In the Air Tonight" pushing it back into the Top 20 And the client apparently couldn't have been more surprized. See, simplicity itself.

In the case of Smirnoff, Bartle Bogle Hegarty set the ball rolling last year with its inspired rap send up of privileged East Coast preppie types in "Tea Partay." "To my homies on lockdown for insider trading" and "high tea in the parlor makes the ladies holler," they harmonize. Crooning in the background are three pearl-wearing, sweater-set clad blond women. It notched up some five million hits. When the account moved because of conflict last year to JWT, Smirnoff's brief was to do another viral and keep the momentum going.

According to creative director Andrew Clarke, who joined JWT in May 2007, "Our challenge was not necessarily to do a follow up," he explains. "But it made sense to do a West Coast/green tea reply. In California, they're all into that lifestyle of perfection, health and fitness, so it was a pisstake." In September 2007, they released a teaser on YouTube featuring the star of the first video slamming the West Coast. "Because of the following for the first video, it seemed smart to put up a teaser so people knew something was coming," says Clarke. A week later they followed it up with the "Green Tea Partay," viral featuring a band called "Boyz 'N the Hillz." They also bought the home page on YouTube and got four million hits over the three to four weeks.

Clarke first dabbled in the viral world while at Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. "I've done cheap and cheerful pieces for YouTube that don't necessarily have to look amazing," he says. "But I learnt as a marketer that the viral world has to be treated with respect. It's getting so saturated now, I don't think you can throw everything on there to see. Which is why we wrestled with how good does it have to look? It was shot digitally, but it was beautifully done with a professional DP just like a TV commercial, no shorcuts. And it proved that making it look half decent helps."

So what makes one viral ad successful and another not? According to Clarke, "Anything I've done has had an idea in it that's tended to be funny—not that I'm a comedian. It can also just be odd. Cadbury's 'Gorilla' for example, has a ridiculously and weirdly funny idea behind it. We have discussions all the time about whether your target audience is going to get it. Doing viral's almost like doing research that you don't have to pay millions for."

When Ray-Ban wanted to promote its "Never Hide" positioning globally, based on a philosophy of individuality, the Web seemed ideal. People wore Ray-Bans when they were trying to be themselves, says Chuck McBride, co-founder and executive creative director of Cutwater. "From the beginning we talked to Ray-Ban about global marketing using the Web, because so many Web sites are global anyway."

In "Catch," one actor tosses a pair of Ray-Bans to another, who catches it with his face. It was created by Los Angeles filmmaker Benzo, who's also one of the film's stars. "We came up with the notion of one of them catching the sunglasses," says McBride, "but then Benzo went completely gonzo with it, which was the development we needed. People on Facebook saw it and it became part of their network."

Josh Warner's Feed Company was brought in to seed the campaign throughout the Internet. YouTube metering measured more than 1.7 million viewings in just over a week. Other community sites such as also reported over 1 million views. "We were advised that that was the right way to do it," says McBride. "We learned a lot about how it worked. We'd done Internet films before as an agency, but this was a lot more. We caught people when they had time on their hands and were willing to surf. The learning curve was that brands can speak via the Internet in a way that isn't just navigational. There's an entertainment factor, and it's feels like something you want to show your friends."

People do things differently via the Web. "There's a spirit of invention about the filmmaking and so we experimented by using a lots of different directors," he says. "What gelled was promoting 'Never Hide' from an artistic standpoint via a Web site. It gave the client confidence in the medium," says McBride. "So you can create an advertising process where you use the Web and digital film to give people an idea of what the brand's all about."

So far, it's clocked up some 15 million hits globally and has created its own momentum, which was the intention. "We wanted to create something that people seek out, as opposed to programs that you force into their homes," says McBride. "Our strategy was to make it interesting enough so it would become part of a conversation."

Cutwater's next viral effort for Ray-Ban featured the same two actors bobbing for sunglasses, also created by Benzo. "The second one was more of a happy accident, it certainly wasn't on the docket," says McBride. "We thought the idea funny, so we filmed it. That's another cool thing about viral marketing; it doesn't take a lot to get things going."

They decided not to use the company, Feed. "We probably suffered because of it," admits McBride. "There was less of an uptick than on the first one. We were testing how much of a franchise it was and would the second one follow suit? We discovered that while it can be popular, you have to strategize your digital media the same way you do other media. So it helps to do feeding programs because you can count on more eyeballs."

McBride says he's still educating clients about how it all works. "People use GRPs (gross rating points) for other media. But the Web has a kind of 'just jump in head first' feeling to it. It's not rocket science." And Ray-Ban, he says, is very happy with where "Never Hide" is. "The Internet begs for the different and innovative, and if it ties back to a program that is holistic for the brand, then it becomes a distinct arm of the brand communication." It isn't a formulaic-based program, he says. "It's not like doing another Bud Light commercial. Web audiences are much pickier. You've got to continually surprise and engage. You're dealing with sophisticated media that gives you daily updates and instantaneous feedback. For me, the challenge is to do it in fresh and innovative ways."

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