Like most ad creatives I know, I have longed for my projects to enter into viral-dom. But no matter how big the budget, how unusual the idea, or how liberal the client, there's no guarantee work will get millions of hits. And without this promise, some projects have a hard time even getting off the ground. There simply is no formula for WeboBlogNetSphere success.
Or so I thought, until a personal project taught me the key to success was failure.
On April 1st (coincidentally, April Fool's Day), I began dividing New York City sidewalks into two lanes: one for New Yorkers, and one for tourists. Armed with spray chalk and stencils, I set out to make our Metropolis an easier place to walk.
Within weeks, these tourist lanes were being "Twittered" "Facebooked," and "Liked" across the web. Their images were given prominent placement in general media outlets like NBC, CNN, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well in solely digital publications like Gothamist, Huffington Post, and BoingBoing. At a press conference, Mayor Bloomberg said they were "cute" and a "nice thing to do," which only furthered the media attention. Coverage spread all the way to Germany, and "tourist lanes" spontaneously popped up on the sidewalks of Barcelona.
The project had gone viral.
This astounded me. I had put almost no money behind it. Nor had I, or any representatives from Improv Everywhere (the lane most widely photographed was left behind after collaborating with them on a prank video released weeks after the media attention) notified the press or seeded the project online.
Which brings me back to failure.
I have been developing a habit of coming up with ideas for side projects and turning them into reality. Many of them have been failures, well, failures in the sense that they didn't come out as intended, or people didn't respond to them as I had hoped. But that didn't stop me from trying. Instead of mulling over what could be the next big idea, I just got busy making whatever my next idea happened to be. So when an idea with the opportunity for traction emerged, I was already in production mode.
It's important, especially in the digital realm, to always be creating. What separates digital from other mediums is the opportunity for real conversations in real time. To engage in these conversations, brands need to be nimble, human, honest and, above all, ready to respond. Ready to respond to what our audience is thinking and talking about in that moment.
I know for clients this raises new and troubling questions for their brands: How will they know if what's been proposed will be liked or agreed with?
You don't. Not every sentence in your digital conversation will be perfect, especially the first time out. But you need to keep trying, because that's how great conversations keep going.
Jeff Greenspan is a creative director at BBDO New York
Visit www.jeffgreenspan.com to view a case study of the Tourist Lane Project.