Best Practices: How to Make a Campaign Go Viral

Don't Be Afraid to Make Some People Mad

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Why did Newcastle Brown Ale began moving away from TV advertising last year?

"We just realized it was like pissing into the Grand Canyon," said Ted Royer, chief creative officer for Droga5, New York, the brand's creative shop. The brand's budget "will never be big enough to compete with anybody on the national scale the way Bud Light and Coors and Miller [advertise]."

So Newcastle, beginning this year, has undertaken a digital-only strategy aimed at generating viral video hits timed around a few big occasions each year.

It started with a bang when the Heineken-owned brand ran a hilarious series of ads spoofing Super Bowl campaigns that included faux teaser ads with over-the-top explosions, sharks and Anna Kendrick. The spots got widespread attention, including recognition as the "Best Super Bowl Ambush" at Ad Age's Viral Video award show earlier this year.

For a follow-up, the British brew recently completed a Fourth of July campaign called "Independence Eve" that poked fun at the overt patriotic appeals by some American beer brands. "If We Won" videos imagined what life would be like if the Brits had won the Revolutionary War, and featured celebs like Stephen Merchant and Elizabeth Hurley. And just like the Super Bowl spoof ads, the campaign got attention, recently breaking into Ad Age's Viral Video chart.

What is Newcastle's secret to viral success? Ad Age recently caught up with Mr. Royer and Newcastle Brand Director Quinn Kilbury to get some tips:

Limit Paid Support at the Beginning
When Newcastle launched its first video for the Independence Eve campaign (featuring Mr. Merchant, below), the brand did not put any ad support behind it for the first day or so, mostly limiting outreach to PR activities.

Why? Mr. Kilbury said it's good to give videos "24 to 48 hours to breathe" before buying ads, especially if the goal is to start a conversation. He cited tracking numbers from Newcastle's Super Bowl campaign that suggested the brand health scores improved more after "an organic view versus a paid view." Plus, he said that when a video is distributed in a pre-roll ad, "it's an ad leading into a video, and it's very difficult to 'share' or even 'like' that."

Don't Add the Celebs Until You Have the Concept
Newcastle used celebrities in both campaigns. But "in both cases we built the campaign first and then brought in the [celebrities]," Mr. Kilbury said. "The right celebrity can draw eyeballs, but when they are driving the creative you end up just having a billboard almost. It's not interesting." Mr. Kilbury -- who admitted making this mistake earlier in his career (he has worked for PepsiCo and General Mills) -- said the problem is that "you try to fit the celebrities' tone, versus the brand idea."

But Give Your Talent Some Input
Still, Mr.Royer said Newcastle ensures celebrities get a chance to improvise and have input on the script. The brand also allows its stars to experiment with deliveries and styles they might not typically use. He referenced Zachary Quinto, an actor known for his role as the serious-minded Spock in "Star Trek" movies, who was able to test his comedic chops in the Fourth of July campaign.

By giving celebs this freedom, Newcastle usually can draw talent for a cheaper rate than normal. "We purposely aren't going to pay celebrities an exorbitant amount of money, because we don't want anybody to do it for the money," Mr. Kilbury said. "We want somebody who really likes the content, who really likes the idea ... and they are doing it because they want to do it, and they are having a good time."

Don't Be Afraid to Anger a Few People
While most people got the pretty obvious snark in the "Independence Eve" campaign, there were a few people who took it the wrong way. For instance, one YouTube commenter said that "this will surely bring down this trashy company for basically talking smack about how much better life would be driving on the wrong side of the road."

The negative reaction was expected -- and totally fine with Newcastle. The snark helps the brand reach its core target: people who are witty. It's part of the brand's strategy to build loyalty with its fans by overtly excluding others, Mr. Kilbury said. In other words, if some people feel like "I'm not going to drink a Newcastle, other people see them saying that and [say] I don't want to drink what he's drinking. So actually I feel better about my decision to buy a Newcastle because this guy will never touch one," he said.

The brand even prepared a non-apology apology for the people who were offended:

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