What if you went viral by tomorrow morning? Imagine waking up as the most relevant discussion on the Internet. What would you do with the newfound fame – or better yet, how would you cash in on your 15 seconds?
In October 2020, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 hit, “Dreams,” charted on the US Billboard Top 100 after decades of golden oldie status. How did it happen? It all started when an unassuming Idaho resident, Nathan Apodaca, longboarded down the street, Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice in one hand and TikToking smartphone in the other. Just another ordinary day.
Except it wasn’t.
Nathan wasn’t expecting to go to bed as the official mood of the Internet with hundreds of thousands of views and shares on his evening post. He probably didn’t expect to wake up with thousands of people from around the world mimicking his every gesture. Yet there he was on millions of screens, revitalising a classic hit, all while drinking some juice.
“It’s only right that you should play the way you feel it.” – @420doggface208 on TikTok. Also, Fleetwood Mac on Dreams.
After Apodaca posted his original video, which has since been viewed upward of 72 million times on TikTok, he inspired an army of copycats to recreate the visceral joy we saw and felt when he broke into an expressive lip-sync of the Dreams refrain. Even Mike Fleetwood – yes, the “Fleetwood” in Fleetwood Mac – couldn’t help but join the fun, Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice in tow of course.
Naturally, this led to quite the boost in Ocean Spray’s Cran-Raspberry sales. It was also a welcomed push for Fleetwood Mac’s royalty statements and had a cultural impact on a new audience, with their song peaking at No. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in late October 2020. As for Nathan, his charisma earned him free stuff to the tune of a cranberry red pick-up truck from Ocean Spray and enough juice to quench the thirst of all the on-lookers trying to capitalise on his wave.
The heart-warming situation single-handedly reminded us of everything that’s good about the Internet. But the real winners? The wily community managers who may not have made Ocean Spray, Fleetwood Mac or Nathan Apodaca Internet phenomena, but made sure every party capitalised when virality came knocking.
RANDOM SPOT QUIZ:
What should a brand do with a windfall of positive virality?
- Double down on the event and leverage their existing positioning to forge new paths on their journey to relevance and trust.
- Ride out the initial excitement and attempt to replicate the viral sensation again, while trying to better control the narrative.
- Appropriate the moment and adapt the event into a paid ad, regardless of the context of the material or the brand’s positioning.
If your answer was not 1, you might want to read more intently.
Who would’ve thought that Zoom would save millions of jobs (and lives) throughout the world? While conference calls have been around for decades, they were reserved for distant stakeholders – not the person in the next door cubicle.
The promise of big tech began to unfold when we needed a reliable way to keep society going and the stocks did not hesitate to reflect the irrefutable passing of the baton to tech either.
Throughout 2019, the narrative focused on decarbonisation and salvaging the remaining inkling of hope we have of slowing down climate change. True to form, the same old Davos suits who once scoffed at the thought of having a labour force working remotely, remained sceptical about abandoning black gold as an energy source and building blocks of our hyper-consumerist luxuries, like straws.
LET’S NOT PLAY OURSELVES
The FTSE and NYSE plummeted, while the NASDAQ soared. The unlikely heroes of the economic collapse, caused by the whole world staying home for weeks, became programmers and developers.
Aside from the professional realm, the techies also came through for us when we needed a distraction from the scary, depressing news. That’s why gaming saw an unprecedented boom. Unfortunately, as Dre Watermeyer discusses, gaming is a market that had been treated as nascent for longer than it was, with brands missing out on the opportunity to use it as a means to connect with people.
In essence, if there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s to take early adopters more seriously, because we don’t know where things are going and the fields of business that seem obscure today, may be the lifeblood that keeps the engine ticking when doo-doo hits the fan tomorrow.
“Thunder only happens when it’s raining.” – Fleetwood Mac on Dreams.
SPARE A THOUGHT
However, being safely tucked away in our homes and muted on Zoom/Teams calls, doesn’t mean we should ever understate the immeasurable impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Sectors like hospitality, retail and entertainment, which weren’t so lucky to be movable to the digital domain, have all felt the pinch of not being able to operate.
And what might be a pinch to more established businesses can be a fatal incision to those at the heart of the informal economy. If you’re able, spare a thought for the millions who were left destitute with no way to make a living for months and are now on the shaky path to recovery.
THE LOUDEST SILENCE
In the heat of the moment, as the world looked on in suspense as to how the gonzo horror would play out, we also inadvertently exposed ourselves to more ads than ever. Every hour became the prime hour in which you would expect brands, that usually bombard us with unsolicited marketing messages, to have something to say. But sadly, very few did.
What the pandemic exposed was a deficit in the voice of too many corporations that were able to remain in business. Here we had the biggest and most pertinent global discussion since the death of Nelson Mandela, yet radio silence from the usual conversation starters, which can be seen as opportunity squandered on their part.
While earlier in lockdown, it understandably would’ve been risky and downright dangerous to release inaccurate messaging, there existed a plethora of non-scientific conversations that people were having among themselves, with only the bravest brands attempting to make comment.
However, the brave few were able to get creative and offer real-time solutions to emergent pandemic problems, like Checkers with their Sixty60 campaign. Others were able to mobilise the masses behind the common cause of safety and precaution, making use of a more solemn tone without breaking away from their usual voice.
In early April, people needed to know ways to keep themselves safe from contracting the virus, but they also needed reassurance that we’d make it past that point. People needed confirmation that they weren’t going crazy, even as the world seemed it was. People needed messaging that helped them hold on, even in the depths of loneliness and isolation.
But how many brands capitalised on these many new stories to tell? Not anywhere close to enough. Reason being? They had not developed their voices well enough before the pandemic to be able to speak definitively and help people make sense of things during the pandemic. Even broaching the subject of anything beyond the generic, “We’re closing down,” messages was a step too far for businesses that weren’t appropriately positioned in the minds of their audiences.
NEW DAWNS, NEW CHALLENGES
Later down the line, every team had to navigate an exhausting loop of new challenges to keep their spots in the minds of the public. The President called regular, “Family Meetings,” by way of the media, to inform us of descending levels and increasing freedoms – but in 2020, even the good news was bad news.
For example, when making a TV commercial, companies now had to consider social distancing measures and what that would mean for the production process. Creatives could no longer rely on heart-warming key visuals showing people in proximity or touching when we were being warned against such.
THE NEW NORMAL?
All communications a brand created for its audience had to meet the specifications of the brief within social distancing regulations. However, the key challenge involved was that branding teams and agencies had to think ahead to a world after these constraints. This challenge was directly confronted by Patrick Hyland, who authored a stellar piece highlighting how the so-called, “New Normal,” as it had been coined by state agents, was not very normal at all.
Patrick’s work on a campaign for Pres Les came at a time when most of us never saw an end to the cold distance that comes with regulating a contagion. Communicating warmth isn’t easy when trying to navigate through restrictions of two meters between everyone. Neither is cracking the right voice, because nobody wants “edgy” when their lives are on the edge.
THE DARK SIDE OF VIRALITY
Another unfortunate event that made the lockdown less bearable was the consistent division brought about by social relations in “Trumpland”. It all started with the heinous murder of George Floyd going viral. What followed was chaos. Brands, especially in the US, were faced with difficult questions. Do they pick a side and stand a chance of alienating the other? Or do they play it safe and ignore what was happening in the hopes of shipping more product on either end of the divide?
Some of the most powerful and controversial advertising came from Nike, who have aligned their messaging with equality on all fronts. Unlike others, they already had a head-start (CC: Colin Kaepernick) and remained consistent for years, amassing enough cultural capital to take a particular stance on pressing social issues that often leave others either tongue-tied or with foot in mouth.
Nike gave us a great example of brand bravery and how it ultimately allows the room to manoeuvre where competitors could never dream of treading. By following through on its promise, the brand was able to keep an engaged audience on either end of any pertinent debate, turning its logo into a symbol akin to political regalia, without espousing a defined political ideology.
“Traffic doesn’t seem as bad as it used to when you can’t go anywhere.”
This taught us, much like the Ocean Spray debacle, that community management is now becoming more important than ever. The brands that do it right can live through anything, while those who cannot will wilt by the wayside or keep missing brilliant opportunities to define their voice moving forward.
GET UP, CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Social media (and now the growing overreach of tech into every aspect of our lives) has created new ecosystems and contexts for brands to exist in as fully-fledged communicators. People can now engage with brands as they would engage with other people.
So, when burger businesses start trending on your preferred social media platform, it’s not because they announced a sale or something product-related, but often it’s rather due to a witty clapback aimed at some other fast-food chain. This, in turn, creates interest in what they say based on their clearly defined public personas over and above their product lines, allowing for a currency beyond recognition; brand resonance.
DON’T BE GREEDY, SHARE THE FUN
Burger King told people to band together in saving the jobs of those at the frontlines in the fast-food sector by eating out. In their impassioned plea, they included by name some of the places people can visit to spend money on the sector, including mortal rivals, McDonald’s. People loved this because it demonstrated the togetherness and camaraderie which other brands were merely self-righteously preaching about.
Closer to home, instead of pushing heavy product placement, Chicken Licken developed a referential masterpiece in TVC form. It incorporated and remade all the Internet trends, funny videos and absurd challenges that happened during lockdown and well, people ate it up.
YOUR VOICE SPEAKS EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T
What can be learnt from 2020 is that earned media matters. Earned media is any coverage a brand gets on open platforms without paying for it. Think of it as a PR freebie. As much as we’d love the free publicity, you only get this at a useful level when your voice is firmly entrenched in the minds of the masses.
Nandos was uncharacteristically quiet during the more serious phases of the coronavirus response. This may be because their voice was inappropriate for the initial shock of the situation, but that didn’t stop anyone from imagining what an ad like theirs would look like had they made one.
FINDING RESONANCE IN THE FLEETING
2020 has demonstrated repeatedly how community managers have steered brands to safety on a scale previously unimagined. Everyone being online highlighted the power of digital media and the community managers in control of those mechanisms became the ace in the hole for the companies they worked for.
These were the heroes that gave direction and prompted brands to seize the opportunity of virality. They had their fingers on the pulse of culture and have been the difference between the brands that won the hearts and minds of people in 2020 and those who still must make the long trudge back to normalcy.
Before lockdown, incessant browsing of the Internet at the office was a cardinal sin, yet as the dust settles, it looks to be the sinners who have inherited the Earth.
FROM SINNERS TO SAINTS
Some of the sinners in this case were community managers, who we prefer to call Resonance Navigators. They can be described as people who give brands direction as to how to engage with the public to increase the level of resonance that a brand’s messaging has with people. They lead brands to cultivating personas with voices people can identify with over time.
Business development teams may be sceptical about this new route of presenting brands because there is no formula to capitalise on virality. Yes, there’s no tried and trusted method to produce or replicate it if it does happen, leaving the art of Resonance Navigation painfully short of being a science.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. If we try at the right time – i.e. adapt causes to brand voices before they break into the mainstream and cultivate organic engagement with the target audience before needing to comment on a high-stakes issue – then whatever we say on anything will stick, provided its alignment with the established voice of the brand.
BUILDING TRUST FOR TOMORROW
Businesses being afraid to comment on live issues is never a good sign. Fear is a poor starting position in terms of communication because one can never define their voice. The ability to deliver the right message is often premised on building an adequate amount of trust with an audience over time, which allows brands to communicate with agility.
Social media is not about product, it’s about people and this simple insight only comes to be appreciated when we start to value the agility of our positioning. If the Resonance Navigation team hasn’t led us to the point where we can communicate about anything in our unique voice, then we will continue to spurn our chances of gaining a foothold in this crazy, new world.
“On social, it’s not about the content you create, it’s about the content you are going to create.” – Jil Watermeyer, Resonance Navigator
As we head into the new year, we can only hope to see more brands capitalising on the promise of digital by using social media to create resonance with our audience’s Dreams. After all, you never know what a random video on TikTok might get you.