Best/Worst Viral Ad Campaigns
April 3, 2008 1:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm researching viral marketing campaigns, and I'm looking for some of the best and worst examples out there.

I'm not having any trouble finding examples, and yes, I agree that the term and the medium are both getting a little played out. (There are spoofs of ads and even spoofs of spoofs at this point elbowing each other for some room in the "viral" landscape.)

To clarify, I'm NOT looking for a list of YouTube videos that "went viral" (Diet Coke & Mentos, water skiing squirrel, monkey smelling finger), and I'm NOT looking for funny TV commercials that happened to get passed around the web (Bud Light ads).

I'm looking for the best and worst examples of non-traditional, internet based marketing campaigns - advertising beyond the 30 second spot. Some of the best/biggest examples I have are:

Dove Evolution
Subservient Chicken
BMW's "The Hire" short film series

I'd also really appreciate help identifying some of the worst viral campaigns ever to crash and burn their way across your screens, as the failures tend to fade away pretty fast.
posted by Prevailing Southwest to Media & Arts (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"Worst" meaning unpleasant in some way? Or, meaning ineffectual?
posted by cmiller at 1:51 PM on April 3, 2008

Sony has been particularly guilty of some horrid attempts at astroturfing, with fake blogs and graffiti artists.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2008

Response by poster: Sorry - "Worst" meaning most ineffectual or most damaging to the brand. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Prevailing Southwest at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2008

Well, the viral marketing campaign for Aqua Teen Hunger Force didn't go quite as planned in Boston.
posted by emd3737 at 2:22 PM on April 3, 2008

I would say that was a good publicity stunt for Aqua Teen Hunger Force. A lot of people remember the situation.
posted by Dean Keaton at 2:30 PM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: Forgive my lack of modesty here, but I launched the original viral video channel on iFilm some years back and I consider myself a bit of an expert in this arena. Here's what I'd say:

Best - Will it Blend? Not only did they get a ridiculous amount of exposure for their blenders, they actually made money on the videos by posting them to Revver and similiar sites that pay based on performance.

Worst - Most of the worst ones you haven't even heard of because they didn't catch on, but as far as causing actual damage to a brand, I'd go with's video pitch for Subway. Horribly misguided, it was widely mocked by nearly everyone that saw it, including nearly everyone in the advertising business. In the same vein, the Alexei Vayner video resume was even more widely mocked, if you're interested in examples from people marketing themselves, as opposed to actual companies.
posted by dhammond at 2:32 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The I Love Bees campaign for Halo 2 was mind-bogglingly cool.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:33 PM on April 3, 2008

But I have no idea if it was successful.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:35 PM on April 3, 2008

Several years ago there was a paid campaign for some sort of chocolate drink (it was called something cow) and they wanted to hit a young audience so they paid some bloggers for ads linking to a fake blog written by a hip snowboarding indie rocking cow that sounded like something straight out of the Poochie episode of the Simpsons. It was so widely mocked in blogland that years later people would still saying "that totally looks like a (whatever, I forgot now the name) cow blog!" when something sounded overly commercial or fake.
posted by mathowie at 3:01 PM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: Oh shit, I just remembered: raging cow!
posted by mathowie at 3:02 PM on April 3, 2008

Best answer: Another good one: a few years ago there was a Chevy ad for a new Suburban and they wanted to hit the youtube generation with the pitch that anyone could sign up and apply text and choose clips for a commercial and they would display thousands of user-generated commercials.

Of course, it went badly (it was linked on mefi and people went to town on it), with people making protest commercials mocking the low MPG and terrible environmental effects from everyone buying SUVs in America.
posted by mathowie at 3:04 PM on April 3, 2008

In 2006 Sony set up a phony blog meant to hype the PSP called All I Want for Christmas is a PSP. It was supposedly written by a pair of preteen Sony fanboys who made YouTube videos where they rapped about convincing their parents to buy them a PSP, but the Internet at large almost immediately figured out that it was all just an inept marketing campaign. Sony quickly took it down and apologized.

Sources: 1, 2, 3
posted by Smallpox at 3:18 PM on April 3, 2008

There was an extensive Internet campaign for the movie "Cloverfield" recently, involving all kinds of back story about the plot and the characters (even peripheral characters without speaking roles). It seemed to be interesting stuff for the movie's demographic. Even slightly interesting for me for about 5 minutes. Check it out. (I have no idea how to judge whether it was "bad" or "good" however.)
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:21 PM on April 3, 2008

What about that ski resort fiasco?
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2008

In addition to i love bees, which otherworldlyglow mentioned, there are many examples of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) that act as viral marketing. The Beast was for A.I., ilb for Halo 2, The Lost Experience & Find 815 for Lost, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:30 PM on April 3, 2008

I know that many, many Nine Inch Nails fans were caught up in the Year Zero ARG. Even the ones who weren't "in" the game at least watched with interest. (Personally, I'm always too busy for these.)
posted by dhartung at 4:46 PM on April 3, 2008

For a good time, see punchdrunkhistory's post above and click on his link.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:00 PM on April 3, 2008

The Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out Youtube video turned out of the be viral marketing and made a bit of buzz, as such, in Canada given that both the actress and agency were Canadian.
posted by gspm at 6:01 PM on April 3, 2008

Oh, there was the Heinze one, right? The ketchup one?

They basically decided to get cool with the kids, yo, and invited people to post home made 30 or 60 second commercials for their ketchup. The winning ad would then be broadcast as a commercial.

Needless to say...

Ketchup used for everything in the morning - toothpaste, soap, etc - was the most watched.

I do not believe this was a happy experience for that brand.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:39 PM on April 3, 2008

The Meatrix which promotes a vegetarian lifestyle and is against factory farming. Won many awards in 2004 and 2005. A few later films were added to the original viral clip.
posted by seawallrunner at 7:06 PM on April 3, 2008

There was a fairly significant amount of "viral" buzz (back, I think, before the term even existed) surrounding the promotion of the Blair Witch Project movie. I'd say it was one of the first successful non-traditional marketing campaigns that actually increased ticket sales, but I'm too lazy to look up any references supporting that.
posted by wubbie at 10:38 PM on April 3, 2008

Thirding that you should read the monumental (749 comments) What is this creepy site advertising? AskMe thread. It provides real-time documentation of how a group of intelligent, net-savvy people coalesce around, investigate, and ultimately come to despise the subject of an ARG/viral campaign. It's also an example of a crappy ARG that seemed not to have enough thought put into it, being executed seat-o-the-pants style, which is never good when your audience is more than capable of overthinking you. A cautionary tale for any marketer who considers going that route.
posted by mumkin at 5:44 PM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

« Older Another go?   |   Netbackup gurus? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.