At least, that’s the advice Mike Schneider, Senior Vice President Director Incubator at allen & gerritsen suggests.
“What we are talking about is [going viral] and that’s what everyone is striving for,” said Schneider. “You want to create engagement and you want people to share it.”
A recent example of customer engagement is the spike in thefts of David Hasselhoff cardboard cutouts from Cumberland Farms locations, which inadvertently became a local phenomenon following the convenience store’s latest television ads that featured the “Baywatch” star.
Cumberland Farms representatives said they have had to replace the cardboard silhouettes of Hasselhoff on a daily basis, but as Schneider suggests, they welcomed the free—but slightly absurd—exposure.
“It’s an extremely smart move for a company as long as no one is getting hurt,” he said. “It’s an unexpected boost for a brand.”
Marlo Fogelman, principal of Marlo Marketing, said the Hasselhoff debacle is a “blessing in disguise,” but the company really had one of two choices—let it happen and go with it, or prosecute those who were running off with the signs.
“That would go viral as well, but not in a way that would benefit them,” she said.
Schneider said the purpose of ads nowadays is to make content go as far as possible, so to try and put an end to customers swiping the products wouldn’t help move the unexpected product interest in the right direction.
“Anything that gets your brand positive exposure is good, and something you should embrace, especially from a PR perspective,” he said.
Schneider cited a “Mad Men” video created by an acquaintance, which took a scene from the Emmy-nominated show where main character Don Draper is discussing Kodak slide-viewers, and replaced it with Facebook Timeline references.
According to Schneider, AMC axed the unsolicited video, despite its popularity.
“It was good for “Mad Men” and good for Facebook….but the guys from AMC came and shut it down—they pulled it,” he said.
While Schneider said hits like the Hasselhoff cutout escapades can end up being “a one shot deal,” marketers and advertisers can try and roll it forward.
She said while you can’t necessarily plan this type of campaign, there are ways to expand upon it.
“There is a lot of things they could do to continue to draw awareness as well as extend it,” she said, suggesting they ask customers to take photos with the Hasselhoff signs in different locations, or run a “Have You Seen Me” missing-person type campaign.
“It shows the playfulness of the brand and willingness to take advantage of an opportunity,” she said.
But companies like Cumberland Farms who are lucky enough to benefit from such impromptu marketing should be weary.
According to Fogelman, if the company tries too hard to take ownership of its viral nature, it will take the natural evolution of it out of the customer’s hands.
“When something is viral it’s viral…but it’s one thing to respond positively to it happening and another thing to try and take the ownership back,” she said. “Your customers are having fun with it and it’s authentic and genuine and there’s a way for a company to maintain that voice. There is also potential for a company to ruin that voice if they take it too far.”