I was in a session on launching viral campaigns with a bunch of non-advertising people (and a few ad people)- all very web savvy, and it was interesting to me that campaigns were being talked about without any reference to the agency that did the campaigns.

Yeah. Believe it or not, no one cares who did the campaign except those of us in the business. But, out of the examples, 2 were Crispin Porter+Bogusky work.

First was the story of Subservient Chicken. The amazing penetration of this site were evident when probably 80% of the room raised their hands when asked if they’d visited the site. The idea of trying to get a major US corporation to post a site that has a guy in a chicken suit wearing a black garter belt, a la online porn peep show was a gutsy move by CP+B. The presenter knew BK’s sales went up- but didn’t know if it specifically sold chicken.

To confirm that: here is a bit from an AdWeek analysis of the campaign:

Dissecting ‘Subservient Chicken’
But, aside from Web traffic, did the campaign actually drive customers into stores to buy the sandwich? About a month after the TenderCrisp sandwich debuted, BK reported that sales had steadily increased an average of 9 percent a week. Since then, Geis says the company has seen “double-digit” growth of awareness of the TenderCrisp Chicken Sandwich and “significantly increased” chicken sandwich sales. And the TenderCrisp does sell better than the Original Chicken Sandwich.

The second mention was the “Safe Happens” tv spot for the Jetta. Not necessarily a “viral” campaign, since it ran on broadcast TV- but, it did make an impression through viral sharing.

This spot is the absolute antithesis of the typical car glamor spot that Detroit favors. Showing a real life situation and the car having an accident would make Detroit uncomfortable (although crash test dummies and a test sled have been standard fare for years). It makes you wonder why Detroit never approved this type of work- especially since their main knock on foreign “small cars” was always that they aren’t as safe as the boats from GM, Ford and Chrysler. There was a lot of discussion over the graphic nature of this spot on broadcast- which effectively multiplied the effect of the buy. Some even argued that the fact that the Jetta’s brakes squealed and didn’t stop like ABS, avoiding the wreck – could backfire.

But, once again, everyone in the room knew the spot. How many agencies get the nod two times in an hour by a non-agency pro. Case closed, Crispin Porter + Bogusky is doing memorable, discussable work and that’s worth a lot more to a client than the mundane dreck most settle for.

The other campaign that got mentioned was the Dove Evolution spot, that’s known by all in advertising-

but, the penetration of awareness in the room was at least half that of the CP+B work. (granted, the room was probably 65% male). Also note, the Evolution spot (from Ogilvy and Mather, Toronto) cost considerably more to make than Subservient Chicken (which reportably cost $30K). Unilever has since caught flack for being disengenuous for promoting Dove as the anti-sexification of women, while also running ads for the testostorone overloaded AXE body spray sites. Watch the following disection of Unilevers hypocrisy:

The description of the session, (which was so popular they had to move rooms):

“Everyone wants the benefits of a viral campaign, but few people really understand how to put the pieces together to create the best chance for success. Find out the most common mistakes companies make when aiming to go viral and how a little bit of brainstorming can set you up for success. Jennifer Laycock will walk you through the actual brainstorming process she uses with clients to help you gather information needed to put things together. She’ll also help you learn to identify “key influencers” within your industry and will offer concrete tips on the best way to approach them with your campaign.”

I was impressed with Ms. Laycocks reasoned approach to generating low-budget viral campaigns, and her worksheets for assessing how to put a plan together, however, there is no guaranteed formula for creating viral campaigns. Crispin launched Subservient Chicken by asking it’s own employees to write everyone they knew to check out the site and spread the word and it worked beyond the wildest expectations.

There is one thing that is guaranteed about good viral- that traces back to an old adage- there is noting that will kill a bad product off faster than good advertising. If your viral campaign is based on deceit, a poor premise, or isn’t able to be verified- you will have more problems than you started with (see GM’s effort for the Chevy Tahoe– when gas was only $2.50 a gallon).

We’re currently tasked with creating buzz and hopefully a viral for a re-launch of a retailer online and off, and it will be interesting to use Ms. Laycock’s process along with our own ideas in the coming weeks.

One thing is for sure though in creating viral campaigns, the winning ideas aren’t the safe ones.