Brand Hacking: Leveraging the Power of Other Companies’ Viral Marketing

Before viral marketing and hacking were common phrases, there was ambush marketing, where brands would find a way to take over an event to make the public think they were a sponsor or had involvement when that was not the case.

Social media has helped ambush marketing turn viral, like when Beats by Dr. Dre crashed the 2012 Olympics by sending their iconic and non-official sponsor headphones to several dozens of athletes, even making special editions for team Great Britain branded with union flag colors. Athletes defiantly wore them, were photographed with them and most importantly, shared them on Twitter. This viral marketing effort led to free public relations and a 42 percent increase in sales following the event.

Part of the thrill and excitement of viral marketing is that it’s nearly impossible to determine when and where the next sensation is going to arise.

It can only be assumed that neither college student Carter Wilkerson nor popular fast-food brand Wendy’s knew that a humorous question and joking response would become newsworthy. Yet, Wilkerson’s quest to reach the needed 18 million retweets (for a year’s worth of free chicken nuggets) overtook record-holder Ellen DeGeneres with more than 3.5 million tweets.

While Wilkerson and Wendy’s enjoyed the publicity from this spontaneous campaign, they are not the only ones to benefit from it. Other brands — including rival restaurant chains — jumped in on Twitter in order to take advantage of its popularity and claim a piece of that virality for themselves. Using a range of tactics, they quickly exploited the potential of the viral “#nuggsforcarter” hashtag, the same tactics your business can use for the next internet sensation.

Show Your Support

Sometimes the best way to get in on the action of a viral marketing moment is the simplest — share and show your support to those involved. Apple Music, one of the first big brands to give Wilkerson one of those critical retweets, offered a brief message of encouragement and an appropriate GIF to show their solidarity. It took minimal effort, but with 8,155 likes and 2,104 retweets, the message clearly resonated with Apple Music fans.

Engage Friendly Competition

Much like Apple, Microsoft didn’t have a particular stake in Wilkerson’s attempt at free nuggets, but they still found a way to leverage engagement from the event. Giving him a boost with a brief “We’re in,” Microsoft took it a step further, challenging Amazon and competitor Google to join in as well. This move — and the response from Google — showed the friendly side of their rivalry, as well as their willingness to cooperate for the right cause.

Sweeten the Pot

Several other brands decided to add their support to the “#nuggsforcarter” campaign with a retweet to their fans and an added incentive for Wilkerson to reach his goals. United promised a free flight anywhere in the world, and Taco John’s offered a free daily drink if the college student gained the 18 million retweets. This engaged the brand’s fans while supporting the campaign and putting their products front and center.

Despite not yet reaching the 18 million retweet milestone, Wilkerson did receive his year of free nuggets from Wendy’s — and Wendy’s, along with several other brands, enjoyed a boost in engagement. The strategies above can help your business capitalize on the next viral marketing moment by thinking quickly and joining in the fun.

What other tactics would help ambush your brand into a viral marketing conversation?

Charlie Riley is a marketing, business development and communications professional with experience across multiple industries. Follow Charlie on Twitter at @charlieriley or connect on LinkedIn.

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