Where to after viral success: keeping relevant in the content world

$16, three mates, one weekend, and a viral sensation that is still part of culture nine years on. In 2008, when a young creative collective set out to create some fun stuff to put online, they couldn’t have predicted where a simple whale animation could take them; $2 million, a few series with Australia’s national broadcaster, and a successful content agency. Two thirds of the collective that created Beached Az, Jarod Green and Anthony MacFarlane, reflect with the projects* on their foray into content and how to keep relevant in a fast industry.

YouTube viral video ‘Beached Az’

When we started out, content was a new notion; Youtube was just gaining credibility as a video platform and Facebook was just going into its fourth year. All we knew was that we wanted to make films and the platform was there to do that, so we created an animation ripping on New Zealanders and it happened a lot farther than we thought it would. It led to a two season television series with ABC, millions of digital views, $2 million in merchandise sales, collaborations with some of New Zealand’s greatest talents Sam Neill and the late John Clarke, and eventually steered us towards launching our own content agency. We’ve been creating content for nearly a decade now, and whilst the industry has morphed and changed beyond anyone’s expectations, there are a few truths we’ve learnt that continue to underpin all that we do.

To maintain relevance in a content world that is new each day, here are the three things we’ve found:

1. Move Faster than the Speed of Like

Often, brands are too data-driven in their strategic thinking, or try to have all bases covered through a content strategy, without allowing room for risking something new. To be agile and move fast, sometimes you can’t have all of the information right in front of you. Those brands brave enough to move fast may take a risk but also scoop the reward and cut through the noise of content in their space. Within six hours of the devastating 2011 Christchurch earthquake, we had made, cut and uploaded a Beached Az segment urging our audience to give to the Red Cross Appeal, and the week of John Key’s resignation we uploaded a video titled ‘Key Change’. The hype around Beached Az allowed us to create videos for Greenpeace, and create a clothing line with Supre.

The success of Betoota Advocate in Australia, a satirical news site with consistently viral offerings, is in its ability to translate news into shareable headlines within half an hour of a story breaking. In six months, it has surpassed the traffic of other satirical news sites The Onion and The Shovel and moved into producing beer (5).

2. Speak the Language of the Platform

As new digital platforms emerge and existing platforms evolve, good content reshapes itself to the opportunities this evolution brings. This has become increasingly important in the last few years as technologies like AR, 360 video, and square/vertical formating become popular core features of platforms. For us, slapping the existing Beached Az cartoon on different platforms without translation would have flopped and missed an opportunity to build audience. The app required a social game to be produced to make it appealing. The DVD required parody featurettes and international language options to fit audience expectations of the format. 360 VR required complete rebuild of the digital assets to be engaging and remarkable to the audience experience.

In Australia, Myer and eBay partnered in 2016 to develop VR technology that allows customers to search tens of thousands of products with new gaze recognition software (2). Further abroad in the US, Taco Bell used a Snapchat taco filter to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, garnering 224 million views- the app’s top campaign at that time- and generating 12.5 years of play in a day (3). With our work, it’s not good enough create good content- we need to get it in front of people in their own format on their preferred platform.

3. If You Can’t Start The Conversation, Join The Conversation

Beached Az owes most of its success to the friendly rivalry that exists between Australians and New Zealanders. The playful mockery of the kiwi accent is an ageless topic of conversation, and Beached Az managed to tap into that. We weren’t the first to draw attention to how absurd the kiwi accent is, but it joined a conversation in every workplace, every schoolyard, every neighbourhood where Kiwis and Aussies co existed. For brands, especially smaller ones on tight budgets that can’t pay to kickstart a conversation around their products or services, tapping into an existing conversation and amplifying it for their own purpose can be a powerful tool.

Airbnb ‘Until We All Belong’ Acceptance Ring Campaign

More recently, we’ve seen really impressive work from Airbnb, who have tastefully joined the Australian conversation on marriage equality, with support from Qantas, Google, eBay and ANZ (1). The campaign, titled ‘Until We All Belong’, centred on a pledge of solidarity to those seeking marriage equality, is a series of beautiful content pieces with human stories. It’s success lies in its topicality and in its focus on human stories as a talking point.

While the content world has historically moved faster than brands have capacity to keep up with, agile agencies are springing up to bridge the gap. Jarod Green and Anthony MacFarlane of Beached Az fame have joined the projects* to create content that not only keeps brands relevant in the world of fast-moving microtrends, but allows them to continue to lead the conversation.

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