The Worst Viral Marketing Of All Times

by Thomas MORADPOUR on March 19, 2011 · 27 comments


Most brand briefs take it for granted these days that “sharing” is a key measure of success, and that making it big on Facebook and YouTube is a holy grail of advertising, combining the most desirable features of peer advocacy, and “free”. But let’s face it, most people don’t want to share ads – the viral video chart is a constant reminder that Evian’s Rollerbabies and VW’s The Force are the outliers, not the norm, compared with videos that truly share.

Worse, quite a few brands set out from the start to create what they call “virals” – videos shot for the web with smaller budgets, that are expected to magically outperform the scale advertising productions designed for the TV screen.

OK, why not. Sometimes works.

But things start to go madly wrong when the brief takes the “viral” obective at heart so much, that it forgets the “marketing” part altogether.


Just because something is viewed, and actually is good enough to spread, does not mean that it’s doing a marketing job. And the video below is the saddest example of creativity gone to waste. Believe it or not, this was actually made to promote a movie. Watch it and take a wild guess.

Did you guess the movie?


Well that’s too bad. 1,6 million viewers are probably like you, completely unaware of what this is for. Not a hint there that this promotes anything. No tie whatsoever with a brand, movie, nothing.

“Fortunately”, this second reveal video was later released to solve the mystery:

OK, now you got it (assuming you let it play until the end, which is a bit of a stretch since it’s essentially 90% the same as the first). Too bad this second video only got 72,000 hits, isn’t it?

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  • John Bergquist

    No tie-in, connection, relevance or point. Ugh. I am actually more offended by this than just the plain in your face conventional advertising. I hope the genius that thought that up is seriously being scrutinized before they pay for another “creative moment”. What a waste.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      yep’, agree :-)

  • Ircolle

    Tom, what’s your source that this is a viral video for that annoying movie?

    • Anonymous

      It says it very explicitely in the second video, which has the movie referenced in its title, opens with the “pill” of the movie, and closes with the trailer. Absolutely zero doubt, it’s for the movie :-)

      Sent from my iPad

      Le 20 mars 2011 à 01:07, Disqus a écrit :

  • Sylvain Martel

    For whatever reason i can’t see the videos you’re talking about. Well I’ve seen the 1st one a few days ago but not the second one. And i don’t have a clue about the movie it’s supposed to promote. But i get the point anyway.

    Here is what i answer to ANYONE who dares mentioning the word viral in a brief or a meeting i’m attending: “Don’t plan to be viral, plan to be awesome.” End of discussion.

    Well, there’s this one too that i’ve read somewhere and that says a lot in a few words: “Viral is not YouTube.”

    Now, when a story is nicely built, it can start without being tied-in in any way to a brand or a product, and progressively lead to it… But such storytelling must be mastered and once again, we are in presence of awesomeness.

    Too bad cause the 1st video was funny. It could have been a better story, with a better ending.


    • Anonymous

      Sorry Sylvain – “some reason” is that I updated the post, and the YouTube
      links disappeared altogether. Try it now!

      • Sylvain Martel


        And it’s worst than i thought. Darn… This is just wrong.

        • Thomas MORADPOUR

          I know…. If at least they had started with the first and teased with the pill…. But no. No link.

  • Carol L. Weinfeld

    Agreed. Consumers prefer transparency to gimmicks. The marketers previously made this video, which received more hits than the second one: Perhaps there is no such thing as bad publicity, since “Limitless conquers weekend with $19 mil” However, there could have been a stronger tie-in to the film.


    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if consumers prefer transparency… but a teaser that fails to deliver a powerful reveal is a job half done.
      Limitless opened well this week end, but I don’t believe for a second that this stunt had anything to do with it :-)

  • Sean Cadigan

    Agreed 100%. Viral or not if it doesn’t help change, mold and or help inform a consumers opinion then in my opinion it has failed. The following link to my blog also talks to the same subject.

    • Anonymous

      We’re on the exact same page

  • Tom Martin


    Argggg… guess I can close that tab in my browser I’ve had open for a week — the one pointing to this viral sensation. You nailed it friend… in our quest for viral, too many marketers are forgetting that our job is to actually sell something.

    Great post.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      gotta be fast ;-)
      Thanks Tom

  • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    My friends Angela Natividad and Bill Green do a podcast called Adverve. Last summer one of their guests worked for a Viral Marketing Firm. At that point they had done 120+ campaigns (they did the Levi’s Man Walking and the one where someone back flips into Jeans). What I found refreshing is not that they pitch ‘Viral’ they pitch views. He said of the 120+ campaigns all met viewing goals stated in their contract. Less than 10 were truly Viral. They never guarantee viral just the view goals.

    Marketers blow my mind with how they just jump at things and claim them factual. I read so many blog posts and industry trade publications that are so wrong in their math or premise yet they portray it as fact. Viral is one of those things people have written books about and given talks and strategy sessions and yet what they view as viral often is wrong.

    Let me ask you this Tom. Would you rather spend $30k on a 30 sec video and post to you tube and then say $5k in employee costs hoping it gets seen by 5 million people which we are clueless on uniques? Or take that spot by a TV spot knowing that the 5 million viewers will be unique today. If you have the money to pay for TV time why would you choose viral?

    I had a date with someone 2 years back a bit young for me. She used You Tube as a juke box. What if Lady Gaga’s 125million views was really just 1 million people watching it 125 times over the course of 3 months? Is that the same value per view?

    • Thomas Moradpour

      Oh I agree!
      The paradox with digital media-as-the-most-measurable-of-all is exactly what you point out – how hard it really is to deliver rich video-based content in a well-planned controlled way. Worth doing (probabaly with more intent and effort than the $35K suggested above), but not easy. Definitely harder than TV.
      On music, I think you are 100% right – music videos are in a class of their own when it comes to views for the exact “jukebox” reason you mention. The mystery for me though, is how music manages to dominate sharing too, to such a strong extent (maybe 95 out of the top 100 most shared videos are music).

      • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        Solve that mystery Tom for Pepsi and you write your own paycheck amount.

    • Sylvain Martel

      There are two major mistakes in the following quote from your answer:

      ” If you have the money to pay for TV time why would you choose viral?”

      1st, you don’t choose viral. Viral chooses you when you produce content that deserves it, not the other way around. What you choose is to use channel(s) that will foster “virality”.

      But more important, you don’t decide to go TV because you can afford it. Of course you need to be able to buy this expensive media,
      but once it’s established , don’t choose it unless you are very sure this is the right channel to deliver your message and serve your consumers in your specific market.

      Channel selection, once filtered by the allowed budget, must be done media/channel agnostically.

      I challenge any brands to stick ONLY to TV (and by TV i mean it, only TV and no online video advertising in the mix) and to keep up the numbers against the competition (saying the competition would use the right channel mix). Good luck, really.


      • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

        Hi Sylvain

        I agree with you

        I have no problem with digital in the mix. But no major brand has ever been built on just digital to my knowledge in history. Smart Brands evaluate every option and choose their budget based on best ROI not what some Agency with a bias tells them.

        My take was Tom’s post was addressing people actually saying ‘Viral’ is a strategy. It is not. It is pure luck. But Facebook and Mashable and many of the social media wonks want you to believe it is a strategy because it benefits them. And if the goal is to reach 5 million people now viral and most likely even digital is not the answer. You can choose many billboards, print, or TV/Radio. But to hope you get 5 million hits on You Tube in a week is naive.

        BTW many brands are successful doing zero advertising. Half the items I buy at the supermarket I have never seen one ad on any medium before. They just make a great product and I see it on the shelf.

        • Sylvain Martel

          Just to make sure, i never said a brand could be built entirely on digital. Just saying that nowadays, you can’t go into one direction because it used to work a few years back.

          And i 100% agree with you regarding companie that don’t even need advertising to be profitable. And as a strong mobile believer, more than ever i thing we’ll see more efficient strategies being deployed in POS, providing relevant tools when the final purchase decision is done.


          • Howie at Sky Pulse Media


            I am a mobile believer as well. And not the gimmicky LBS stuff. Looking forward to more discussions in the future!

            Thanks for connecting here in Tom’s blog! And hope you have a great weekend.

  • Steven Pofcher

    Yes. Very terrible marketing. Cool video. But waste of efforts. I want one of those devices.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      Nooooo! It’s the pill you’re supposed to want, the pill! not the device.
      Damn, another failure of this video… ;-)

  • Steven Pofcher

    Check out this video from Corning – over 10 million views so far. This is a great viral video. I don’t think that it was intended to be viral. Who said B2B video needed to be boring.

  • Dino Dogan

    Its for the Limitless ..right? I woudnt have noticed if you didnt make it obvious that there IS a movie involved.

    You know..there is viral and then there is viral. There is David After Dentist viral, which is neat but not very useful to anyone.

    Then there is targeted viral. I managed to help a friend get over 100K views on one of his videos. It was a very narrow niche and it made his site known within that niche. This mini viral effort resulted in a steady increase in his traffic over the few months that followed.

    Now, thats the right kind of viral if you ask me :-)

    • Anonymous

      Sorry for the late response Dino! You’re spot on!

  • Alexander Nikolov

    Times Sq… so tired.

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