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Viral social media campaigns are a funny thing – sometimes they’re intentionally kicked off by a brand to create a buzz, oftentimes they’re reactive (see Cuthbert the Caterpillar’s trial), and most other times, they spiral from off-the-cuff content that millions of people end up liking, relating to, and jumping on board with. However they happen, we can all agree that viral social campaigns are the jackpot for brands and agencies alike. Positive brand exposure? Yes, please! More customers? Yes, please! Tonnes of web traffic? Oh, we wouldn’t say no!

But ah, there is a catch. Let’s unpack it.

Viral social campaigns can be disruptive, dangerous, and disapproved of by specialists who end up wading in. Here are 4 points on social media campaigns that went viral and flopped. As Dr. Pepper said in the noughties… what’s the worst that can happen?

  • Milking a trend for *too* long

This one is self-explanatory. If you take part in a viral social campaign as it begins to taper off, you’ve missed the point. Viral campaigns only work if you have A) booted it off B) hopped on the back while the boat is still anchored down. Planning is key and timing is everything.

  • Taking over a viral charity campaign – and then forgetting about the charity.

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? Random Acts of Kindness? Pay it Forward? People get so caught up in getting involved, that they forget about the charitable organisation at the helm. If your brand wants to piggyback a charitable campaign, you need to be prepared to go the whole hog. Which means donating, drawing exposure to the charity, the lot.

  • When the craze is inevitably dangerous

Sometimes brands are looped into viral campaigns without their say-so. This happened just this month with America’s answer to Night Nurse – where TikTokers are seen dousing raw chicken in half a bottle of NyQuil before boiling it – a recipe dubbed the `sleepy chicken`. Doctors were quick to intervene, pointing out that food poisoning and an overdose are both a likely comeuppance for recreating the potion.

  • Trivialising a sensitive topic

In March last year, Burger King contributed to International Women’s Day by Tweeting simply, `women belong in the kitchen`. They were forced to issue an apology after (basically everybody) mistook their invite for more female chefs as a super sexist comment.

What are the best and worst social media campaigns you’ve seen? Let us know!

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