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Faith Wheeler

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The Insanity of Going Viral

Posted: 12/13/11 11:59 AM ET

I must begin this piece by admitting that I usually don't curse, well, at least never in writing. I'm far above the expletives to explain my level of thinking: in fact, I believe a good wordsmith should never have to fall prey to the profane, more plebian ways of explanation to describe a well-thought out point. Now, having broken my own rules, I'll explain.

Our media campaign for client and friend Mary Risley, owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School: "Just Put the F*cking Turkey in the Oven" went crazy over the Thanksgiving weekend and it provided a wild tsunami ride for everyone involved, including the poor family members who were stuck with us and our smart (but not so polite) phones, checking numbers constantly.


Ironically, Jaded Palate shot the piece on a Tuesday, edited it on Wednesday and Thursday -- while at a conference explaining the language of Search Engine Optimization -- and took it live on two YouTube channels, ours and the cooking instructor's, on Friday.

On Friday, what began with 11 views hit over 100,000 by Thanksgiving, six days later. Ultimately the eight-minute piece which our crew collectively thought was "cute," "charming" and maybe "a little bit funny" had, 256.322 views. (When recently watching a Steve Martin piece on YouTube, I noticed he only had around 100,000, and the fascinating and far more trailblazing Randall Graham of Bonny Doon Vineyards averages around 500 views per piece.)

As a marketer of many years, I couldn't help but think about this phenomenon -- a sort of consumer millennial groove -- and compare it to the old days of advertising and measuring gross impressions. David Ogilvy used to say we receive 25,000 impressions a day. That was in 1982 when he taught my training program. I'm fairly certain that number is up into the six figures today since we are barraged with information on new stretches of super highway. But understanding the viral thing, that is really a horse of a different color.

The audience that pushes play is 100% qualified! A marketer's dream. These are people who have actually chosen to watch what you have produced. Not even the poor slackers who never got off the couch but were perfectly stuck with your commercial because they were lazy, but those who asked for it. They pushed play. And crazy as it sounds over 60 percent of them stuck around for more than five of the eight minutes. Mind-blowing.

While seconds of cranberry chutney and mashed potatoes were being passed around the table, more bourbon was being consumed and more no-mood-for-business-merry was being made, I continued to neurotically check the numbers and vibrate through the visceral power of viral. How did it feel? Weird. Probably a bit like crack cocaine. (You are high by now with no reason in the whole world to look at your f*cking phone again, you just looked at it two minutes ago, but you've got to take another hit. Now.)

Weird that on a second-by-second basis more people are pushing play, and telling their friends and pushing play, and reading about it and pushing play. And posting it, because why would you ever want to be left in the cold, poor blogger, when you saw it made the front page of the Huffington Post, earned the right of the Mashable video of the day. And, then the swell of pick up that followed. Over 75 websites that stretch the world. Countries that don't even have Thanksgiving. The Netherlands. New Zealand. Have you ever heard of "alcoholicsconspicuous.com"? Neither had we.

It was quite a ride: the speed, the excitement of people, the comments, ("I wish she was my mother" was my favorite.) And, it all made me wonder, how in the world that happened? All of the marketing planning, storyboarding and strategic thinking never could have potentially garnered the runaway success that this simple "f*cking turkey" brought to the table. Where was the research? Where were the focus groups, the intercepts, the planners? Was it just the F-word, doing its magic like it always seems to do? Or, had we really struck a chord with people the world over, bored of the same old, let-me-show-you-how technique, to boggle the senses. Or was the world just looking for a little in-your-face honesty, ready for someone to simply tell it like it is: go have a glass of wine and get over it.

I'm not sure we'll ever know. And, I am fairly certain that the genie may never come out of the bottle again. As we make a new piece with Mary Risley for the December season, with her same quick-witted talent and real life, say-it-like-it-is candor, we don't expect two hundred thousand viewers, but then again, I never thought we would go f*cking viral in the first place.