Viral Marketing: the Piggyback Effect

Nico Brooks

April 16, 2010

Viral Marketing: the Piggyback Effect

This is one in a series of posts describing some the ingredients that cause media to go viral. I am presenting a variety of examples, but I am most interested in how local businesses can create viral media for marketing purposes. As you read this, think about ways you can leverage these ingredients to tell your story.

The piggyback effect occurs when a story parallels, references or out-and-out mimics a recent  newsworthy event or other viral media. For example, most popular music videos that are posted on YouTube are quickly followed by spoof or cover videos that piggyback on the popularity of the original.

A good illustration of the piggyback effect is the premiere episode of the animated series the Meth Minute. This clip parodies nearly every major viral video or story to-date. But it would appear that the producer’s ability to create original content does not match his ability to piggyback on other’s success. This clip has been viewed over three million times, while episode two lags far behind with 700 thousand views, and episode three has just 400 thousand views.

Another classic example is the abudance of spoof videos that followed the train-wreck performance of Miss Teen South Carolina, which has been viewed over 40 million times on YouTube. One of many response videos was Miss Teen South Carolina Calls 911, which promotes the comedy team Quiet Library. The spoof starts with the beauty queen shouting “What’s the number? What’s the number?” when she is asked to call 911. It is a funny video, but they have the unfortunate original to thank for their nearly 7 million views. This example also illustrates part of why piggybacking works. The Quiet Library video comes up when you search “Miss Teen South Carolina” in YouTube, which means that the millions of people who search for the original also see a link to the spoof.

I find this effect particularly interesting when it is inadvertent. For example, a coffee shop in Aurora Colorado recently got a lot of attention because it was forced to take down a banner that featured the bikini-clad servers that work in the shop. Nearly every reference to this story also mentioned a story the week before involving a billboard that was taken down in Colorado Springs because it featured puppet cleavage. Two Colorado cleavage stories just a week apart was too much for the media to resist, even though the second event was pretty unremarkable.

Another good example is a video produced by the company Bullet Blocker, promoting a bulletproof backpack for children. This video doesn’t spoof other stories, but includes somber reminders of some of the tragedies that have happened in our schools. The tragedies it references are some of the most searched-for news content on the internet. The owner of the company says the video accounted for a dramatic increase in sales.

Please comment if you know of other good examples. For other posts in this series, click here.