Viral Ingredients: Absurdity

Nico Brooks

April 30, 2010

Viral Ingredients: Absurdity

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 Dancing Baby – I don’t know if it is just coincidence, but two of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all time don’t involve anything amazing or hilarious, they are just patently absurd. But before I discuss those, I’m going to rewind back to my first experience with viral media, the dancing baby. The dancing baby was an animated video clip that first landed in my inbox in 1996, and is still making the rounds today. It jumped from internet phenomenon to mainstream icon in 1998, when it made the first of several appearances on the very popular Ally McBeal show. Since then, the baby has been referenced and parodied many times, to the point where Homer parodied the parodies on an episode of the Simpsons. What drove a short, mediocre animation to such infamy? The music is certainly catchy, but most of all it is just too ridiculous to be believed. If it is not already burned in to your consciousness, see for yourself.

The “ooga chacka baby” version is the one I remember, but many variations exist.

The Subservient Chicken – It would appear that nothing evokes the “you’ve just got to see this!” response more  than absurdity. Which brings us to the Subservient Chicken. The Subservient Chicken was conceived of by ad agency CP+B to promote Burger King’s TenderCrisp Sandwich. The Subservient Chicken is one of the most successful branded viral media campaigns, and possibly the most successful interactive viral media campaign ever. The Subservient Chicken appeared in television ads and in other guises, but the real catalyst to fame was the Subservient Chicken web site. On the site, you can type in commands and have a person dressed in a ridiculous chicken suit respond in some fashion. Some responses are truly subservient, such as “sit”, “spin” or “walk like an egyptian”. But the chicken does become less subservient if you tell it that you love McDonalds, and becomes positively defiant if you make any lewd suggestions. The web site launched in April of 2005, and has received over 450 million hits. It doesn’t make me hungry for chicken, but Burger King’s sales of chicken sandwiches did increase significantly after the launch of the site.

Will It Blend? – While the Subservient Chicken demonstrated to big brands and big agencies that viral media can work, this story is closer to my heart. One day, the marketing manager of high-end blender manufacturer BlendTec thought to capture his CEO’s blending experiments on video. The CEO and blender inventor, Tom Dickson, liked to test his blenders with 2X4’s and other difficult-to-blend objects. Tom’s deadpan style and the absurdity of what he puts in the blender quickly launched the small Utah-based company to internet fame. Blendtec’s YouTube channel has received over 100 million views, and Dickson has appeared on the Tonight Show, the Today show, and has been written about in just about every major news publication. The expression “will it blend?” has become a cultural meme, making it’s way in to chat rooms, plot lines and all manner of popular media. I like this campaign as an example because it didn’t have a big budget or agency behind it, but most of all I like it because the videos tell the story of Blendtec: these blenders never give up! It is also worth noting that the company attributes an increase in sales of over 500% to these videos.

In the nearly 100 ‘Will It Blend?’ videos that have been created to date, Dickson has blended everything from an iPhone to a Ford Fiesta. In a rare case where something didn’t blend, he took on a Chuck Norris figurine. Here is the episode “Skis and Global Warming” as an example of just how absurd Dickson can be:

Tom Dickson clearly has a charismatic style, but what makes his videos infectious is the fact that he’s just a regular guy using regular every day objects to do something very irregular. Think about how you can juxtapose your products or services with the unexpected to entertain and inform.

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