Elance Blog

On Creativity, Virality and Ukuleles

It’s somewhat needless to say that there is an element of unpredictability when it comes to viral marketing. While experience and foresight can help reduce the chances of a brilliantly thought-out campaign dying with no more than a whimper, it can and will happen from time to time with no other explanation than Sod’s Law being in particular strong effect that day (though don’t jump to this conclusion in every instance – always try to identify possible flaws for future improvement, even in highly successful cases).

By the same token, we also know that you can’t manufacture true virality on the net, and if you need any convincing there’s a great PCWorld article here highlighting some embarrassing corporate attempts at this.

Creativity is something any professional should have in his or her arsenal. This may sound very obvious (especially in the case of designers and marketers), but the importance of creativity in all disciplines can’t be overstated enough.

Sure, But You Can’t Force Creativity…


Yep, I said it. We can’t force things to go viral, but contrary to popular belief we can force creativity and thus improve the chance of the former occurring.

To keep heads from shaking and browsers being closed, let me clarify for a moment. I don’t mean that you can take an accountant and get him to compose a violin concerto off the top of his head, but there are some great tips on ‘best practice’ for generating those small ideas which have you thinking “hey, we might be onto something here…”

1) If you have a team, chances are you aren’t benefiting from them enough. Unless you’re paying by the minute and are worried about costs, always, ask for their input, even if it seems like a trivial issue and you think you have it sorted anyway. Random comments coming from brains other than your own can reveal new avenues, particularly when working with those of varied disciplines (e.g. the HTML guy and the graphic designer will come at things from different angles).

And always ask your quieter colleagues. More often than not they’ll surprise you with what they’re holding back.

2) Can’t seem to come up with any ideas?
Get out of the rut by doing something different, and I’m not talking about the clichéd stuff like taking a coffee break with a Sudoku.

It’s all about getting your thought process to switch lanes, and everyone should have their own method. My own is fairly mundane, but effective – occasionally I’ll switch from the computer screen to one of those giant flip-pads to sketch out ideas, starting with keywords for the topic and going crazy with marker pens until ideas start to form.

Others do things a little differently, and the best example I can thing of is how a copywriter I used to work with tackled a lack of the muses. She always kept her ukulele by her desk – if ever she felt really uninspired while writing up some marketing text for, say, an interior design company, she’d pick the thing up and start singing through her ideas. “Going from staring at text to thinking about chord structures really helps get things flowing again,” she explained when I first asked her why she had brought the instrument in. Although she couldn’t sing worth anything, it did do the trick and it was certainly interesting hearing nonsense songs about upholstery.

3) Don’t do your research. That’s right, don’t do it… and bear with me here.

This is a great tip if you’re asked to come up with some out-of-the-box ideas and you initially don’t know your subject matter very well. As a for instance, let’s say a scuba diving company comes to you in the hopes of commissioning a high-quality linkbait article.

Let’s also pretend you know zilch about scuba diving.

Before learning everything there is to know in order to put some well-thought out ideas to the client, try capitalizing on your ignorance first. With the benefit of not knowing anything, you’re forced to come up with some ideas which will be far more left field than if you knew the ins-and-outs of the topic. Once you’ve got a number of them you can then read up on the subject and separate the ideas which are now manifestly stupid (95%) and those which are not only workable but highly original by the very nature of their creation.

It goes without saying that you do then need to research the hell out of it before you take the idea forward, otherwise you are going to look fairly silly.

Applying Creativity to Internet Marketing: A Case Study

When generating ideas, it’s easy to get sucked into your own world. Don’t fall into this trap and always keep a target audience in mind, asking the all important questions of who are you trying to hook and, ergo, where your potential back links are coming from. You may think your idea is the best thing since sliced bread, and it probably is, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone else will. “Notice that ideas never spread because they are important to the originator,” Wrote superstar Seth Godin on his blog way back in 2005, a little pearl of wisdom which cannot be overstated enough.

Clearly analyzing your target demographics is something which should be done as a matter of course, but it can help the creative process to do this first rather than getting bogged down with ideas generation. More often than not, thinking about possible audiences first will itself kick up novel angles to explore which aren’t restrictively rooted to the theme at hand but are still related to the product or service you’re trying to promote.

The Internet Privacy Infographic

Amongst the many things we do at Warlock Media are high-quality infographics (I’ll dispense with the explanation, by now I think everyone knows what they are and their purpose). Whatever your views on the future of infographics, they serve as handy case study material given the numerous components involved.

One of our campaigns which simply flawed our even own expectations was the Internet Privacy infographic we produced and promoted for Wordstream. Ken Lyons wrote up a great case study over on their blog, and in it I offer some thoughts on the process. However, I didn’t get much of a chance to discuss how much so I’d like to talk about this briefly here:

The Concept: The idea of doing a piece on Internet privacy was set early on, and was integral to the whole thing becoming such a roaring success. A lot of thought was subsequently put into how to bring it into life and get the best out of such a neat topic. We only ever get the chance to do something once, so there is no sense wasting a good topic by doing something boring.

The Research: This part may sound like the least creative of the whole process, but consider condensing such an enormous subject into what amounts to little over half a page of text. Needless to say, no small amount of ingenuity is needed to decide exactly what information will get a rise out of people as well as being easy to work with graphically. In addition, we prefer to include things which aren’t just cut-and-pasted from Google itself (contacting Universities and news sources is a good way of adding value to your data). The entire team helped in deciding what kind of information to hunt for, which in itself works best if everyone has an open forum with which to let the ideas fly.

The Design: Early on in the development someone suggested that an Orwellian feel to the graphic would be a solid theme given the subject matter. However, it is a bit of an obvious one and ran the danger of looking gimmicky – the graphics guys took the concept and rocked it, developing it further with the all-seeing eye imagery and adding other flourishes which worked beautifully with the data.

While there is a certain framework in which we operate, and everyone has their own, looking for opportunities to get creative in even the most minute details can see your campaign ideas end up incredibly strong by the time it comes to implement them. Of course, getting it under people’s noses is by far the most crucial stage and if this fails you’re left with a pretty picture to look at rather than a strong marketing tool. Still, a highly creative idea is much more likely to become viral than a stale one (unless you’re getting press for all the wrong reasons).

5 Highly Creative Virals I Wish I’d Thought Of

In conclusion, I’d like to highlight some carefully crafted ideas which raised the bar with their tenacity. Some of them are not typical of what most of us can achieve budget-wise, but they do illustrate some excellent points on the subject of originality.

Burger King – Sacrifice – Facebook managed to kill this one dead in the water, though that in itself added to the PR fire of this genius viral campaign (it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if left unchecked).

Sony BRAVIA – Balls – Sony’s ad campaign launch for the BRAVIA brand, dubbed ‘balls’, was anything but. A classic example of a simple idea so creative it took off on its own steam. I also recommend watching the ‘making of’ video to see what those bouncy balls look like at full speed… let’s just say you can see why they slowed down the footage for the final cut.

Tourism Queensland – The Best Job in the World – Any layperson with a net connection will have heard of this one, and that’s a measure of how successful it was (another being that the submission website collapsed under its insane visitor numbers).

Alex Tew – The Million Dollar Homepage – Alex Tew sat on his bed with a pad of paper one evening, and within half an hour had an idea which would make him over $1m in just five months. “The crucial thing in creating the media interest was the idea itself: it was unique and quirky enough to stand out. I only had to push the idea a bit in the first few days by sending out a press release which essentially acted as a catalyst,” he says. Don’t click on the link though, it’ll burn your eyes.

Lady Gaga  – Speaks for herself, really. Dress a clinically insane woman in a lamb chop bikini and you can sell anything.

About the Author:
Chris Angus is viral marketing expert and blogger. Here he offers his thoughts on how an SEO company and other professionals in the industry can benefit from enhanced creativity in the workplace.