5 Out-of-the-Box Marketing Campaigns That Went Viral (And Why They Were Successful)

Having a viral campaign is every marketer’s dream. To achieve this, you sometimes have to think outside of the box. These 5 social media campaigns left people in awe of their creators by invoking inspiration, laughter, and bizarre curiosity.

While most of these brands were already well-known before their campaigns took place, the lessons we learn from them can be attributed to your future marketing endeavors. What matters isn’t just that these unique ideas were successful, but why they achieved the publicity that they did.

Nike’s #Breaking2 Campaign


(Photo Credit: Pixabay)

In 2017, the fastest marathon run in history was by Dennis Kimetto in Berlin, clocking in at 2:02:57 during his 26.219 mile journey. His average pace was 4:41.4 per mile!

Noticing how close Kimetto came to the under two-hour mark, Nike used the power of their motto “Just Do It” and started their #Breaking2 campaign. Here, Nike worked with three world-class runners: Lelisa Desisa, Zersenay Tadese, and Eliud Kipchoge as they trained through a variety of running conditions.

In May 2017, the Nike #Breaking2 marathon was broadcast live on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter and was watched by 13.1 million people. According to Marketing Week, #Breaking2 scored 84,459 mentions across the platforms from May 6-8 alone! While the record wasn’t broken, Eliud Kipchoge clocked in at 2:00:25.

Why it worked:

This challenge was tailored for Nike. It encompasses running, which the shoe brand is known for, and falls under their “Just Do It” motto. What made it work was that it invited everyday people to watch history. Whether you are a marathon runner or just like to be entertained, #Breaking2 brought everyone in on the conversation and encouraged them to watch and cheer for these runners as they attempted to be the first to clock in at under two hours.

American Express’s Everyday Moments

AmEx focused on millennials, releasing a social media campaign that consisted of 12 videos starring Tina Fey. Each video starts off as a greeting card, which then turns into a congratulatory video where Tina Fey and AmEx give you a kudos for some of the firsts in life. These firsts include getting a promotion, throwing your first dinner party, and moving in with a significant other.

AmEx used target marketing with their agency, Digitas, to find posts by millennials on Facebook and Instagram, and surprised them with Fey telling them congratulations on their milestone. Not only have recipients of these messages gotten a good laugh, but they shared Fey’s congratulations on their platforms and generated a buzz for AmEx, which sees older millennials as a viable target market.

Why it worked:

AmEx uses customer targeting cleverly to put an emphasis on the small things. People that received these congratulatory messages will remember the AmEx brand and, in the future, may be more interested in using their credit cards compared to a competitor’s. Working with a fun, trending celebrity also helped.

Will It Blend?

You can throw a football, make calls on an iPhone, and check time on a watch, but can you also blend them? Blendtec’s founder Tom Dickson demonstrated the power of his blending with his “Will it Blend?” campaign. By putting items that aren’t typically blended into his high-end blender, Dickson demonstrated Blendtec’s strength and durability by being able to blend anything and everything.

“We sell an aspirational product,” Mike Jensen, a Senior Content Marketing Manager for Blendtec said. With models pricing in the $400-$600 range, Blendtec wanted to reach its target market: people who see a high-end blender as an integral part of their everyday needs.

Dickson’s 140+ videos have a combined 256 million views on Facebook and YouTube. He has also made appearances on Jay Leno and History Channel’s Modern Marvels series. After more than ten years, Dickson is still making videos and asking people: Will it Blend?

Why it worked:

If you are scrolling through your news feed and come across a short video featuring a man putting his iPhone X in a blender, odds are you are going to watch it. “Will it Blend?” is the very definition of an out-of-the-box campaign. Onlookers are intrigued by the concept, and curious enough to spend 30 seconds to watch and learn that, yes, Blendtec’s blenders can blend your $1,000 phone.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Social media week considers the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to be “arguably the single most successful social media campaign in history.” ALS received more than $31.5 million in donations compared to the $1.9 million during the same period in the prior year.

The moment you saw someone on your newsfeed dump a bucket of water on their head, it grabbed your attention. Although silly, once you realize that it’s for a good cause. It quickly became uncool not to be a part of this challenge—and then donate to the ALS Association. This creative social media campaign also allowed for scores of hilarious viral videos of ice bucket challenge fails.

Why it worked:

The most important aspect of this campaign is that everyone could be involved in it. Grandmas challenged their grandkids, students challenged their teachers, and spouses challenged each other. This Ice Bucket Challenge invited every demographic to participate. Just as importantly, the Ice Bucket Challenge also had a built it CTA by calling on people to participate by name over video and suggesting that they donate to the cause.

A Month at the Museum

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago went viral when they launched their “Month at the Museum” contest. When you think of things that are “cool” a museum is not at the top of most peoples’ lists. This museum managed to change that by offering one special applicant the opportunity to live there and get paid for it for 30 days.

After receiving applicants from all seven continents, Kate McGroarty, a 24-year-old theatre artist, was selected as the winner. McGroarty recorded her experience on Facebook and Twitter. The results were astounding. The museum received:

  • 288,000+ unique web visitors
  • 460 million audience impressions
  • 100,000+ views on YouTube
  • 59% of guests were aware of the campaign before their visit

Why It Worked:

The Museum of Science and Industry found a way to make themselves hip and relevant and broke stereotypes at the same time. Choosing a millennial with a background in theatre also helped, because McGroarty introduced a younger generation to the museum.

No matter your brand, by thinking out-of-the-box, you have the opportunity to run a campaign that reaches people across the world. All you have to do is get a little creative.

Anthony Greer is a twice-published author and content marketer with a focus in marketing, brand, and product development.

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