Viral Marketing Campaigns in 2021 and What Can We Learn from Them

In the age of social media, going viral is usually associated with instant fame and success; one viral meme can make a business a household name or a brand the next big thing. From millions of likes and views to meeting Ellen, you just need one viral video to make a big splash. Let’s take a look at 2021’s top viral campaigns that were widely successful, how each brand added its own spin to these campaigns and what we can take from each of them. 

Campaign: Apple’s ‘Shot on iPhone’ Campaign (#shotoniphone)

Platform: Mainly Instagram and Billboards

Explanation: Created by Apple, this campaign launched in 2014 and progressively gets bigger and better every year. Centred around UGC , iPhone users were encouraged to snap a picture using their iPhone and post it online using the hashtag #shotoniphone, most recently using and highlighting the newly launched iPhone 12 Pro’s photo features. Top pictures by users were chosen and featured on the official Apple’s Instagram account, their website and on billboards around the world to show to all the potential for incredible photography at their fingertips. 

Learnings: UGC can be a powerful tool for any brand. More than 70% of mobile users say they trust reviews and opinions of friends or trusted influencers when looking to purchase a new product and UGC is the creation of content that showcases your products without you having to lift a finger. In this particular campaign, by outlining their iPhones (specifically the iPhone 12) unique camera quality as their USP, Apple managed to easily showcase their best feature, garner brand awareness and increase sales for their newest product. Simple yet powerful and incorporated an underappreciated form of advertising (billboards) that made an impact in the digital and real world. 

Campaign: KFC South Africa ‘Borrow Brand Slogans’ Campaign (#UntilWeCanFingerLickAgain)

Platform: Twitter 

Explanation: During the time of Covid and a global health crisis, KFC decided their slogan of ‘finger-lickin’ good’ may not be the most encouraging or relevant catchphrase for time being. So, they decide to ‘borrow’ the slogans of many different well-known companies in a variety of industries as a fun way to figure out a new logo. They released several different posts using slogans from companies such as Red Bull, MTN, Nike and Specsavers.

Learnings: Lean into your mistakes! As one of the companies with arguably one of the worst slogans in 2020, KFC had a choice of denying, defending, or embracing this new conundrum – and they chose correctly. In addition to this, they created a fun way to create brand awareness and engagement on Twitter (and were as a result, trending) that engaged with their audience and poked fun at themselves at the same time. People relate to brands that they feel a personal connection with and what better way to humble yourself as a brand than to laugh at yourself? 

Campaign: Dove ‘Reverse Selfie’ Campaign 

Platform: Launched on YouTube; Spread across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat

Explanation: Dove’s newest campaign centers around the dangers of social media and how harmful it can be on young women’s self-image and mental health. The video shows the process of a young girl taking and editing a selfie before posting it online but all in reverse – the final product is shown first as a touched-up selfie before being un-edited; her jawline becomes bigger, lips become smaller, blemishes are shown, and her natural face is revealed in contrast to the touched-up image she ‘posted’. The video ends with a statement highlighting the effect of social media on you girls and how the pandemic has only heightened this fact before encouraging parents to have ‘the selfie talk’. 

Learnings: Targeted at Dove users (primarily women between 30-60), this advert has an underlining emotional edge that plays on the touchpoints of safety and concern for their daughters from mothers worldwide. Showing the end product of a picture of a beautiful girl and retracing the steps to create the (fake) look, highlights the pressure on young women to physically alter themselves in order to be perceived as beautiful in this competitive online world we live in and the stark comparison between their natural beauty and the proverbial ‘Instagram face’. Many parents worry about the impact of social media on their daughter’s mental health and this campaign was a success by focusing on this core image and the need to conquer it, reminding us of an important notion – a common fear unites more than it divides. Truly very impactful but nothing less is expected from Dove! 

Campaign: Oatly Meta Ad 

Platform: Instagram but really, every platform imaginable.

Explanation: This is going to make Zuckerburg quake in his boots. This ad was posted as a video on Instagram showcasing a unique campaign…stay with us. It begins with a creative bus stop ad, then a picture of said ad displayed as a boat sign, then an Instagram post of the boat sign, then a billboard of the Instagram post, which had a famous organ player playing in front of it, who recorded a video of herself playing front of the said billboard, which then became a picture on a mobile truck, a photo of which then got made into a double-page newspaper ad which was then painted as mural…and all shown in a video for an internal meeting. It then has the creative director in the meeting ask the question, “okay what about Instagram?” with the art director being left without an answer…before starting all over again in reverse. 

Wow. Just wow. 

Learnings: The Swedish renowned Oat Milk company has a reputation for being outlandish and thinking out the box for outdoor advertising. They took the concept of a painting-within-a-painting to become an ad-within-an-ad and then took it a step further to see how many different forms of advertising they could use in a single advert. What made this so unique is they didn’t rely on one platform and went out of their way to use other platforms that aren’t conventionally used such as billboards, bus stop and boat ads, murals and more – and not just an Instagram ad like every other company. This creative thought process and imaginative ideas make them stand head-and-shoulders above their competitors and how impactful marketing, in all its forms, can really be. The lesson here is simple: embrace your silly side. Think of crazy ideas and implement your wildest dreams – when it comes to branding, the sky is not even the limit. 

Campaign: Guinness ‘Welcome Back’ Ad 

Platform: YouTube

Explanation: In a creative spring-back-from-covid theme, the video ad showcases everyday items/people/places of Ireland, coloured in black and white, in juxtaposition to one another to play on the look of a Guinness beer with its white foam and black lager beneath. This ad’s intention and creative design was to highlight the joy of coming back together in pubs and ends with a statement about the 30 million pounds that Guinness pledged to help the pub industry through this difficult time, cementing the ‘feel good’ feeling that was the undercurrent all along.

Learnings: Guinness understands its target audience. Guinness drinkers tend to be pub drinkers, possibly Irish descent (typically) and aged 30 and above. Now, what does this target audience (and everyone worldwide) want more than anything? To have things return back to normal. To go to the pub and have a pint with some friends. So that’s what the ad looks at. Creatively directed to look for everyday objects or situations that remind the viewer of a Guinness beer, this is an emotional advert that tugs on the heartstrings and has only one message – we miss being back to normal with friends in a happy environment. In addition to this message, to help people get to this goal, Guinness also highlights their philanthropic endeavours to help the pub industry until we can all come back together once more. Once again, Know. Your. Audience. 

2021 was a tough year for all industries, all companies, all people. But when you see campaigns such as these, highlighting friendship, creativity, self-love, and community, you realise that we have evolved so far and so fast – and that’s something to celebrate. Here’s going into 2022 with a brand-new attitude, with Digital Gap alongside you and hopefully a Guinness in hand.