Last month, a post by Swedish Paralympic athlete Aron Anderson became the latest Trump-related video to go ‘viral’. The video, which has clocked up more than 15 million views, came in response to Trump’s speech which implied that there had been a recent terrorist attack in the Scandinavian nation.
This form of global trumpeting - spreading across the digital world like wildfire - has not been missed by a lesser-known destination in Africa - Namibia. Here on the windy highlands of the capital Windhoek, a well-established travel brand and its long-standing digital marketing agency recently launched a video that has also gone viral.
The inspiration? A Dutch comedian’s post in response to the US presidential inauguration speech which ‘welcomes Trump in his own words to The Netherlands’. This video, which was published in January, has now been viewed over 23 million times and has spurred a raft of other similar treatments from countries including Switzerland, Australia, Germany and Iran.
“I instantly loved the [Dutch] idea and am always thinking of ways to promote Namibia and my music internationally,” says the Namibian kwaito star and founder of digital agency CoolBox Cinema who goes by the name of EES.
EES and its client, the Gondwana Collection worked closely together to put together a video featuring everything from Namibia’s surreal sand dunes to its majestic ‘bigger than the Grand Canyon’, Fish River Canyon and its kwaito scene, a genre of music that emerged in South Africa’s townships in the 1990s.
While EES says that the intention was to “fully mock the USA”, his overriding objective was to put Namibia on the map.
“Many people in the world don’t know where Namibia is and how beautiful this country is,” he says.
To date the campaign has achieved over 2.5 million online views and coverage in global media like the Washington Post, Berliner Morgenpost and Mashable, whose headline proclaimed it ‘glorious’, as well as on international radio stations.
With a strong focus on storytelling across multiple platforms and using a range of marketing tactics, Gondwana is no stranger to digital, says social media manager Bernd Grahl. But they have never seen anything like this. Previous successes, for example, were a 2015 Facebook post of the group’s Namib Dune Star Camp which in two days was viewed a mere 6,000 times in Namibia and South Africa.
Lightning in a bottle
“Going viral remains the pinnacle of achievement for many digital marketers,” says independent digital marketing analyst and author, Rebecca Lieb. “Not just for video, of course, but also for a clever tweet, Facebook post, animated gif and more. B2C marketers in particular are on that elusive quest for ‘eyeballs’, and hope to make their efforts reach as many of those as possible.”
Yet it remains a tough one to crack. “It’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. There is no tried and true formula to achieve it. It requires a combination of the right degrees of humour, pathos and zeitgeist.”
One brand achieving recent success is the Momondo Group, which was recently acquired by Priceline for $550 million. Last year, its DNA journey campaign went viral, arguably benefiting from the timely launch around the time of the divisive UK Brexit referendum.
So what was Momondo’s secret?
“In my view, what made our video go viral was that we had the courage to bring up a subject that really matters to people; the whole idea of confronting people with their own narrow-mindedness by showing that we have more in common than we think seemed to really resonate,” says Pia Vemmelund, managing director for momondo.
She continues: “Our video was quoted as a kind of antidote to conflict in the world, both on a global level but also country-specifically such as in relation to the Brexit-vote and the US presidential election.”
For Vemmelund, it is vital to create an idea that is emotionally engaging, and since "emotional engagement" is a cornerstone of the momondo experience, this seemed to work.
Another strategy was to design the campaign as a brand builder rather than a sales driver.
Having said that, Vemmelund says momondo saw a very strong uptick in traffic in the days after the global launch. “Our traffic increased by more than 40% in this period with traffic coming from many first-time visitors to the site,” she says.
However, as with any viral campaign momondo also faced "to-be-expected" criticism, mainly around it having used actors rather than members of the public, which some argued gave the video too professional a finish.
Possibly because it is less familiar with such intense public scrutiny, the Gondwana team was somewhat “surprised” by negative feedback, especially from people on its home turf. In an official, somewhat apologetic release, the team sought to reassure those offended that the campaign was “underpinned by a light-hearted spirit of goodwill” and they would be “more sensitive in the future”.
To be expected
According to Lieb, negative feedback is always to be expected even in the most successful campaigns.
But marketers can prepare teams for this with training and a social media triage chart, a form of workflow process management. A chart could pose questions like: ‘Is the remark positive or negative?’ Is it civil and polite (then do this)? Does it violate brand guidelines (then do that)? If A happens, then escalate to a supervisor.
“No two triage charts are the same but they can help teams address how to deal with positive and negative feedback that arrives in real time,” says Lieb.
In doing so, teams are better equipped to answer questions such as what should be addressed (or not), how, by whom in what tone of voice and within what margin of time. After all, you only have to contemplate the outpourings on social media to know that there are many different shades of grey.
“You can't account for everything,” admits Lieb, “but with forethought you can lay very foundational guardrails that help greatly in handling situations as they arise.”