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The first Old Spice commercial in the Man Your Man Could Smell Like series.
The first Old Spice commercial in the Man Your Man Could Smell Like series.

Grow: Ryan Caligiuri

Can small businesses harness that Old Spice magic? Add to ...

Last month you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Old Spice ads.

The company managed to put itself back on the map with a number of humorous commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews. What, if anything, can entrepreneurs and professionals of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) learn from them?

In my experience, they all ask a similar question: “With a small budget, how can we go viral like Old Spice?”

Don’t be fooled – be aware

I was recently approached by three companies that specialize in creating viral campaigns. One of them tried to educate me on their services and used Old Spice as an example of what they could do for me. They led me to believe anyone could go viral just as Old Spice did – which is true. They also led me to believe I could make something go viral – which is also a possibility. Then they committed the ultimate sin and said that for enough money they promised to make something go viral just like Old Spice did.

SMBs should not be too eager to invest in viral marketing, particularly before giving thought to the potential downsides when approached by such marketers.

Be aware of the caveats

Before deciding to go all in with a viral campaign it is important to be aware of some of the caveats that come with it.

No. 1: Most SMBs and entrepreneurs do not do well in this game. With the exception of consumer markets and personal videos and campaigns, how many companies and entrepreneurs can you name that have gone viral and grown their business as a result? Not many. If someone wants to challenge me on this point and provide some examples, I welcome them.

No. 2: You have very little control over whether your campaign goes viral or not. John West Salmon, Blendtec and Philips all went viral with different approaches and styles. So if they can do it, how can you do it? There are a few key elements you need, but even they do not guarantee success. Some things go viral and others do not. You cannot make something go viral. It is not up to you. There is no secret method or sophisticated viral matrix that will lead you to viral marketing success.

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If the marketplace likes it and decides to spread it around then it is a success. But you do not control that. This is not specific to viral campaigns but marketing in general. It is an important principle you should never forget – you’re not in charge, the marketplace is.

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No. 3: It is expensive to maintain momentum. With short attention spans, viral marketing campaigns often fade quickly. Once you hit a point where they wear off, you need to invest more money to recreate that buzz. This is why Old Spice shot so many different commercials with Mr. Mustafa and others with Mr. Crews.

No. 4: Going viral does not happen very often and it can be expensive if you want to have an impact. The naysayers will argue anything is possible. I don’t disagree with that. But entrepreneurs or professionals in charge of SMBs need to be careful about how they spend their money.

Should they spend it on one tactic, hoping to achieve high-profile impressions or do should they work to achieve credibility and trust within the marketplace using less-expensive tactics?

Don’t be too quick to buy into the hype

Understand the marketing landscape and know what a strategic investment is and what will provide short-term excitement. Entrepreneurs and SMBs need to focus primarily on investing in activities that improve credibility and trust. They need to find ways to create competitive advantages, increase revenue, add value, and make offerings more compelling.

Engaging in a viral campaign can create a lot of buzz, but does it contribute in those ways? Not likely.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Ryan Caligiuri is a Winnipeg-based marketing specialist who believes many organizations are wasting their money on ineffective marketing tactics, many professionals and students feel lost because their actions don’t translate into positive results, and all three groups are too comfortable blending in and following the status quo. He is driven by the desire to refocus their efforts on what needs to be done to resurrect the impact of marketing.

Your Business columnist Ryan Caligiuri took your questions on whether it’s worth it to attempt a viral marketing campaign: Related contentIs it worth it to try to go viral?

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Follow on Twitter: @RyanCaligiuri

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