Blog Post

Viral Marketing Done Right: Unexpected Performance

So, last week, I kvetched about the lies involved in viral marketing. But I do understand that there’s a basic truth to advertising: No one really likes the hard sell, and the soft one is often ineffective. So I wanted to offer a counterpoint — a positive example of viral marketing done right — because it is something that can be extremely powerful. Fortunately, the British viral marketing company RubberRepublic made my job a little easier by releasing Unexpected Performance last week.

In this clip, seven hidden cameras capture an impromptu musical performance in a terminal at Stanisted Airport (reminiscent of ImprovEverywhere’s Food Court Musical). Beginning with one custodian wailing out her desire for a packet of crisps, the piece soon explodes into a 14-person extravaganza, concluding with some brief text advertising, an online ticketing provider. Maybe I’m an easy touch for theater, but it’s one of the few ads I’ve ever seen that really inspired interest in the product advertised. What makes it so effective? Three things:

It doesn’t lie. While the video does not state up front what product it’s advertising, it doesn’t claim to be “found footage,” or an amateur recording, or anything other than what it is. In fact, it makes a big deal of mentioning up front that the production was put together by a large team of professionals. At the end, the text pops up, clear as anything. It isn’t exactly straightforward, but there’s no attempt at deception.

It’s really fun to watch. The performers are talented, the songwriting is tolerable and the hidden cameras do a great job of catching the surprised looks of those watching. I was more entertained by these three minutes than I was by the entirety of Chris Columbus’s Rent.

It’s relevant to the product being advertised. By capturing the looks on people’s faces as they’re ambushed by live performance, the ad is a poignant reminder of the joy of the theater. is a ticket-selling service, and the swift URL drop at the end of the video connects the message to the product.

See, advertisers? It’s not hard. Be relevant, be fun, and don’t lie. And the Internet will love you right back.

10 Responses to “Viral Marketing Done Right: Unexpected Performance

  1. Liz,

    You ask: “Is this video’s honesty holding it back?”

    This is a British ad and the producers and advertiser arguably have a legal obligation to disclose the true nature of the video.

    In the UK, a large range of online “marketing” activities are now effectively banned under new legislation, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 act. This came into effect in May.

    It definitely covers fake blogs and fake blog posts and product ratings (eg on Amazon) that mislead consumers by covertly supporting a company or brand.

    An unattributed viral video might also fall under this legislation.

  2. Fair point about the fact that this owes a major debt to ImprovEverywhere. But what I wanted to spotlight was that this ad is set up like a sekrit viral ad, but at the end does come clean about its message, which is directly relevant to the content of the video. For me, this is much more effective than something like the Ray-Bans ads, which only suggest that their sunglasses are easily tossed on).

    It isn’t quite viral yet, true. Which leads to an interesting question — is this video’s honesty holding it back?

  3. It seems to me that the most successful “viral” campaigns we’ve seen from major corporations happen to be their best “oldteevee” commercials. I know this article is a counterpoint to corporations utilizing home-made style ads to get their message out, but the most viral ads out there are overtly professional. For example, the Dove Evolution spot, and Sony Bravia ads are all over the net, not just in sponsored slots, and they have millions of views. Even now, that old Honda Goldberg machine ad is still getting views, and its years old.
    If companies stopped trying to imitate what makes home-made video so special, and took advantage of their enormous resources to make their ads more interesting and unique, we’d all be better for it.

  4. I agree on the fact that this is a total rip-off. I see countless ads on TV that are knock-offs of original videos that became popular online.

    Clearly all these “creative” ad agencies are out of juice when the best they can do is steal other people’s inventiveness. Shame on whoever ripped improveverywhere off for this ad without even giving them credit.

  5. “(reminiscent of ImprovEverywhere’s Food Court Musical).”

    Ah, How about “Total Rip Off?”

    And how can you call it viral with only 169,260 in a week on YouTube?

    I’m sorry Liz I don’t mean to be a jerk here but am I missing something? How can you say this is done right?