Until it launches, it’s so hard to know whether your marketing campaign will ever gain any traction. It’s another thing entirely to witness your campaign becoming a viral sensation and it’s not likely to happen by design. But there is one particular element that has helped create the most successful viral marketing: being really, really weird. And it works because of one key component that is so easily overlooked by marketing companies and clients alike.
I’m going to tell you a story about my first encounter with brilliant, bizarre marketing. It’s a story about how I came into the industry at all – and, like all good stories, this one starts with a pony.
In February 2013, the mobile network Three launched an ad campaign called Dance Pony Dance. You know the one.
The campaign, created by Wieden + Kennedy, celebrates the ‘silly stuff’ of the digital world. Three launched its advert on screens across the UK at the end of February and by March the video had amassed over a million hits on YouTube in a matter of days. The internet went mad for it.
#danceponydance possibly thee best advert ever 🙂
— adam ames (@adam_ames97) March 27, 2013
But why? What on earth did a horse moonwalking across the Shetlands to a Fleetwood Mac song have to do with a mobile network?
Pretty much everything, actually.
Three’s USP is to give their customers as much mobile data as they can so that people can keep sharing what they love with others, wherever they are. A 2013 study also saw that 45% of UK mobile users were sharing 67 million photos, videos and jokes every week in order to ‘make people smile’. Three made the connection in their data and in studies: their own customers were sharing these very weird and wonderful videos. These statistics – people reduced to graphs and lines on a computer screen – set a foundation for creative marketing and they produced an advert tailored for their core demographic.
Analysing the trends of the most viral YouTube videos of the year puts funny animal videos (which contribute 10% of the most viral videos of 2012) and mad dance videos like Gangnam Style at the top. These were on-trend and forming part of the zeitgeist.
Introducing the moonwalking pony: the concept was cute and silly, the content was shareable and the music was infectiously catchy. That smiling, long-maned star of the show was the epitome of the sort of ‘silly stuff’ that made people smile. The advert premiered on TV and YouTube simultaneously; it was always meant to capture the internet audience. This was a video that Three’s own customers could genuinely watch for entertainment and then go on to edit by putting their own song over the visuals, and then send to their friends. So, thirteen million views later, #DancePonyDance cemented itself as part of the viral zeitgeist too.
That 3 advert with the Shetland pony is so funny! Cracks me up everytime& leaves me with a massive stupid smile on my face! #DancePonyDance
— Alisha ♡ (@AlishaRoseM) March 10, 2013
But the campaign worked for business. Thanks to the success in-part of the Dance Pony Dance campaign, Three netted 168,000 additional customers in Q2 of 2013. People were buying more contracts for smartphones and sharing more than ever. Seven years on and people are still sharing the video around; even the song is synonymous with the advert.
— David Groom (@groomyxs) November 6, 2020
Three, their marketing team, the director of the video and their great communal vision saw a project resonate exactly in the right places. Tom Malleschitz, Three’s Marketing Director, said:
‘We wanted to create something special that people will want to share, while knowing that they can rely on us for an Ultrafast internet connection and great value.’
And they did exactly that. The campaign was mad and it had nothing to do with mobile telecommunications at all. But, it was exactly what potential customers wanted to see. Three trusted their data and the data didn’t lie. It worked.
This story is why I love marketing. It uses utter madness by employing sensible analysis of trends all at the same time. Sometimes in data analysis, it’s very easy to lose sight of what the important metrics really are. Sometimes you create a campaign that you think is based on the right numbers but your customers don’t respond to. But, always consider how these numbers can relate to your core demographic and maybe you’ll have a dancing pony sensation of your own.