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What Your Brand Can Learn from the “Sharknado” Phenomenon


Sharknado ravaged the competition when it debuted in July 2013. Its sequel left no survivors!

Sharknado ravaged the competition when it debuted in July 2013. Its sequel left no survivors!

“Sharknado 2: the Second One,” like its predecessor telepic, came at the American public like a storm, racking up fierce numbers driven by a marketing campaign that went on a viral attack. Even those who claim to be impervious to pop culture have at least heard of the movie—after all, how can your ears not perk up when you hear the word “Sharknado”? Shark—tornado: Sharknado.

The first movie, which was featured on the SyFy channel in July 2013, originally bit off 1.5 million viewers. At its high point, there were 5,000 tweets per minute about the film, earning it the title of most social telecast ever. And the social media buzz about the movie was so pervasive that SyFy execs decided to air an encore—and earned 1.9 million views. The third time it was on, 2.1 million people tuned in. Its popularity grew with each showing—a highly unusual outcome that’s entirely due to its prevalence on social media. In short, “Sharknado” went viral. It more than went viral—it positively caught fire in the world of social media.

As marketers, we are always searching for the holy grail of social media: having our brand’s story capture the imagination of the online public to the point they feel compelled to share it with everyone they know. But as even as we marketers agonize over our social media outreach, we know there is no magic formula that will take our brand’s narrative viral. There are many factors out of our control because, well, “going viral” depends on how human beings respond to our efforts. And human beings can be unpredictable.

However, there are lessons to be learned from “Sharknado,” as well as other successful viral marketing campaigns that can help. Here are four bite-sized marketing tips that can help put the viral blood in the water for your brand.

  • Have something worth talking about 

“Sharknado” had great viewer stats, but the talk surrounding the movie had begun long before it premiered on SyFy. The incredibly silly premise was enough for people to joke about it, setting the foundation for the film’s success on Twitter. Plus, who could resist turning into a movie with the tagline: “Sharknado: Enough Said”?

“Dumb Ways to Die” by Metro Trains Melbourne found a clever—if morbid—way to share safety information with the public. Why does it work? The video provides the perfect mixture of adorable characters, a catchy song, and silly violence that if used correctly can turn your campaign into a viral sensation. “Dumb Ways to Die” been seen over 86 MILLION times.

  • Be clever

“Sharknado” was a clever concept. Just as clever was the hit viral video from bathroom spray deodorizer Poo Pourri. Their video “Girls Don’t Poop” is at turns hilarious, embarrassing, and relatable. And 29 million viewers appear to agree.

In the YouTube clip a lovely young lady asks “How can you make the world believe your poop doesn’t stink? Or, in fact, that you never poop at all?” The scenes the young lady finds herself in, along with the helpful illustrations detailing exactly how the product works, led to over 278,000 shares—one in every 22 viewers passed the clip along to their social media followers.

  • Have a hero

“Sharknado” had a likeable hero played by Ian Ziering, of 90210 fame (that’s the 1990s version of 90210, by the way). He played a beleaguered family man simultaneously dealing with both an impending divorce and a sudden tornado of man-eating sharks. You can’t help but root for him.

GoPro had a true-life hero in its viral video. Go-Pro is typically known for its high-definition personal cameras that people wear while skiing, skateboarding, surfing, riding their motorcycles, and other adventures. But in 2013, a Go Pro camera captured something completely different and the company was quick to capitalize on it. The YouTube clip, called “Fireman Saves Kitten” set social media ablaze. In the clip, Fresno firefighter Cory Kalanick rescues an unconscious kitten from a fire while wearing GoPro’s HD Hero3 camera attached to his helmet. Kalanick uploaded the video to YouTube, where it attracted 1.5 million views. GoPro obtained the video, recut the footage, added its logo and rereleased it on its own YouTube channel; this time, the emotionally charged clip garnered 5 million views in a week. 

  • Evoke an emotion

“Sharknado,” despite its rather unrealistic premise, still manages to create authentic feelings about the people in the movie—there is the reluctant-but-brave hero, the nefarious villain who deserves to be eaten by a shark, and even a pretty young thing in peril. When people see something that makes them smile, or laugh, or feel inspired—or even cry—they want to share that experience with others.

The most-shared XLVII Super Bowl ad, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” drew emotional responses of happiness and warmth.

The most-shared XLVII Super Bowl ad, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” drew emotional responses of happiness and warmth.

Unruly, a marketing technology company that tracks the virality of ads, surveyed 907 people on their reactions to the commercials aired during Super Bowl XLVII, whether they shared the commercials with friends, and if so, why. The survey indicated that people are more likely to share something if they have a strong emotional response to it. A New York Times survey indicated the same thing.

And if something perplexes or intrigues, it is going to be shared as well. Case in point: “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)” which shot through social media like a rocket. Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, the geniuses behind the ubiquitous middle school chant, released the YouTube video and within the first two weeks received over 40 million online views. By December, “The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)” scored an astonishing 276 million views, becoming YouTube’s top trending video of 2013. It was silly, entertaining, catchy, and appealing to kids—middle schoolers in particular, whose constant chanting of “yingyingyingyingyingyingying” certainly drove their parents to the outer limits of annoyance.

Lightning in a bottle

By understanding the elements that launch a movie, a video, or a marketing campaign into the social media stratosphere, we have a better chance of reaching the holy grail of marketing with our clients’ campaigns. Ultimately, though, there is no magic formula for creating content that is guaranteed to go viral.

Anthony C. Ferrante, the director of “Sharknado,” perhaps sums up the concept of “going viral” best:

“I’m in awe of what just happened because we just witnessed the first massive communal movie going experience online. Everyone sat down around the U.S. to watch a movie on TV and to experience it simultaneously via social media. I’m not sure what this means and if it can be replicated, but we did something very unique and none of it was planned.”

The July 30 2014 debut of Sharknado 2: The Second One” sucked in an astonishing 3.9 million total viewers. That is a 180%--yes, you read that correctly—increase versus the original telepic.

The July 30 2014 debut of Sharknado 2: The Second One” sucked in an astonishing 3.9 million total viewers. That is a 180%–yes, you read that correctly—increase versus the original telepic.

So what are your thoughts on ways social media marketing to make your brand’s content go viral? Share your successes—or even your misses—in the comments below.


Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.

Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.


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This entry was posted on August 20, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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