Creating Ads that "Go Viral" on Social Media

People often ask me how to create ads that “go viral” on social media. Regardless of your political views, Penzeys Spices, the Wisconsin-based spice company, is a great example of how it is done (and you may not like the answer).

There are exactly two types of content that get noticed on Facebook and Instagram:

  1. Provocative content

  2. Crowd-pleasing content

The difference between the two is risk. Being provocative is high risk, high reward. It can polarize and alienate people just as much as it can draw people in and create champions for your brand or business.

Examples of being provocative includes:

  • Social or political issues

  • Sex appeal

  • Extremely pointed and pithy humor

  • Sharp emotions, like anger

Crowd-pleasing, on the other hand, is a safe tactic. Nobody is likely to change their opinion of you for the worse, but the boost you’ll receive is likely to be gradual.

Crowd-pleasing examples include:

  • Personal stories

  • Animals and pets

  • Humor that is not at anybody’s expense

From a product perspective, being provocative can often lead to more engagement (reactions), quality of engagement (shares > comments > reactions), and thus greater reach. Did it pay off for Penzeys?

Let’s look at a few factors:

  1. Does Penzeys sell direct to consumers? (Yes.) Therefore, reach and awareness are key profitability factors.

  2. Does Penzeys sell products online, nationwide? (Yes.) Therefore, each new follower has the potential to turn into a paying customer.

  3. Do people typically purchase spices online? (No.) Therefore, Penzeys is growing a market opportunity.

  4. What percentage of its revenue comes from large distributors, and how do these large distributors feel about Penzeys’ angle? (Unknown.)

As you can see, this approach will not be the most effective for every brand. At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide for yourself based on what you know of your customers and audience.

Michael Wright