Not quite done with #Karen26 - this what you did wrong Grey and GoViral.

You'd think the posse at Grey and the startup rocket GoViral would have a bigger clue when it came to virals, but alas the Karen26 hoopla has shown that they forgot the basics. My previous posts on Karen: Karen26 the Danish mother seeking is actually Ditte Arnth which has been retweeted like mad under the tag #Karen26. More quotes and the video is here in a later update when VisitDenmark decided to remove the video from youtube: Karen26 - Karen in Denmark seeking August's father - (2009) (Denmark)

In the interest of full disclosure, I've judged the Guldkorn 2006 award with Balder Olrik from goviral as jury foreman - but that was not the first time we met. We met when I asked for work at GoViral, thinking that the skills of a 'traditonal' BDA art director who runs her own internationally known advertising blog and has been a net head since the dawn of dot com might be useful to a new agency that intended to specialize in viral advertisements.
The conversation went something like this: Did you code the site? No, I hacked a suitable CMS. Did you make the little icons? Some of them, but not all 670 of them. Uh, we're not sure how to use you here... so showing my portfolio with strategically sound campaign ideas to them was a waste of time. (Also, I really need to learn to stop being so Swedish understated when I even built the actual servers this site actually runs on.) 

What is strategically sound? There are a few rules in advertising that are really quite simple to apply whenever you get a brief.
Ask are we expanding market - or expanding market (brand) share? Do we want a trial or increased consumption? Do we have a USP or are we branding? before you even begin to think.

In this case all the aftermath talk from Ms Kiilerich, the CEO of VisitDenmark seem to indicate that they wanted to raise awareness of Denmark as a travel destination. Since we're talking a limited group of tourists who spend money & time on trips, it's likely expanding brand share, trial consumption and there are USP's that Denmark have that other countries do not if you think about it. Sweden has the midnight sun, you have Legoland, legalised prostitution (hey you were playing on the sex angle) and beautiful white sandy beaches with a special light that inspired an art movement. There are plenty of other countries with legalized prostitution, and Thailand pretty much owns that selling point so we're now stuck to the laid back euro-traveller who fancies a bit of old-style romantic like H.C. Andersen quaint city-life and a good beer. That's "hygge". The rules for virals are not set in stone, since the phenomenon has been treated as brand new by people who haven't worked in advertising very long and the internet seems to change like quicksand - but there are rules, since it is still advertising and advertising has been doing virals since advertising began. (insert jokes about STD's here since advertising is the second oldest profession.)

#1: Do not lie to the consumer. In 'old' advertising this is even a law, but this is in regard to overstating a product's benefits. You can make up a story - say, about a man in a bubble, as a vehicle for your message. When doing this in paid media space, everyone knows that it is made up but we still want the 'a-ha' moment when the coin drop and we understand what the man in the bubble has to do with the product.
In virals, the same applies - you have to give the consumer that moment of feeling smart by admitting the lie. The idea with Karen the lonely mother was clearly to engage the consumer, much like we do with old fashioned posters where the words and image make a whole that the consumer adds together understanding the full message. A poster stating "X is good" with a picture of X isn't a message to decipher and the consumer isn't involved in adding things up. A poster that discreetly shows product advantage while clearly signing off as the sender - like this one - is enough to engage a consumer. Hey if P&G can do it, so can viral agencies. Engaging the consumer in a lie is wasting the emotions you pulled up on the wrong thing.

#2: The sender needs to be tied to the ad idea. I realize 'getting attention' was the main idea here, but you have to tie the attention to the product benefit. Stand on a man on his head = attention because that looks weird, but don't do it unless you're selling buttoned pockets that prevent his keys from falling out. You with me so far?

#3 : This is really the same as above, I just like hitting people over the head with clue-by-fours. The message has to make sense. Playstation "Nipple" made sense to the target market where playing great games are tantalizing and even arousing with all the emotions and adrenaline wasted at a console. What is the message with Karen26? Unprotected sex makes babies? We learned that in sixth grade sex-ed!

#4 : The target market must like the campaign - like, duh. You're talking to a specific groups that you have identified in your first three questions. This group needs to like what you are saying. I'm not surprised that viral agencies miss this part, they seem far too preoccupied with numbers of views. I've said this before; a few thousands teenagers in Latvia laughing at your viral does not move product unless they are the target market. Many moons ago GoViral had a hand in an ad for an Ovulation prediction product. The viral was a film spoofing Lord of the Rings as Lord of the Egg, with many juvenile jokes about female reproduction parts thrown in for good measure. It was cringeworthingly bad. Who is in the market for an ovulation prediction kit? Common sense says it's a grown woman who is trying to get pregnant. When women start trying it's a sensitive issue, because they might be a little older, or have a little trouble due to other factors, and you know what, teenage boy style jokes around the product that can help her efforts is exactly the worst way of introducing her to this. To her, this is not a laughing matter. It is a matter of life and not. Take the target markets concerns seriously.

#5: The campaign needs to have results. Obvious isn't it? But you're not just sending ads out for the heck of it, you have set out to fulfill a goal. The goal here was to get tourists to Denmark, not scare the bejuses out of any and all men who have previously been in Denmark and gotten laid.
One could argue that the temptation of "hygge" which seems to be free unprotected sex with cute Danish girls after a night in Nyhavn was the selling point, and will indeed bring in the tourists - in which case I think you have misidentified your target market, and while you were at it you insulted the countries inhabitants.
In an effort to get this to spread, it was "seeded". Looks like it was sent as 'tips' to newspapers all over as well, since Aftonbladet (tabloid Sweden) and many other newspapers published the single mother's plight of finding the father.
Not to mention The evening news in Denmark. Aftonbladet has fallen for viral hoaxes before like the Bullet Proof Baby Pram hoax that went around the world. As a result people in the twitterflow of #karen26 are asking that newspapers return the old world of story-checking before publishing. Youtube is not to be confused with Reuters or TT and never should be.
The media could also apply my rule of thumb when viral folks want to stay mum and refuse to answer who made the ad which is:  don't publish it at all.
In the case of Karen one wonders if "Viral" now is a type of PR designed to fool the press first. We've come a long way since those "I don't know who made this but a friend of mine sent me this...." emails that used try and kickstart virals.
If virals are allowed to equal deception, they are less useful than spam. Accidental virals show the way here, remember Coke & Mentos? You could actually do that and thousands of kids did. Truth works as well, the PR coup that won in Cannes this year was Best job in the world, a classic advertising idea with straight up copywriting that was sent out as a release and conquered the world.
The "Will it blend" is just an updated take on the classic product demonstration film, put on a website and taking viewers suggestions of what to blend. The product is even the hero in these, standing front and center the whole time.

Govirals own list of the top ten virals in the world show ads that are classic advertising, with our old fashioned rules of branding and product benefit in there - with six of the films listed aired on TV or Cinema before setting the web on fire. There's a lesson in that alone.
Karens case has been hotly debated in the Danish newspapers and TV, with university researchers calling it tasteless and the minister of Economic and Business Affairs calling it "very unwise". Danish blogs have also weighed in Jonas Smith's take, wemind minds, and the #Karen26 trended yesterday. This morning there was a panel discussion on Go'Morgen Danmark which can be seen here. (Sadly the page is doing another advertising no-no, it has a LOUD Renault banner ad which you can't turn the sound off on above the video. Hello Stupid!)
People are wondering how much did this disaster cost - since the Danish taxpayer is footing the bill - and Twitter rumors say that '@goviral and Grey advertising we're according to sources paid 1,8 million DKK' - none of that went to paid media.

I now know what you could have used me for at GoViral, being the really boring voice of reason preventing y'all from stepping in it.

*********** Updated footnote ***************

Claus Moseholm of GoViral has reached out, wants me to clarify that 'Balder Olrik is not working in Goviral anymore and he is no longer a shareholder in the company', and Claus ain't no fool who has on several occasions expressed that he wants to work with me, though he has never gone so far as to actually offer a job.


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Holger Wilcks's picture

That's quite simply the best rant I've read in a long time!

claymore's picture

Simply rantastic.

Dabitch's picture

Thanks guys.

andromeda's picture


anonymouscoward's picture

This is required reading.

Freddie F's picture

You should teach advertising. You broke down exactly why this failed and taught me how to think about target markets at the same time.