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From Barbie to Taylor Swift: How to Leverage Lessons Learned in 2023’s Viral Campaigns as a Small Business Owner

When you think of the best viral marketing campaigns of 2023, you might instinctively think about the Barbie movie campaign because, with a budget of $150 million, it was hard to miss. 

That campaign had us in such a chokehold that someone on the internet took a picture of a pink sunset, thanked the Warner Bros. marketing department for it and it went viral because that would be so on brand for the time we were living in. The marketing message was so strong and all-consuming, that even Mother Nature couldn’t escape its reach. 

And just like Barbie, Taylor Swift kept all the Swifties on the edge of their seats when promoting her Eras Tour this year. In typical T Swift fashion, she dropped teasers on social media along with cryptic clues and Easter eggs her loyal fan base went to town analyzing and decoding. 

If you ever want to go down a rabbit hole, just start watching Taylor Swift fans connecting the dots of all the Easter Eggs on TikTok – I knew NOTHING about Taylor before this tour and now I’m pretty convinced she’s a witch with mastermind planning abilities because JESUSSSSS the number of connections and symbolism and strategic placement is WILD! But I digress...

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While these marketing campaigns were epic, to say the least, it can feel impossible to replicate as a small business owner. So let’s break down a few key aspects of each viral campaign that you’re able to tap into in your own marketing efforts (millions of dollars not required).

Strong consistent branding will imprint on your customer’s minds.

The Barbie pink is so synonymous with the Barbie brand that even when customers aren’t consciously thinking about the brand, the mere sight of that color triggers a connection. You can do this when you establish a solid brand presence. 

Strong consistent branding acts as a visual cue that recalls your product, service, or message on demand – just like how the pink sunset inadvertently triggered thoughts back to the Barbie movie campaign.

Tease your audience to create curiosity and anticipation 

While you may not have an army of Swifties decoding your every move, incorporating teasers and a bit of mystery can pique curiosity. 

You can use social media to tease upcoming products or services and in doing so you’ll generate anticipation which will engage your audience on an emotional level, helping to keep them invested in your content.

Reward your most loyal customers with exclusive ‘iykyk’ type of content 

There was so much happening in Taylor Swift’s marketing that most of the general population missed (just google her and the 13 symbolism for a glimpse of what I’m talking about) but her most loyal fans were able to connect the dots which created a deeper sense of connection to her brand. This type of ‘exclusive’ content made her fans feel like they were a part of something special. 

Similarly, Russ infiltrated BookTok earlier this year by creating an extended version of his song NASTY. The lyrics tapped into some fan-favorite book references and us BookTok girlies were absolutely here for it. If you weren’t part of the BookTok community, you just thought Russ dropped an extended version of his song and thought nothing of it. But if you were a part of the BookTok community (like me) then there’s a very high chance that you fell even more in love with Russ because of the connection he was able to build by tapping into a very specific audience segment. (Proof is in the pudding: the NASTY extended version made it onto my Spotify wrapped for 2023) 

If your business has been around for a bit, throw some nostalgia in the content mix and reference back to your roots to make your long-time audience members feel some type of way for sticking around since the very beginning. 

Use social media to its fullest potential

All of the brands previously mentioned crushed the social media game in 2023. They crafted the narrative, built the content, and leveraged user-generated content (memes for Barbie, easter egg explainer videos for Taylor, BookTok videos for Russ, etc.) to amplify their reach and build their brand. 

All of which you should be doing as a small business owner because social media is free to use and your results can be exponential. 

Speaking of social media, let’s talk about two brands that got a *lot* of free brand exposure thanks to a couple of viral TikTok videos. Stanley and Northface.

1. The Stanley mug car fire video.

A woman’s car was completely destroyed after a fire…but there was her Stanley mug sitting in the cupholder basically untouched….AND STILL FULL OF ICE. 

Her video alone was a powerful ad for the Stanley mug. Think about it – her car was literally on fire, but she still had ice in her cup. If that doesn’t demonstrate the QUALITY of a Stanley mug, I don’t know what is. This video went absolutely viral (89.9 million views) and in less than 24 hours, Stanley’s president posted a heartfelt selfie video in response (40.7 million views) gifting the woman a new car – and a new Stanley mug, of course. 

Claps all around for Stanley acting fast and genuinely caring about its audience! 

Together, these two videos showcased the quality of their product and the values of their brand, gaining nearly a billion earned media impressions and TONS of positive brand awareness.  

Social media is POW👏 ER👏 FUL👏

2. The North Face helicopter delivery video.

Personally, I feel like North Face took a play out of Stanley’s playbook for this one because it happened almost immediately after the video above. But REGARDLESS – they saw an opportunity and seized it, so kudos to them.

The original video posted was of a woman hiking who was absolutely soaked because her “waterproof” North Face jacket wasn’t exactly waterproof. She jokingly told North Face to meet her at the top of the mountain to bring her a new coat….so what did North Face do?

THEY LITERALLY SENT A HELICOPTER WITH A NEW JACKET.

Unlike the heartfelt authentic response from Stanley’s president, this response was staged and likely cost a fortune to execute. It was an attempt to save face (get it…north FACE) after an unsatisfied customer video went viral. 

They were savvy enough to leverage the unsatisfied customer as the ‘star’ of their ‘ad’ in an attempt to reverse the damage done and create positive brand sentiment.

What’s funny about this story to me is that her initial video got around 10.3 million views and North Face’s elaborate execution of a response video only got 3.8 million views.

If they ‘stitched’ the video to her video, it may have gotten more views but either way – the whole situation shows how AUTHENTIC and GENUINE brand responses always go a lot further than staged, ‘look what I can do’ type of brand responses.

People PRAISED Stanley for how they responded. People kind of got the ick (myself included) from how North Face responded.

What can you take away from these two brands and the power of social media?

Talk to your audience and have a pulse on the conversations happening around your brand on social media. Good or bad – it’s better to be in the know so you can act quickly and respond appropriately to any messages that arise.

And that’s a wrap! I hope you enjoyed this roundup and can utilize some lessons learned in your 2024 marketing efforts.

PS: Are you a small business owner or service provider who needs a hand with your marketing in 2024? I’m currently accepting new clients. Click here to submit an application to work together.

From Barbie to Taylor Swift: How to Leverage 2023's Viral Campaigns for Small Business Owners