The Best Takeaways from Viral Campaigns


We took some time to reflect on some of the most innovative digital campaigns we saw this summer. Brands that stood out tapped into how to use social media consumer behavior to create campaigns that would grab attention, be viral, and be memorable. Below, we picked out five viral campaigns that we (Zora Digital (ZD) liked and why we think they worked.

Papa John’s Augmented Reality (AR) Pizza Box

Papa John’s teamed up with Sony Pictures and Snapchat to create an AR experience for its consumers who ordered their ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ XL pizza. The box debuted before the July 2 release of the Spider-Man movie. On each XL box, there was an augmented reality (AR) activation code that customers could scan with Snapchat, and through the app, the box transformed into the European landscapes such as the Big Ben in London that were present in the movie. Snapchat users could also have fun with the Papa John’s lens that included a game where players trap pizzas using Spider-Man’s web.

Why ZD Thinks This Worked:

  • “The pizza company is the first of its kind to offer augmented reality through Snapcode on their pizza boxes,” according to Papa John’s chief marketing officer, Karlin Linhardt.
  • This is one of the few viral campaigns that relied heavily on an emerging technology, AR, that is often used in gaming. While we live in the age of face-altering filters, augmented reality impacts the way companies can market to its consumers by creating fun, interactive moments that users can enjoy.
  • We also think that this campaign was a perfect fit for an audience that already has an affinity for imaginative concepts and sci-fi. And Gen Z and millennials have become fans as the Spider-Man saga continues. Sony was smart to partner with Papa John’s through an app that 75 percent of all 13-34-year-olds use according to Snap Inc.

The Ever-Changing Unicorn Drink

It all started with a tweet sent from Starbucks on April 19, 2017. Starbucks announced their color and flavor changing Frappuccino. The announcement came ten days after National Unicorn Day. I know what you’re thinking: what is National Unicorn Day? Every year on April 9th, it serves as a day for offbeat activities. Forbes magazine states that photos of the drink were leaked on Reddit by Starbucks employees early to create suspense before the official social media announcement. Fans and influencers became excited for the aesthetically pleasing purple and blue Frappuccino. This made it an Instagram sensation.

Why ZD Thinks This Worked:

  • Starbucks created a product based on an online behavior and a popular food trend because it was photo ready and perfect for IG. According to Mobile Marketer, from April 19 through April 23, 2017, there were over 155,000 posts on Instagram related to the drink.
  • The unicorn Frappuccino shows that brands should continue to be creative to create viral campaigns. They should also think about their audience. 75 percent of Instagram users are between ages 18-24 according to Brandwatch.
  • Lastly, they should think of how to create the perfect Instagram moment that generates positive buzz, excitement, and most importantly product trial.
  • Starbucks’ overall mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit, and at its core the goal of social media is to create connections with hundreds, even thousands of people.

The Maddening Name Change

On June 11, 2018, IHOP tweeted a video graphic of the ‘p’ of the logo turning upside down into a ‘b’ that was revealed to stand for burgers. Instead of being the International House of Pancakes, the restaurant became the International House of Burgers. Through the confusion and hilarity of the name change, the restaurant’s burger sales quadrupled in the first three weeks after the Twitter reveal according to Adweek. Digital Marketing Institute states that IHOP saw 6,477% in social media mentions in one day and, “the hashtags IHOP and IHOB gained 297 million impressions in the weekend-long lead up to the reveal.”

Why ZD Thinks This Worked:

  • The week long buildup to the reveal created so much suspense, it was almost like watching an episode of your favorite show.
  • IHOP has been open for over 60 years, and this stunt reinvigorated the traditional breakfast spot by reminding its guests of the variety of food options available.
  • Through the confusion and hilarity, celebrities tweeted about the name change, and even other brands participated in the jokes, each wanting to get in on the big story.

This campaign will be memorable for a long time. A year later, guests go to IHOP, see the menu, and jokingly ask, “isn’t this place called IHOb now?”

Dream Crazy and Crazier

This campaign began last year when Nike and Colin Kaepernick teamed up for their Dream Crazy video. On September 3, 2018, Kaepernick tweeted (which currently has over 900,000 likes) a black and white image of himself with the quote, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt.” The campaign was followed up with a video that begins with Kaepernick asking, “Are your dreams crazy enough?” The Dream Crazy campaign was followed up this year with the Dream Crazier video narrated by tennis phenom, Serena Williams that was released on February 24, during the Oscars and over a week before International Women’s Day.

Why ZD Thinks This Worked:

  • Millennials care about social causes. According to the Millennial Impact Report, 29 percent of millennials care most about civil rights and racial discrimination. We’ve all seen how they have used it to spread the message for causes like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. Social media makes it easier to participate in social movements.
  • Nike recognized the opportunity to reach out to a generation that was brought on the ideas of social justice and change. They knew that they would get backlash; however, the positive impact for the company meant more. Any by standing up for their core values, following Kaepernick’s Dream Crazy campaign, the company saw a 31% boost in sales and a $6 billion brand value increase.

Foundation for All

Beauty for All became the mission for the 2017 launch of Fenty Beauty. The brand initially launched 40 foundation shades that catered to a variety of skin tones and undertones, making it feel like there was a shade for everyone. The brand’s release was a trendsetter and created, “The Fenty Effect,” in which makeup companies now release complexion shades with a wide array of more inclusive shades than in years past.  

Why ZD Thinks This Worked:

  • It is a known fact that the world is becoming more diverse. Fenty Beauty has tapped into the disparities in the beauty industry and created excitement around its diverse range of shades in the foundation launch for their viral campaigns. Beauty influencers of color who were ecstatic to try foundation shades that felt tailored to them and their dark skin shared the message.
  • According to Think with Google, the brand went live at the same time in 17 countries, and the company ships directly to 137 countries, so Fenty reaches out to a large audience that was previously ignored in the makeup industry. Fenty Beauty continues to be a success because it doesn’t leave out any consumer.

Zora Digital is a Chicago digital marketing agency. We help healthy lifestyle brands with a spirit of innovation navigate the digital landscape and create significant ROI.