What to Do When Your Client Wants a Chicken


Internet marketers’ phones are ringing. Their clients all want a chicken. Ouch. The brilliance of the Crispin Porter + Bogusky Subservient Chicken campaign raised viral marketing’s profile to epic levels. It’s fair to say this has been the Year of the Chicken.

I’ve gotten the call myself. The first thing I do is try to understand what the client wants to accomplish. Support the launch of a new product? Build awareness among new targets? Inject youthful energy into a tired brand? Does the campaign need to stand alone, or is it supported by other (paid) media? When a client asks for a chicken, they’re really asking for a campaign that leverages the Internet’s community or social aspect — where people email, chat, and share.

Though the concept itself was relatively novel 18 months ago, viral quickly became a common marketing campaign element. Yes, the term was coined to describe Hotmail’s success in the late 1990s, but it took a breakthrough campaign like Subservient Chicken to make “viral” part of every marketer’s lexicon.

With all the campaigns being launched, it’s harder to cut through the clutter. What are marketers doing about it? The same thing Hollywood does: spend more (on a blockbuster like “Titanic”), or look for a new and unique formula (“The Blair Witch Project”). Either way, the stakes are much higher.

Think about it. Great content is tough to create and even tougher to find a market for. Of 100 TV show scripts, 20 pilots are made and only four make it on the air. Maybe two of those actually turn into regular shows. It’s the rare one that becomes a hit. Even a highly visible celebrity or a tried-and-true talent can fail on “The Apprentice.”

Humans are natural storytellers. We love to share and brag about something cool we know that our friends, family, or colleagues don’t. It gives us a sense of ownership and inclusion in a cultural phenomenon. As marketers, we know this. That’s why viral marketing is an irresistible tactic.

My advice is simple: take a (calculated) risk. Christian Haas, our group director of online advertising and our viral expert, says, “Stay consistent with what your brand stands for, but remember that sometimes the edgier the content, the higher the viral factor. You have to stretch beyond your brand comfort zone to capitalize on the power of viral.”

He’s right. With viral, you can fall under the radar. If the campaign is great, it breaks through. If it doesn’t, learn from it and make the next one better. That attitude is what results in the best viral work.

Haas walked me through a recent campaign to show what goes into creating a great viral experience:

  1. Get to the big idea:
    1. Dive deeply into the target, brand, and product.
    2. Add 15 people to three offices, 10 gallons of coffee, and 45 doughnuts, and you’ll get 32 wild ideas to start with.
    3. Six pretty good ideas are ultimately presented to the client.
    4. Three ideas make it to the final round.
    5. One idea wins.
  2. Refine the idea:
    1. Three storyboard concepts go into research.
    2. One concept wins.
    3. 28 punch lines are developed, based on the winning concept.
  3. Make it real:
    1. 84 actors audition, and 62 people are hired for the crew.
    2. Thousands of code lines later, you have the buzz component.
  4. Launch and learn:
    1. Put it out there.
    2. Watch to see if it takes hold.
    3. If it works, add an accelerant (paid media).
    4. If it fails, try again.


Related reading

Website landing page vector graphic