How to Make a Viral Campaign, Wieden+Kennedy-Style
by Chee Brossy
College is all about learning, but it’s also about sharing a bathroom with strangers, figuring out laundry and firing angry birds at pig houses. That’s why this back to college season, W+K and client Target created a contest for 16 scholarships for items you actually want when going off to college—a year’s supply of make up or Red Bull; a new laptop complete with a desk, speakers, mouse and webcam; or a set of dorm furniture, including an Xbox. To compete for a scholarship, a student had to complete an online video “interview” with Target’s “scholarship board.”
We received over 10,000 videos as college students competed for one of these fun “Stuff Scholarships.” Here we catch up with copywriter Dan Kroeger, a member of the three-man creative team (art director Johan Arlig and copywriter J. Smith are the other two), on what we’ve seen, key lessons from our user-generated video contest and what’s made this campaign so engaging.
W+K Blog: How did your team come up with idea for Target “Back to College”?
Dan Kroeger, copywriter: I came in a little later, but J. [Smith, copywriter] and Johan [Arlig, art director] had wanted to do something with scholarships, and then I came in and we figured out anytime you apply for a scholarship you have to interview. Then we had the idea to do a video interview.
Q: Did you use your own experience in college to help inspire you?
A: Yeah, totally. Any time you’re writing anything you draw from your own experiences. We imagined we were writing to our friends and ourselves when we were in college. Remember your senior year of high school? It’s when you have all that stuff, you’re applying to get into schools, you have to write all those essays, you have to interview with all those people. It’s all that really intimidating, serious, real-world stuff coming down on you, and we wanted to take the agony out of that a little bit and have fun with it. We wanted to stay very true to the experience of these things and applying to these things, but just do it in a fun way.
Q: How did you engage students?
A: We purposely designed it to spread virally so the idea was after they made video they’d have to go online to campaign for people to vote for them—the videos with the most votes had a chance to win. Kids would talk about it on Facebook and Twitter with friends and get them to learn about it; then they would make their own videos. So that’s how it spread—as opposed to us just making a bunch of banners to tell people about it.
Q: By linking through the users?
A: Yeah, that was the whole idea—to get the users to promote it. And that’s one of the reasons it was successful. The length some kids went to get votes was amazing—they called in to local radio stations to ask for more votes, they built memes, spammed friends. And it was huge in social media. Every time a student submitted a video, a Facebook post was created, and every time someone voted or viewed it, they created a Facebook post.
Q: How did the actual videos themselves come out?
A: It’s hard for people to be spontaneously funny and perfect for five questions. There were some random things that were hilarious. Because when these college kids are put on the spot, they just answer really spontaneously and their walls fall down. Normally they put a lot of walls up, you know, they try to be cool. But on the spot, they don’t have time to do that, so things just come out, so regardless of whether or not it was funny all the way through, there were some great gems along the way.
Q: How long did you spend crafting those questions?
A: J. and I spent months. We’d go to coffee shops all the time during the workday and just go back and forth, back and forth. We probably wrote 100 questions for each video, and whittled it down to 15. Another thing I learned—this is something that gets reinforced throughout your career—the amount of people involved in this process was amazing. There were so many intelligent people involved in making this happen: technologists, digital producers. We basically had this crack head idea—we wanted to make this funny thing, but these people knew how to do it. And they stayed all the way through and kept making it better. The amount of people involved in one little project at Wieden+Kennedy is just amazing.
Q: Did you have a favorite question?
A: “Make a sound that best describes yourself.”
Thanks, Dan! Check out the rest of the videos from the campaign here.