The value of going viral

Jason Cannon

December 24, 2013

Volvo Trucks has hit the marketing mother-load, and they didn’t pay anything for it.

In 2013 the company produced several interesting YouTube videos, including one where they allowed a hamster to steer one of its trucks.

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However, of all the videos and campaigns the company has launched since the beginning of time, none have caught fire like “The Epic Split” video featuring former action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme.

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With more than 64 million views to-date, ‘The Epic Split” is the most viewed automotive commercial on YouTube ever. Read that again. Ever. In the entire history of YouTube.

“It is quite overwhelming. Sure, we were hoping for a success, but we didn’t expect it to be this big or come this fast,” says Per Nilsson, PR Director for the Volvo Trucks brand in Europe. “We believe the results are due to a fantastic piece of content and our communication strategy, a strategy that we’ve consistently carried out for a long time.”

The video captures lightning in a bottle. It features this near-perfect mixture of danger, intrigue and a movie star I honestly thought had died.

“The Epic Split” was released on YouTube Nov. 14 viewed more than 6.5 million times and shared more than 32 thousand times in the first day. It quickly became the most shared film on YouTube. On its best day, “The Epic Split” hit more than 7 million views.

“People shared and commented the film over and over again,” Nilsson says. “This level of engagement is more important than the number of views on YouTube.”

Not only has the video become the most viewed automotive commercial on YouTube ever, but in its first month on the Internet it was shared more than 6 million times on social networks; received more than 10 million impressions on Google; received extensive media coverage from all over the world (the commercial has been the subject of approximately 20,000 editorial pieces online so far); and it’s accumulated an estimated media value of approximately $93.3 million.

Each of those figures swell everyday. That’s a level of brand awareness that, if they were asked to cut a check, Volvo likely would have walked away from the table. All for a video that was posted, hosted, watched and shared for free.

I doubt Van-Damme starred in the commercial for free (he might have. I don’t know), but at this point he probably owes Volvo Trucks more than they ever owed him. This is the most successful production he’s starred in since the early 90s. Let’s not forget that I thought he was dead.

Using social media in your marketing strategy is becoming more and more fundamental. It’s practically mandatory, and the upside is near-limitless as we’re seeing here. But a Facebook post with your “special of the day” or your address and hours isn’t going to cut it. You’ve got to strive to become an Internet legend. Stop thinking of your followers as numbers and strive to entertain them.

You can have 20,000 Twitter or Facebook followers but if you’re not engaging them they are worthless to your company, and you are worthless to them. I’d rather have 1,000 followers with 50 percent engagement than 2,000 followers with 20 percent engagement. The size of the audience isn’t the important thing; it’s how many are tuned in to what you’re saying.

Access to someone like Van-Damme isn’t necessary. I think he’s part of what made this video so successful, but not the only part – and likely not the biggest part. The video concept itself is a perfect storm of weird, dangerous and interesting, which is a recipe for success in just about anything.

I have no idea how many trucks Volvo has sold or will sell as a result of this video, but I doubt it will be a lot. I would imagine that of the 64 million-plus viewers, a small sliver of those are actually truck drivers.

However, what they have done is create band awareness of cult-like proportions, which has already come back to them 93 million fold.



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