What we learned from the Missing Rob Ford poster

Fast thinking and faster action created a popular Rob Ford viral hit

The folks at Toronto agency 88 Creative didn’t think their missing mayor poster would do much more than get a few tweets and amuse the neighbourhood. But after images of the quickly-created guerilla posting ended up on local and international media, the agency knew it had struck a chord and took away a few insights into the hows and whys of social sharing.

Erin Bury, managing director at 88 Creative, shares the inside story behind the Lost Mayor Rob Ford poster.

It started as a crazy idea, a joke tossed out as our team was catching up on the latest Rob Ford gossip. The headlines were about where Ford was – Chicago? Rehab? Steak Queen? – and one of our team members suggested we make Rob Ford Missing posters and put them up around Toronto.

It was meant to be an experiment, an unbranded piece of content to test the laws of virality. Not tied to a company, brand or masterful political maneuver – just a clever take on a current event. We figured we’d get some Instagram likes and giggle behind the scenes knowing it was our handiwork, then move on.

Within two days, the posters were featured in Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue (Toronto’s Twitter community was quick to point it out to him) and on BlogTO, the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star, CBC and CP24. What started as an experiment turned into front-page news, thousands of media impressions and the love of a late night comedian.

It also made us rethink the way we share content. Here are the lessons we learned.

The roughest rough draft

You don’t have to brand everything to the nines
Slapping an 88 Creative logo on the poster would have taken away the air of mystery. The reason it was so well received is that it wasn’t “owned” by a company or brand. It seemed organic. People can be cynical about sharing branded content and are more open to sharing things they find genuinely funny/interesting. We can still toot our own horn and say we were behind it without having our logo and website splashed all over it.

Those crazy ideas your team blurts out? Run with them. Quickly
The window of opportunity for getting that missing poster out was slim. From the time we came up with the idea to the time the posters were put up in our neighbourhood, less than an hour had gone by. If we hadn’t acted so quickly, someone might have found Ford. I trusted my team to get it done in a funny, authentic way, which is the same approach that allows brands like DiGiornio pizza to take advantage of current events on social media. As much as the term “real-time marketing” is overplayed, in this case, timeliness mattered.

If content is great, it will spread. Don’t force it
One of the biggest challenges we have as social marketers is to convince our clients that “going viral” isn’t something you can manufacture. Creating content that spreads isn’t a formula. It relies on a bunch of factors: relevance, timeliness, quality (or, in this case, lack of quality), copy (people LOVED the copy on the poster) and – most of all in this case – humour.

Content doesn’t have to be expensive to spread
We’ve all shed a tear at the slickly produced WestJet Christmas Miracle video. Or laughed at the Jean Claude Van Damme Volvo ad. One of the biggest limitations to creating that once-in-a-blue-moon piece of “viral” content is the cost that often goes into truly remarkable content. In this case, we spent about a dollar and a couple hours of our time, and our content got more exposure than a well-planned PR campaign or costly branded video.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be e-mailing Jimmy Kimmel and coming up with our next big idea.

Marketing budget: one dollar.

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