What TikTok & Youtube Influencers Can Teach Business About Going Viral

Published on
November 3, 2022
Jack Williams
Head of Business Development
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Recently, satirical “reimagined” logos of famous brands and companies, such as Nasa, McDonald’s, and Doritos, have been going viral on the Internet. The artist? TikTok star Emily Zugay.

Emily’s hilariously awful logo redesigns, made even funnier by her deadpan commentary, have been viewed and liked over 30 million times. Her logos’ popularity sent Emily’s followers from 200,000 to a whopping 1.4 million as of this writing.

From Satire to Stardom

Emily’s rise to TikTok stardom began on the 8th of September 2021, when she posted her first redesign video for fun. She showcased her versions of Starbucks’ and Apple’s logos while pointing out all the things she “hates” about them.

Little did Emily know that her first video would turn into an entire series that will catch the attention of brands like TikTok itself and other big names such as Adobe, Nascar, Tampax, The Washington Post, Tinder, Lexus, and the NFL.

Emily Zugay - collage 1

Emily’s logo redesigns drove so much engagement that brands even changed their profile photos for a few days.

Emily Zugay - collage 2

Going viral for the right reasons is every marketer’s dream. However, it just does not happen for everyone.

So, how did Emily do it?

In this article, we highlight five of the most valuable engagement takeaways and marketing tactics from Emily’s and two other viral TikTok and YouTube influencers’ playbooks in order to create powerful and strategically tailored recipes for mainstream success. If you’re interested in coming to our breakfast event where we go into this in-depth, register your interest below.

We also showcase some of the business world’s most successful viral campaigns so that companies like yours can follow what they did (or create your own) and send those follower and engagement metrics soaring.

Expertly Breaking the Rules

Looking at Emily’s redesigns, one can assume that she has absolutely no design experience at all. However, the opposite is true.

Emily’s redesigns are so bad that professional designers themselves conclude that she does have design experience based on how she expertly does everything a designer is NOT supposed to do.

It turns out that Emily graduated with a degree in animation. This makes much more sense. After all, before you can expertly break the rules, you have to know what the rules are in the first place.

This fact is supported by these amazing YouTube animation reels done by Emily herself back in 2019 and 2020 that show just how incredibly talented she truly is.

The Sweet Spot Between Culture & Industry

Here are 2 important takeaways that we got from Emily’s virality.

1) Build your audience by leveraging existing fans of big brands and companies

Companies like TikTok, Tinder, Amazon, and McDonald’s have massive fan bases. Emily tapped into them by “borrowing” their logos and making them her own in exchange for a few laughs and engagement.

There is a psychological concept called isomorphic correspondence — this is the reason why we see logos of our favourite brands and feel a certain way. For example, when people see McDonald’s famous arches, people get a hankering for salty French fries. The same thing happens when people get excited to meet new people and go on dates whenever they see Tinder’s logo.

Isomorphic correspondence is an extremely subjective phenomenon that allows us to interpret images based on our own memories and experiences. If you have always lived a healthier lifestyle, McDonald’s logo might not conjure positive childhood memories. If you are happily partnered up, seeing Tinder’s logo may make you feel threatened rather than excited.

This is why Emily’s strategy was so successful. By using these famous brands as her subjects, she effectively incited a sense of familiarity, connection, and delight among TikTok users who are already big fans of the brands.

2) Take what you do best and get creative

With Emily’s substantial experience in design, she was able to take all established principles and theories, chuck them out the window, and put out logos that go against every rule.

This is why Emily’s deliberately awful redesigns are such a hit, even among her peers.

You often come across most designers’ social media platforms and see how they showcase only their best works. But these accounts are quite common and, unfortunately, become lost in a sea of equally amazing projects.

By taking what she does best and doing the exact opposite, Emily was able to break through the noise. Her offensively bad redesigns generated so much buzz and excitement that she became TikTok famous almost overnight.

Now she has a following robust enough to showcase her real works and garner more clients and collaborations in the future.

It Does Not Stop with Emily

Another example of how well this strategy works is car enthusiast and TikTok star Jack McNeill. While he did not exactly follow Emily’s virality recipe of showcasing the opposite of what she does best, he was still able to leverage his platform and passion for cars in a hyper-creative way.

Back in January 2021, Jack bought a 2001 Nissan Micra for £300 (or around $500 AUD) with the goal to create The Sh*tbox Series — a TikTok segment where he completely modifies very basic and seemingly “uncool” cars using his TikTok followers’ help.

He asked his followers to comment on what they want to be done (no holds barred, as long as they are within budget) and whoever’s comment garners the most likes gets their wish granted.

This led to a downpour of ridiculous modification suggestions, from naming the car “Boris” to hot pink rims, neon pink underglows, and fluffy pink interiors.

But perhaps the most iconic suggestions of all came from Nascar itself:

Jack McNeill - Collage 1

The final look:

Jack McNeill - collage 2

Jack is still in uni and is not looking for anything serious career-wise right now. At the moment, he spends his free time focusing on what he loves best — only this time, challenging Carwow (a drag race-focussed YouTube channel with over 6 million YouTube subscribers) to a duel.

Initially, he tried reaching out to them via email but did not get a response. So, what did Jack do? He asked his growing number of followers (all 1.2 million of them at the time of this writing) to tag Carwow until they notice.

And notice, they did:

While the infamous Boris is definitely an acquired taste, Jack succeeded in generating the buzz he wanted by leveraging his passions, followers, and skills.

Another example is Andrew Rea, an American filmmaker and host of the YouTube cooking channel Babish Culinary Universe.

Andrew, a.k.a. Babish, has been creating his own waves in his industry by combining his love of film and cooking — all while balancing entertainment and a charming personality with educating viewers. This has earned him over 9 million YouTube followers and over 1.5 million followers across his other platforms.

Andrew stands out from other YouTubers by recreating food (either real or fictional) made famous in movies and television.

One night, while watching the Parks and Recreation episode where Ron and Chris were having a burger cook-off, Andrew thought to himself, What would that actually taste like?

With his camera and lights set up in his kitchen, Andrew decided to recreate the burgers himself while filming. He named his first segment Binging with Babish and the rest is history.

Everything about his start in the YouTube creator world was completely unplanned and experimental. Now, it is his entire brand.

Aware that there can only be so many famous dishes from film and television, Andrew took his channel even further and created new segments, including Basics with Babish (a collection of simple recipes and techniques minus the pop culture references), Botched by Babish (an attempt to redeem himself from cooking blunders in past episodes), and Being with Babish (a sponsored travel show where he visits different people to improve their lives).

All of Andrew’s new segments have something in common: while they do away with the pop culture references that made his channel a household name in the first place, they are all a strategically built showcase of his personality merged with his talent and love for cooking.

And for his fans, that is enough.

With sponsorships from big brands (such as Squarespace) and collaborations with other big names (including Bon Appetit’s Brad Leone and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto), Andrew is staying relevant, tapping into other influencers’ followers, and entertaining his long-time fans all while opening the world of cooking to a much wider audience.

Much like Emily and Jack, Andrew is able to keep his audiences engaged by bridging personal passions and relevant industry skills with pop culture in uniquely fun and creative ways.

How Are These Insights Relevant to Your Business & How Can You Replicate These Internet Stars’ Successes?

Going viral is every content marketer and brand’s dream. Not only does it get your name out into the mainstream’s radar, it also leads to lower advertising costs, faster growth, increased credibility, and rapid lead generation.

As for how you can replicate these Internet stars’ viral status, the short answer is: you can’t. At least, not by following some rigid, timeless, foolproof formula — which does not exist.

What you can do, however, is to customise your own recipe for virality depending on the needs of your brand and the interests of your audience.

There are two types of viral marketing: engineered viral marketing and lucky viral marketing. What we have learned is that in the case of Emily, Jack, and Andrew, it was a mix of both.

By calling out and tagging brands (in Emily’s case), asking followers to contribute (in Jack’s case), and riding on popular cultural references (in Andrew’s case), all three content creators knowingly engineered their rise to viral stardom by tapping into a high-quality resource: an already engaged network of brand and industry enthusiasts.

From there, it was all about building the right kind of content that engages these audiences for both the short- and long-term.

You might be thinking, How do I create the “right kind of content” for my company and my audience? After all, this is the part that is either a hit or a miss and requires a ton of luck and planning.

Here are 3 ways to increase your chances of getting “lucky”, plus examples of how other organisations went about their own recipes for success.

1) Amplify your social listening strategy

Quick and clever thinking, coupled with culturally relevant content, was Andrew’s recipe for success. His recreation of Ron and Chris’ burgers was uploaded at the cusp of Parks and Recreation’s popularity as a TV series.

The last season of Parks and Recreation aired in 2015, while Andrew uploaded his now-viral Binging with Babish video in 2016. This was the perfect timing since both long-time and new fans of the show were seeking relevant content that can help soothe their “Post-Series Depression”.

Riding the high of his first video’s success, Andrew then consistently stuck to more recreation videos — leading to the success that his YouTube channel enjoys today.

In business, a great example of active social listening has to be Oreo’s Daily Twist campaign.

2012 was the year Oreo turned 100 years old. To celebrate, the American cookie brand urged fans and experts alike to give the cookie a different “twist” for every milestone or pop culture event that they could relate to and share their thoughts about.

This went on for 100 days and sparked thousands of conversations and shares as they tackle timely topics, including the celebration of Pride, the landing of the Mars “Curiosity” Rover, and even the ​​premiere of Batman: The Dark Knight Rises.

Oreo - Collage 1

This wildly successful global digital and social media campaign reached millions of fans and allowed Oreo to achieve 110% growth in fan interaction per post just a few months after it launched.

Not only did Andrew and Oreo stay on top of trending topics and leverage current events to produce timely and relevant content, they also did it more efficiently and cost-effectively than anyone else. Add the “delight” factor that each episode and design would bring, and they were able to create a virality recipe worth replicating.

As a business, start by identifying key moments that are important to your demographic, as well as filtering Internet searches that they are deeply interested in. Do not be afraid to create campaigns that are clever, timely, and intriguing.

Each one should make a lasting impression on your audiences in order to stick.

2) Leverage audience interactions

A big part of the content world is saturated with creators who know exactly what they are doing. This is why it is refreshing to see content creators like Jack.

While passionate about modifying cars, Jack is no auto specialist and he knows it. However, he does appreciate that a large part of his community comprises not just fellow car enthusiasts but also mechanics and engineers — people who actually know their stuff.

So, when one commenter pointed out one mistake Jack made, he not only acknowledged the suggestion but also created a new video giving the commenter a shoutout and taking his advice.

This was obviously a great move since it shows just how dedicated he is to his audience as well as how much he values their input. And strategies like this do not go unrewarded.

By listening, acknowledging, and pushing through with follower feedback, Jack has successfully turned his comments section into an idea-generating machine that helps him consistently innovate, refine, and engage.

The results are the same in business. One great example is when Fitbit created one of its most successful features: Reminders to Move — a buzzing reminder that pushes users to take more steps.

Reminders to Move was actually the clever idea of Fitbit’s community members (which they then called Idle Alert).

By listening to customer expertise and opinions as well as following through with their ideas, similar to what Jack did, Fitbit’s online community ballooned further to over 1 million members and over 3 million posts as of today. Their user community also grew to over 20 million people and counting.

Thanks to their move to prioritise customer care and feedback to resolve issues and provide more delightfully targeted features, Fitbit’s impressively customer-centric brand is here to stay.

For your business, a step in the right direction is having a dedicated customer service or marketing team that can hone in on what customers are sharing, liking, and following the most. This can be a big help in making your brand become more attuned to what your market needs in terms of products, services, and even aftercare solutions.

The more helpful and relevant your brand is, the more people start talking about it. And the more your customers talk about your brand, the higher your chances of going viral online.

3) Take aggressive, but strategic risks

Aggressive marketing is a tactic that directly targets potential customers and actively pursues their engagement.

In the days of old, aggressive marketing can mean doing cold calls and handing out flyers on the street. Today, we have the privilege of leveraging social media to make direct contact with clients with just a push of a button — coupled, of course, with the right content.

This is exactly what Emily did. And more.

She was able to catch famous brands’ attention by directly tagging them in her laughably bad redesigns. What happened was an outpour of engagement from her followers that the brands could not ignore.

Brands of today have young, tech-savvy social media managers that are not afraid to throw the brand tone of voice guidebook out the window in order to stay relevant in the online world.

After all, when it comes to start-ups and scale-ups, they often do not have the luxury of waiting for customers to come to them. So, aggressive marketing is the only practical strategy to get a new business off the ground.

Although a non-profit undertaking, one great campaign we can think of is the now infamous Ice Bucket Challenge of 2014. And we all know how that went: to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS for short) and encourage donations to its research,  Pat Quinn and Pete Frates encouraged nominated participants to film themselves having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads and then nominating others to do the same.

Bill Gates - Ice Bucket Challenge

Participants had only 24 hours to meet the challenge or forfeit by making a  financial donation to the ALS Association or to the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Of course, with a very public challenge like that, no one (not even billionaire Bill Gates) could say no — resulting in over $220 million in global donations.

Aggressive strategies have put Emily and ALS on the map. Businesses like yours can follow their lead and benefit from finding creative avenues to showcase products or services, taking strategic risks, and injecting fun and humour in the metric-centred marketing world.

The possibilities can stretch from hosting fun and relevant challenges where you can tag nominees directly to starting a contest on finding unconventional ways that people can use your products.

Once you pinpoint the high-performing tactics that your audiences resonate with best, the only thing left to do is to focus all your resources on that one thing (or several things) and maximise, maximise, maximise.

Any business from any industry has the potential to go viral. While there is no one sole recipe for success (and with luck playing a big part in virality), incorporating some of the techniques and tactics listed in this article can most likely increase your likelihood of success.

As a growth consultancy, the scale-up and marketing specialists at BeingIconic know a thing or two about how to amplify a business’ chances of exploding into mainstream markets.
With clients such as Espresso Displays, we were able to increase their brand awareness and sales up to 1,000%. Partner with us today to know how we can do the same for you.