Two brands that went viral on TikTok and spent nothing

Two influencers dance in front of a cell phone on a tripod

It’s hard to plan for virality. Yet, it is the thing that every content creator – and brand – chase. The viral moment that skyrockets them to consumer relevance, sales and success.

When I was little, I staged a video for America’s Funniest Home videos, where on a snow day, my best friend, her little brother, and I stood on the same sled at the top of a hill in her backyard. Video camera rolling, we shoved ourselves down the hill and purposefully wiped out for the camera. We wanted to make it big and win the prize money.

Spoiler alert: our video was not selected.

Besides being absolutely not funny, the video was not authentic. We were trying too hard.

The same goes for TikTok (and really any social media platform). Personalities and brands that go viral on the addictive, endlessly scrolling, video app are rarely trying to go viral.

When TikTok rolled out its brand-facing ad platform, it ironically led with the catchphrase “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks.” The folks behind TikTok wanted to keep TikTok feeling authentic. It is a platform to entertain and be entertained, not to sell, but even if you’re selling, it best be entertaining.

Since its inception, some of the biggest brands have gone viral on TikTok thanks to the hands of other content creators, where the brands had nothing to do with their success. Here are two of my favorite examples.

Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice skates to insane relevance

In September 2020, TikTok user and potato farmer Nathan Apodaca shared a video of himself skateboarding to work, sipping out of a jug of Ocean Spray cranberry, with the tune “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac playing in the background.

To date, the seemingly unassuming video has amassed over 80 million views.

Overnight, Ocean Spray saw an unprecedented spike in impressions. For free. To ride the wave of virality and to thank Apodacoa, the brand gifted him a brand new 2020 Nissan Titan, cranberry-red, of course. Dreams by Fleetwood Mac skyrocketed to number one on iTunes a whopping forty-four years after its original release date.

Gorilla Glue worked way too well for this poor woman

Similarly, but in a slightly more horrific way, in February 2021, Gorilla Glue happened upon its own viral moment, all thanks to TikTok user Vanessa Brown.

When Brown realized she was out of her usual hair spray, she decided to employ Gorilla Glue’s adhesive spray to be its replacement. Her TikTok detailing her mishap while tapping on her rock-hard, helmet of hair went viral. Unplanned, Gorilla Glue found itself thrust alongside her virality.

Looking at Google Trends during the time, we see Gorilla Glue jump to peak popularity and remain at heightened popularity for a month.

Readers on the edge of their seats, rest assured, Brown is no longer in pain. Seeing the desperation video, a viewer connected Brown to a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon who performed surgery to remove the glue, free of charge.

Ocean Spray couldn’t have known that skateboarding in the road to Fleetwood Mac would be the ticket to a resurgence in business. Gorilla Glue would have gotten in a mighty fine lawsuit if it had encouraged its Junior Social Media manager to test out its hair spray effectiveness.

The first lesson in these two stories is that TikTok values creators, not brands. To be successful and have the chance at viraltiy, brands have to take off their marketing hats and put on the content creator hats. Creators who churn out regular, authentic engaging content are more likely to find success than brands that are overly salesy or trite.

Secondly, TikTok is unpredictable. The algorithm is a tricky bird. A creator can come up with an idea they think people are going to love, and it will get 200 views. They may throw something up there for the sake of post consistency and it hits a million views.

If you’re liking what you’re reading, make sure to tune in to Episode 3 of the Teaming Up podcast. Paulyn Ocampo and I will talk all about TikTok, whether it’s right for brands and what makes good, genuine content.

But the big takeaway here? It’s hard to predict virality. A lesson I learned early on when I didn’t get that lucrative $100K payout from America’s Funniest Home Videos.

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Aidan Newbold

In both her professional and personal life, Aidan is a storyteller and makes it known in her writing, strategic thinking and creativity. Aidan’s experience at Hodges ranges from engaging NASCAR fans through a social media campaign to writing regular content for Swedish Match’s Umgås Magazine, to pitching media for Richmond Region Tourism and planning press and influencer events.

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