You’ve Heard of Viral Marketing: What about Virus Marketing?

April 9, 2020

By Paul P. Robinson

In pre-COVID-19 days (seems like so long ago!) brands were increasingly adopting and investing in their content marketing strategies. With the crushing blow of this pandemic, we’ve all been faced with how to balance the day-to-day realities of managing our brands and our livelihoods, with the need to be sensitive to the more crushing realities our friends, colleagues and global neighbors are facing that dwarf the relative importance of business as usual.

One of the core tenets and beliefs of the great storyteller brands who’ve dedicated their resources to stellar content marketing has always been to be selfless, humble and respectful. While often integrated into activations that span other brand activation pillars — or at least are designed to work in tandem with them — the effort now has been to really leverage content marketing to create effective “virus marketing” efforts.

One of the most prevalent examples of the tectonic shift that has occurred is evidenced by the now prevalent use of webinars, virtual conferences and online experiences replacing anything that required travel, gatherings of more than 10 people or really anything that violated the spirit and reality of the newly placed requirements of social distancing.

The most obvious area where this is evident is the explosion of COVID-19-specific content. One such example is the ANA itself, which has added numerous resources for marketers to utilize to battle through this time.

With the option of cancelling, postponing or going virtual, many large, revenue-generating events have removed the barriers to provide content openly including The Adobe Summit, Social Media Week and many others.

But beyond this immediate transition, other brands are leading the charge by forging new efforts that can help fill the void and tap into our natural human need for belonging (thanks Maslow) in order to feel connected while we are #AloneTogether.

Some of the best examples include:

  • Spartan Race, the participatory endurance and obstacle course races for everyone, pivoted in delivering on their brand values of fitness, health and community by quickly launching Unbreakable TV so their fans can “train, eat and think like a Spartan.” This streaming platform provides access to workouts, health tips, motivation and socially distancing acceptable exercises, and was turned around quickly to launch in March.
  • McCormick & Co., the spice and cooking company, shifted quickly from brand building media to cooking content, along with a Spotify channel, to help build confidence, variety and flavor in the kitchen as there is more cooking at home during the crisis.
  • Crayola crated an in-home creative studio for parents and children to keep entertained, and featured interactive arts and crafts classes, sing-alongs, and DIY projects live on Facebook and their Crayola studio.
  • Without the opportunity to promote their upcoming NFL Draft parties, and create a live community of normally rabid 49er fans, the San Francisco 49ers have doubled down on their creation of content-based communities that tie into the love for the game and team the fans love.
  • Six Flags and Atari have teamed up to develop an app that brings the screaming terror of a roller coaster to you — with an app where you create the fun on your couch.
  • Hasbro quickly created a way to “Bring Home The Fun” to help manage stress and enjoy our family nesting time — while being true to their core values and personality.

One thing that is clear in these efforts, as in so many others, is that while the market is reacting with speed, there is no compromise on the value-added nature and authenticity of these efforts — in fact quite the contrary. As Chris Vitti, SVP of Marketing for Knotch, a Content Marketing Intelligence Platform noted, “brands that we work with are moving all or part of their events budget to digital, and in most cases digital content specifically.” This is creating a huge influx of content. With an increase in quantity, there's a risk of compromised quality but he says brands are measuring to ensure they aren’t “tone-deaf during this crisis” and that “understanding the true impact of content, and if it did its job, is critical right now.”

It is impressive to see how this innovation is happening throughout the marketing world with such speed and agility. Never truer than today, these Content Marketing values have been demonstrated and shared by so many great brands as we’ve joined hands, — once washed of course — in this #AloneTogether world we’re living in. Stay safe and remain healthy!

For more information on the ANA’s thought leadership, content, conferences, committees on content marketing, please email

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