The Extreme Danger With Viral Marketing You Must Avoid


By John Kultgen

Let me tell you about the latest "viral trend" and why most brands should stay out of it. If you haven’t heard, #AlexFromTarget is a meme that has turned very controversial. I've chosen not to use an unapproved picture of a minor in this post, but here’s the story:

What is #AlexFromTarget?

  1. Two girls in Texas thought a boy named Alex, who works at Target, was cute. Eventually, one of them snapped a picture of their crush at checkout.
  2. The boy’s image went mildly viral, appearing on Tumblr.
  3. A user in London with the Twitter handle @auscalum (and with 20,000 followers) found the pic and tweeted it with a simple word accompanying it: "YOOOOOOOOOO."
  4. The meme turned majorly viral. People started using the hashtag #AlexFromTarget.
  5. Alex now has his 15 minutes of fame, including going on Ellen’s talk show.

Why was it popular?

  1. Alex looks like the types of social media stars teen girls love (Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier, and Shawn Mendes, to name a few).
  2. Influencers  find popular content before the mainstream does. The right people found this picture and promoted it. It was an effort from many people, not one person (or one company).

Why is it controversial? Breakr, a company that “connects fans to their fandom,” claims that the UK girl was its“influencer.” Basically, the CEO claimed the agency planted the story.

In an effort to keep up in the fast-paced world of today’s journalism, some media outlets, namely CNET, ran the story with a mild disclaimer that Breakr “claimed” it did this, choosing to publish a story before knowing more about the situation.

Weighing speed over deep investigation proved discrediting, as @auscalum and Alex himself have both publicly denied any involvement with Breakr.

Now, Breakr has modified its claim and said that the company was merely part of the event. The CEO claims Breakr promoted the hashtag #alexfromtarget and attribute success to that promotion.

What can brands learn?

  1. Virality is unpredictable. However, you can find things that are already popular on Tumblr, Reddit, and other networks and make them more popular with your influence.
  2. If a company is involved, it needs to be upfront about it. When it was first revealed that Breakr “planted” the virality, many #AlexfromTarget fans took to Twitter to express their immense disappointment.

Ultimately, stop saying you want to create something “viral.” Instead, focus on creating content that your fans will care about.