How To Fail At Viral Marketing: The Case of Liquid Mountaineering

by on Oct.27, 2010, under general

This is a story of a company which created an absolutely terrific viral marketing campaign, only to squander it horribly before they could even capitalize on it.

Meet Ulf, and his liquid mountaineers:


This video is beautiful. It is indistinguishable from the hundreds of thousands of amateur extreme sports films out there – vaguely European men, beautiful exotic locations, some amazing and unimaginable feat of feet. It’s ridiculous enough to make you want to try it, but not so ridiculous that you lose the thread of belief that it might be real.

Of course, a bit of Googling reveals this:

In which the creators of the video – a shoe-manufacturing company – reveals that the whole thing was a big stunt to market their shoes.

Now, the first video achieved this goal almost perfectly. It doesn’t come across like a shoe commercial. They only briefly mention the shoes, and the fact that they are wearing company jackets and hats is hardly noticeable (and wouldn’t be weird, because that’s par for the course when it comes to extreme sports partnership deals).

Had Hi-Tec (the company behind all this) simply left up the original video and, in the description section, posted something along the lines of

Update!! If you want to try this on your own here are the shoes we use:

Those sales would’ve gone through the roof.

Instead, Hi-Tec released the explanation video. And it is terrible.

Mostly, it is terrible because no one is going to buy their shoes just because they liked the first video and thought “o HO!! that was clever.” And it’s not clear why they released the video. It certainly isn’t prominently linked on the first one, which would seem like a prerequisite if you were concerned about lawsuits and so forth.

But it’s also terrible because of the way they do it. In the “Making Of” video, Hi-Tec explicitly, if gently, mocks the idea that its viewers wanted to believe in something beautiful and amazing, which is why the video was so powerful. And you don’t win customers to your side by making them feel gullible, or by forthrightly revealing them to be targets of your conscious gamesmanship and trickery.

Their press release is more or less the same thing.

I don’t write a lot about branding / advertising / etc here, because my primary interest in social media is scholarly, social, and critical in the academic sense of the term.

But I also do social media (broadly) for a living, and also did brand evangelism for Apple before my current gig. So this whole mishap was almost physically painful for me.

I can almost guarantee that this was a failure for Hi-Tec. They got millions of YouTube views, yeah – but it would shock me if their sales went up after they ‘came clean.’

So if you measure success by generated buzz – it was terrific.

If you measure success by generated sales – I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts it was a miserable failure.

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