Why Content ‘Misdirection’ Can Be A Viral Homerun

Daniel Cristo on
  • Categories: Channel: Content Marketing, Content Marketing, Content Marketing Column, Video, Word Of Mouth Marketing
  • A couple of weeks ago, actor Will Ferrell was interviewed on the “The Tonight Show” to promote his new movie, “Get Hard.” Except Ferrell didn’t really want to talk about the movie. He wanted to chat about Little Debbie snack cakes, and he did it in full Little Debbie makeup and costume.

    This interview was a little weird, even for Will Ferrell. But that weirdness, combined with surprise and humor, transformed a run-of-the-mill contractual movie promotion into a news story worth media coverage.

    It’s a classic case of misdirection — everyone knew Ferrell would come out and talk about his movie, but nobody expected him to be dressed like a little girl and to praise snack cakes.

    Why was he dressed like Little Debbie? Was he really the brand’s new spokesman? Was this a media stunt by the snack cake maker? Why didn’t he want to talk about the film? Where was this interview going to go next?

    The audience was fascinated with trying to figure out what was going on. Even days after the interview, people were still talking about it. And that level of attention drew media coverage from blogs, newspapers and mainstream media outlets.

    In effect, his interview went viral, and with it, his upcoming movie has seen more exposure than the basic “Tonight Show” interview.

    Using Misdirection In Your Search Marketing

    The main goal of content for search marketers is to attract views, links and engagement, and that is sometimes better achieved by not creating content about what you’re trying to sell directly, but instead, by creating something completely unexpected.

    If done properly, this triggers fascination, which helps our content go viral, and viral content indirectly related to our product is often better than invisible content directly related to it.

    How about a brand that wants to sell hotel rooms? You could create a video about hotel rooms, but that’s so 2008. Today’s SEO is about smart content marketing, using advanced tactics like misdirection to grab attention and spark engagement.

    How about you pull a Little Debbie, and instead of creating a video about a room, why not do something funny with sleep deprivation? See how the average person’s day is affected when they don’t sleep for one, two or three days. Maybe track a group of teens’ social activity and see how that changes without sleep.

    It’s not as crazy as dressing a celeb up in a little girl’s dress, but most brands aren’t wired for that level of absurdity anyway. The point isn’t for brands to go Miley Cyrus and shock the world, but rather to simply become more interesting storytellers.

    Making It Last

    Even if the hotel room idea were to go viral, the attention won’t last forever. Something more newsworthy will happen tomorrow, and the viral party will end. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    Part of a great content strategy has to do with taking full advantage of your time to shine. Make sure that anyone who watches your hotel room stunt can easily subscribe to your videos, follow your social profiles, and can get an email next time you send a newsletter.

    These may not be new sales, but they are conversion points nonetheless. You are converting an outsider into a member of your tribe. And once they’re in your tribe, you can use them to help spread your next piece of viral content beyond your previous reach. And there does need to be a next piece of viral content.

    Every celebrity knows that the key to a great career is sustained attention. It’s not enough to be in a good movie or to produce a hit music single. It’s about consistently putting out great stuff year after year.

    In a comedian’s case like Will Ferrell, it’s about staying top of mind through wacky interviews. For fashion appeal brand American Apparel, it’s about constantly putting out provocative photo shoots and advertisements.

    Your brand doesn’t have to be wacky or provocative, but you do need to understand what captures people’s attention.

    In Sally Hogshead’s book, “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation,” she explains how the human mind is designed to focus on a message when certain emotional triggers are activated.

    You can use these emotional triggers to guide content ideas that may not be directly about the product you’re trying to sell, but give people a reason to pay attention to you. In that moment when you have their undivided attention, do everything you can to convert them from onlookers into subscribers.

    Then feed those new subscribers a consistent diet of interesting and share-worthy material until you’ve trained them to open and read every piece of content you send their way.

    It’s only a matter of time before they, or someone they shared you with, decides to learn more about the company and products producing all this great content. It’s at that point where your crazy Little Debbie moment pays off — when a consumer who would have never batted an eye at your brand before decides to try your product for the first time.


    About The Author

    Daniel Cristo
    Daniel Cristo is the director of SEO Innovation at Group M's Catalyst, a thought leader in the organic, paid and social space. Dan has been doing SEO since 2002. An avid programmer and entrepreneur, Dan co-founded Triberr, an Influencer Marketing platform