E-commerce marketing
E-commerce marketing
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 min read
August 2, 2017

A Lesson in Viral Marketing from the Crazy Fidget Spinner


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The marketers positioned the humble fidget spinner as a tool for children to channel their restless energy. Then the adults wanted it. Now there are millions of videos and searches about it.

This simple rotating bit of plastic is wildly trending, making us beg the question how did this happen and what important marketing lesson can we learn from this.
First let’s take a look at how news cycles turn today, and within that context how the fidget spinner went viral.

Nowadays, news isn’t about which organisation can publish a story within 24 hours and who can do it before someone else gets wind of it. Today the interaction with the readership is very active as opposed to the passive receiving of news of yesteryears! Tweets go out faster than blogs, blogs reach people faster than newspapers. Media in the digital world works at an accelerated rate and contributes to any given event or thing going viral.

Traditional news media and social media fuel and spin off each other. If there is a news article, people are discussing the issue on social media. If there is a new trend, traditional media covers the story, educates people about it and shapes conversations. And this is what has happened with the fidget spinner.

However, the stories alone don’t sustain a viral trend as something needs to feed it to keep the cycle turning – e.g. the interaction with the idea, sharing, commenting etc. Through imitation and replication the behaviour spreads. This interactive means creates the viral loop for the trend. News-jacking (as defined by marketing strategist David Meerman Scott) is the process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.
The practice capitalises on the popularity of a news story to amplify one’s sales and marketing success. A viral loop gets created when an idea provokes a reaction in the person who is exposed to it, they (un)willingly help spread it and expose more people to it. Each new reaction continues to spread the idea, the process repeats and it grows exponentially. A reaction and action to that reaction are crucial in keeping the ball rolling.

So you need to think of ways to keep the conversation flowing. Ways to keep the reactions sparked and passing the flame along. The fidget spinner encouraged this behaviour by:-

  • Tagging friends in FB post comments
  • Sharing thoughts on social media
  • Inveigling creators and publishers to news-jack
  • Using memes as a running joke
  • Getting polarised opinions for the right amount of controversy and spinning discussions off those
  • Offline discussions and word-of-mouth marketing

First off, making something viral means it could either be your original idea, or you can ride the wave of a trend, making use of the opportunity to get pre-created interest in the subject.

Timing is what makes a trend viral. One way to go about it is to look up a topic on Google (because more interest means more searches for it). Reddit is a good platform for exposure and a good start to a viral trend. Watch how people or news organisations engage with it.

Although a trend may die down once the hype subsides, there is an overwhelming demand while it lasts. With the fidget spinner the case differs a little in that the toy is firstly marketed as a stress-buster, a focus channeller, a tool for ADHD kids, and toy! So just think of the numerous markets it is catering to, as well as the many variations being produced – high end titanium, batman logos, with LED lights, or even fitted with Bluetooth speakers! Putting the fad aside, it still is considered a collectible! Many online stores are incorporating them into their product catalogues and even offline stores are displaying them in their windows to ride the crest of this trend.

Content is still king. It is accessible and can be leveraged to reach a wide range of people. It even makes those who don’t actually want it still talk about it.

The fidget spinner folks capitalised on the viral loop by creating a marketing process that evoked a reaction from one person, who then passed it along, who then passed it along… a viral loop could quite simply be an incentive – referral discounts, giveaways etc.

So there you have it – marketing ideas that helped an explosive trend explode! And while trends wax and eventually wane, and they depend a good amount of how people react to the idea, the next time you come up with a great idea, you will understand how trends turn online!

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