Viral Video Marketing Disasters: How NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice Failed celebrity apprentice1

Viral videos today are a great opportunity for profitable marketing. Yet so many people in traditional advertising today are missing the point of what makes a viral video successful. ReelSEO's Grant Crowell and Mark Robertson give their review of this past week's episode of "Celebrity Apprentice," which featured a task for both teams to create a viral video for the detergent company, ALL, on their new "small and mighty®" detergent brand. Listen to the special podcast by Grant and Mark on what happens when celebrities and ad agencies attempt to create viral videos, and the mistakes they ALL make when they rely on traditional marketing assumptions about online video success.

Understanding "viral video”

So what do we mean exactly by "viral?" The easiest way to begin is by thinking of its original meaning used in medicine. Viral is something that "spreads and grows." Viral marketing is when other people take your creation and willingly share it with others; it spreads out to a larger audience, and when done right, grows in its reach and influence.

Video content is perhaps the best kind of content to "go viral," for several reasons:

  • Video can bring out a highly-charged response more than text, graphics, or audio alone. Video is ideal for engineering an emotive response from audiences, and done properly, can lead to a desired action by the content owner onto the target markets – be it views and sharing comments, direct response marketing, or building a new online community and customer base.
  • Web browsers, video players and publishing platforms allow for videos to easily "go viral.” They can be shared with others via automated email, or copy-pasting the URL, or embedding right on your own web site – to name just a few common features.

The Celebrity Apprentice assignment – Make ALL® detergent a viral video!

Viral Video Marketing Disasters: How NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice Failed all small mighty

For some background to the unfamiliar, "Celebrity Apprentice" is a popular NBC television reality show on having its series run primetime Sundays. Mind you, these are some decent name celebrities, not the "D-List" group like on VH1 cable. I've watched all of this season's episodes, and  found it very enjoyable to see up close how teams do project management and marketing.

Both teams had a special task this past week which online marketers like myself perked up to. They had to create a viral video for the detergent company, ALL®. The video was to be about ALL's new "Small and Mighty" detergent brand. The objective was which team could better impress the executives of ALL with their submitted video.

Here are the videos submitted by each team...

Team Athena's video

Team Kotu's video

Celebrity teams' mistakes with the viral video assignment

Personally, I fall in the camp of most of the viewing audience and say team Athena's video was more appealing. But if you look it from a purely marketing perspective, both teams did a really lousy job. Simply put, they both missed ALL's demographic (probably much more team Kotu did than Athena.)  Neither video would be something that likely would cater to women nationwide, and across good part of the world, who want to buy detergent.

Ultimately it was the executives who made the decision, and their decision was that they hated both videos.  ALL considers their image to be very "clean" and conservative; not racy or "dirty," like both videos made them out to be. (OK, you might ask... why have mostly-racy celebrities assigned to this project to begin with??)

The executives' complaints about the videos included the following:

  • Team Athena's demeaning of the 'little people," (midgets), and foul language.
  • Team Kotu showing a woman who they considered to be more for soft-core porn (not realistic of a typical mom), using an inside joke about masturbation that would be lost on most of the demographic, and just being overall offensive rather than funny.

Keyword assumptions and viral video

Both teams thought they should go with midgets in their videos, simply because it was one of the most popular keyword searches for videos on YouTube. "We searched the internet for one of the most-used keywords when searching for viral videos, and 'midget' is one of the top 5 words." Said Melissa Rivers.

Experienced online marketers would be able to see what Melissa expressed as the basis for both team's strategy as  common amateur mistake. That is, taking a generally popular keyword and expecting it to apply to everyone, rather than researching what keywords would be most likely to be searched by the target audience. (Not all demographics search the same of course!) Both teams made the mistake of starting with what they perceived as popular online for a general audience, and expecting that to reasonate the same with ALL's own customer base. (This could have been avoided right from the beginning if they only had a Video SEO Celebrity in their team!)

ALSO ►  Viral Video Roundup June 2015: S'more Entertainment All Round

ALL's own "Small and Mighty”  video marketing disaster

What's ironic is despite these assumptions and mistakes, both celebrity teams appeared to have done a better job than what ALL's own creative agency put up on their own microsite and YouTube channel! (And apparently from judging all the comments on the Hulu website and on the YouTube channel, so do the viewers, overwhelmingly.)  Be the judge yourself...

ALL's "Guess that Stain" video

ALL's "Laundry Fairy"

ALL's executives made huge mistakes that conservative companies assume about online video engagement. They seem to think that they key to a successful viral video is to insert celebrities and make it look like cheesy television commercial! This strategy is often done by traditional media agencies attempting online video, and its almost always a complete bomb.

Celebrities can be excused for making the mistakes that they did, especially since they're in the entertainment industry, and will naturally have certain proclivities and expectations. The whole point of this show is putting them in a fish-out-of-water scenario for the audience's entertainment, so for them, all is forgiven. But all is not forgiven of ALL® – ad executives for a major commercial brand like ALL have no such excuse. Having these execs and Donald Trump dictate to the audience what makes for a successful viral video was laughable. Now, if instead it was a team of online marketing specialists as the decision makers (people who should have been the REAL judges), it would have been Trump and the ALL execs who would have been told by them, "YOU'RE Fired!”

Hey NBC, Where's the online marketing people??

In a real-case situation, the creative people would have been shown working with an online marketing consultant. Understanding how it the videos would published and distributed online is crucial to a viral video campaign's success, especially since it has to center ultimately around online activity, yes? We're talking videos, time spent watching the video, number of comments, how often and where its being shared, where its generating "buzz," and even visits to the microsite or other branded websites. A true contest should have been around the metrics at least! But NBC's Celebrity Apprentice didn't go into any of that. Obviously, they have a weekly show to do and people to eliminate, but they misinformed their audience on what makes for a successful viral video campaign. (Boy, wouldn't it be groundbreaking if NBC's reality television show was know for showing, well... reality!)

Tips for making a "marketable" viral video

  • Understand the audience. What is their demographic? What videos are they watching? What keywords are they searching for? What websites do they frequent? What online communities are they participating in?
  • Use humor only when its appropriate. Its actually a lot more effective to express an opinion than try to be funny sometimes. Take Dove's Evolution viral video, which told a great solemn message, but could still inspire others to do their own parodies.
  • Learn from what's already out there on your brand. Perhaps the celebrity apprentices' biggest mistake is that they didn't seem to watch the videos on YouTube already out on the ALL detergent brand, or watch videos of their competitor brands. Seeing what is already successful online is the best type of market research available!
  • Look at other successful product brands. Can't find an online in your industry that moves you? Expand out! For example, I would have suggested that ALL look at  BlendTec (our interview here), a blender company that was hugely successful with viral video marketing on its site.
  • Give an incentive. Its more about expecting a direct response, or expecting your audience to share the video with others. You need to allow yourself to be open to participating in the content creation process as well.  I'm not just talking about comments, I'm taking about encouraging audience members to create video content inspired from your own creation, and giving them an opportunity to feature it on your own video platform. How about a contest for the best user-generated video? Best feedback? Making the original content available and having others do a mashup of it, even? All of these is being actively done by major brands already.

Now I'm not going to stop watching Celebrity Apprentice by any means. Just because they had a colossal screw-up on demonstrating this important online video marketing issue, doesn't mean I can't still enjoy it as a tool for entertainment. Just leave the the really informative and helpful stuff about online marketing to the real professionals – many of whom are highly entertaining enough to warrant their own show. (Perhaps someday soon.)

  • Viral videos

    Viral marketing is not just about creating video for your business or product it is a marketing techniques which uses pre-existing social networks in order to achieve marketing objectives like product sales by self-replicating viral processes.

  • Helga Walter

    May 10, 2009
    I watched the final episode of the Celebrity Apprentice tonight and was very shocked that
    Donald Trump picked Joan Rivers over Ann. After all the bad things that Joan said about
    Ann over the past episodes and then accusing Ann of lying about why the interior designer quit, when Ann spoke the truth. That does it for me, I had been watching all the
    shows before, but this was the last time for me.The way Joan spoke was disgusting and totally unprofessional.( My husband agrees with me.) Shame on you Donald Trump

    • Kira N.

      I totally agree! You, me, and many others are choosing to not watch the show anymore due to Trump's poor decision making. The show would have been such a great finale if the truth was forced upon Joan about how wrong all her accusations were. I wish all her accusations and mean things she has said were tallied up and they ran the video back to show her how wrong she is.

  • Mark R Robertson

    Andy, not sure why but found your comment in SPAM folder.. I took it out and it should be live now.... Hm....

  • Andy G

    I think there is too much focus on HOW and not enough focus on just getting involved with online video marketing. I think a true viral video cannot be forced or made over night. It’s almost like trying to make a square peg go into a round hole….. it either fits or it doesn’t. To sound less cliché, it’s like breaking the balls in a game of pool…..some may go in the pocket and some may not. The success of a video solely depends on how the viewers perceive it and will they want to share it.

    In my opinion viral video is something that happens naturally with some simple guidelines to follow to increase the chances of it becoming viral. If you are engaged in video marketing already, I would recommend you follow the above guidelines in this article to increase the chances of your video going viral.

    Viral Videos are a BIG part of modern digital marketing. For a video to go viral, it must be naturally shared in high volume by others. Viral video must have qualities to attract your audience and have something about it that they would want to share with others. Viral videos don’t always have to be funny. They can be informative, entertaining, controversial, revealing or have any characteristic that people want to see and share.

    With the potential to gain the attention of millions within your market, consider viral video strategy.

    Remember quality and creativity go long way in the online video world!

    Also I would recommend that you get sound advice from a pro like Mark Robertson or Grant if you’re trying to “WING IT” yourself for your employer of business.

    Andy G.

  • Peter Contardo

    Nice post and analysis. I’m actually glad they failed (and knew they would) because it helps kill the “just make it go viral” fantasy that many marketers still believe in when it comes to online video. Even those videos that do reach viral status need to be aligned with some overall business objectives if they are to be judged successful.

    Building buzz and views on somebody else’s site (ala YouTube) is worthless unless it helps connect a business with its audience in a meaningful way that serves their ultimate goal when it comes to their desired customer experience. This is usually best achieved on their own site, using their own Internet TV platform, where they control all aspects of their brand and don’t have to share potential revenue with others.

    • powerstaffing22

      Use humor only when its appropriate. Its actually a lot more effective to express an opinion than try to be funny sometimes and Team Athena’s demeaning of the ‘little people,” (midgets), and foul language

  • Steve Gerard


    You make a good point for companies wanting to pay for a viral video about their product. Although in ALL's case here, the celebs' videos were secondary to the exposure on that episode itself imo.

    - Steve

  • Peter

    The funny thing is, they spent oodles of money to get themselves on Celebrity Apprentice and still couldn't make the video go viral. This is exactly what I tell companies like All in the first place. Don't waste your money on production and distribution. Only work through CPM when dealing with online video producers. There are many producers who have established audiences in the 100K-millions range. A couple videos made by them would have done far better and would have been much cheaper. That is also why I tell people to use Zadby because they take the risk out of online video through a pay-per-performance model.

  • Steve Gerard

    I usually flick back and forth to that show when it airs, but paid particular attention to this viral video episode.

    There's a lot to say about the strange mistakes these celebs made, but the most glaring head shaker is when you consider their demographic for the video is young mothers, and yet when they heard the ALL Detergent catch phrase “small and mighty", they thought about midgets instead of children!

    The only commonality between that demographic and midgets MIGHT be a take off on 'The Wizard of Oz' (LOL), but otherwise something to do with 'small and mighty' children would have been infinitely better.

    I had a great commercial idea formulated in my head within 10 minutes, and was practically pounding my head into the coffee table with frustration throughout most of that episode. :)

    But I agree that it was great to see something about viral video on mainstream TV!

    - Steve