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Embrace the Lemon: Strategies for Helping a Campaign Go Viral

Embrace the LemonViral marketing campaigns have quickly become one of the most simple and cost effective ways to increase brand awareness. But viral methods can be chaotic, and mastering strategies for controlling viral campaigns has become the Holy Grail for marketers. While there is no proven process for viral marketing, there are several strategies that can position your campaign for viral success.

At Worktank, we recently launched a grassroots, viral campaign called Embrace the Lemon. The motivation behind launching it was to inject pragmatic positivity into the world during a time of constant bad news. We wanted to bring out stories about overcoming adversity that would give others hope and ideas about overcoming their own adversity. The strategies we followed can be applied to any viral campaign.

Be relevant:

  • Understand the context and relevancy of your message. Timeliness and emotions—heartstrings or humor—are critical. If the message resonates with your audience, they will be happy to interact and pass it along. We kicked off the campaign with a video called "The Lemon's Lament" to set the context.
  • Know which media appeal to your audience and how they interact with that media. Understanding where your target audience "goes" and the experience they expect there is also critical.

Provide meaningful opportunities to interact:

  • For our Embrace the Lemon launch, street teams took to Seattle streets and handed out 2,500 lemons and 6,000 stickers. A video crew was on hand to tape "Lemons to Lemonade" stories, which were compiled in a video and distributed online.
  • In addition to interaction with street teams, "Lemonheads" were encouraged to interact online through a collection of social-networking sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. At, people shared their personal stories, uploaded photos and videos and interacted with other members of the community who logged on to share their lemons.
  • Within one week, 3,281 unique visitors had visited the site, we had 625 Twitter followers, 581 Facebook fans, and 1,178 YouTube views of "The Lemon's Lament" promotional video.

Be prepared to relinquish control of your message:

  • As viewers interact with your campaign, they will also impact its message. The message will be infectious and evolve.
  • Planning and strategy allow you to create a clear strong message, but once the campaign has been released, it is open to interpretation. Be prepared to enter into the conversation. Many companies sit back and watch, but engaging can produce greater impact.
  • While many companies are hesitant to give up control, it's important to remember that as long as you're honest and transparent, your message likely won't be interpreted negatively.

Always leave them wanting more, and then deliver it:

  • Have a plan for next steps in order to hold the audience's attention.
  • Ride the viral wave as long as you can, and don't wait too long to follow up with your original message. Your audience has a short attention span, and no matter how great your campaign is, people do forget. Don't lose momentum.
  • We released a video shortly after the Embrace the Lemon launch, showcasing the event and stories of people we met who had embraced the lemon.

Embrace the Lemon

All of these components are essential to a viral campaign. But even more importantly, your campaign must start and end with a strong message. After all, it's impossible for a campaign to go viral if its message doesn't resonate with the intended audience.

Read more of Melinda Partin's Work Tank blog

Melinda PartinAs CEO and co-founder of Worktank, Melinda leads the company's strategic direction with the goal of worldwide expansion to better serve our global customer base. Her vision is central to Worktank's mission of helping clients find new and compelling ways to establish meaningful relationships with their customers.

Drawing on over a decade of interactive experience, Melinda helps companies transition from traditional marketing to Web- and interactive-based channels. Her wide-ranging background includes Fortune 500 and small- to mid-sized companies in technology, real estate, corporate housing, and telecommunications, and the non-profit sector in HIV/AIDS and hunger issues. Melinda moved to the agency side after stints with Microsoft Sidewalk and Microsoft Studios, where she pushed the edge of media technology.

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  • Corey Pilkington

    Thank you, Freddy, for the note and your insightful comments. I’d like to share a little more background about the Embrace the Lemon campaign. (I personally play a role on the Embrace the Lemon team at Worktank.)

    A group of us at Worktank were sitting around one day talking about how tired we were of all the negative news while we know that there are still good things happening all around us. So, the Embrace the Lemon campaign was born from our desire to share stories of optimism and to inspire others to take the lemons they are handed in life and make lemonade. The goal of the initiative is to spread optimism. Client-focused campaigns at Worktank are always focused on driving results and measuring success.

    As a company-sponsored initiative, Embrace the Lemon is a little different. We aren’t tracking conversation or click through rates or driving traffic to a particular business goal. Embrace the Lemon is, at its core, a simple, grassroots, community-focused initiative. Worktank employees steal time here and there between client work to spend on our pet project.

    While we are working toward a larger vision of extending the initiative toward helping real people solve real problems, we are primarily a volunteer effort without a budget. Worktank’s leadership has been tremendously supportive and has helped us purchase stickers, t-shirts, posters and lemons. Other than that, we’re just a committed group of optimists volunteering our time and abilities to make a difference in our community.

    While we’re not tracking toward any metrics, we have been able to measure the response rate on a local scale and have been very pleased to date. Keep in mind that Embrace the Lemon is a Seattle-focused venture and our only outreach has occurred locally.

    On launch day, we handed out 6,000 stickers and 2,500 lemons for a total of 8,500 physical impressions. In fact, many people took several stickers; or, a sticker and lemon, so the total number of physical impressions was actually less than 8,500. And, in its first week, had a total of 3,281 unique visitors. Based on 8,500 total physical impressions, this means more than 38 percent (38.6 percent to be exact) of people who experienced the May launch event visited the Web site. While this would be a small number for a national campaign, this is a fantastic conversion rate for a local, grassroots campaign.

    As time allows, we will keep plugging away at spreading optimism. Any thoughts, ideas or support you might be willing to share are always appreciated!

  • Freddy Nager

    I love the "Lemon" message and the street activity! If possible, I'd also love to know the total cost of this campaign, and what the exact goals were (quantitative and qualitative). Was the objective solely to make impressions, or was there some other action involved (like making a donation)?

    In terms of impressions, the numbers are on the low side. Partnering with a prominent YouTube director could have generated those views in a day, and does not cost very much. Putting an ad on a cup of lemonade at a fast-food chain (the zany Hot Dog on a Stick, perhaps) could have generated those impressions in an hour, and the fast food chain might have done it for free. Indeed, this Fast Company write-up (traditional PR) may double the total impressions cited in this article.

    I love viral marketing methods -- and the tactics in this campaign are wonderfully creative and thoughtful. That said, viral methods are usually even more effective as part of a campaign integrating traditional marketing methods, such as collaborations and PR. Harvard Business Review made this point in a short but insightful study (, noting that, "By combining viral-marketing tools with mass marketing, you can extend your reach at minimal cost..."