Grassroots Versus Viral Campaigns: You Never Hope for Viral


“This could go viral.”

Oh the hope for something viral. I’ve heard it. I’ve used it. It’s one of those phrases we really do not mean in the true sense of the word.

“A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms,” according to Wikipedia. If you think about it, a virus is something that will make you sick. A virus causes disease, from something as simple as the common cold to the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

In other words, a virus is not good.

To me, a virus is something that spreads and infects. From a branding standpoint, its infection would make a company sick. Unchecked, it can damage reputations and harm a brand.

Allow me to be clear — the Engagement Effect will still work. People will engage, even with a damaging viral campaign.

For example, the UCLA girl’s whose racist rant spread like wildfire. She didn’t have any corporate resources, of course, to control or contain the damages. The end result meant she’s gone into hiding after withdrawing from school. J.Crew, on the other hand, could withdraw their controversial t-shirt and even blunt the pink-toenails-on-a-boy controversies by offering “no comment” because the company doesn’t see it as controversial.

When companies speak of hoping for a viral campaign, the desire is for a grassroots campaign.

Unlike a viral campaign, which rises from an unintended infection and subsequent sickness, a grassroots campaign is planted. With seed, sunshine, water, fertilizer, pesticides and regular attendance, the grassroots campaign can grow, blossom and fill in. Certainly, without attendance, weeds can come into a grassroots campaign or it can die and bear no fruit.

Still, the effort is to create either a controlled or uncontrolled growth, all depending on what’s planted in the garden.

I’ll be exploring how to best create the best options in a grassroots campaign as well as healing a viral. It all depends on the evolving goals of a marketing effort.

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Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at You can follow him on Twitter at and see more about his professional experience at Reach him via e-mail at

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