The buf­faloes on King Street and the se­cret to vi­ral mar­ket­ing

“Sweetie, you know how we were film­ing the TV ad with the buf­faloes to­day? Well, they broke loose and caused havoc on King St in New­town.”

Business First - - CONTENTS - by Ni­cole Smith

This phone call from my hus­band her­alded a text book ex­am­ple of vi­ral mar­ket­ing and a story that would have people laugh­ing for days. My hus­band Chris, who owns a film lo­ca­tions busi­ness, was work­ing on a South Korean TV commercial for a new mo­bile phone. The shoot had an ar­ray of crazy el­e­ments in­clud­ing gi­ant ten­pin bowl­ing pins, balls drop­ping from the sky and, to top it off, a cou­ple of wa­ter buf­faloes.

As a lo­ca­tions scout and man­ager, one of Chris’ roles is to deliver the im­pos­si­ble. The cre­ative team wanted two wa­ter buf­faloes graz­ing in Syd­ney Park. Chris’ job was to demon­strate that the an­i­mals were tame, would be teth­ered at all times, and there­fore ob­tain the ap­pro­pri­ate ap­provals from coun­cil and the po­lice.

The big day ar­rived. All was go­ing well un­til one buf­falo was spooked and broke free from its rope. The Korean crew, un­ac­cus­tomed to a roam­ing buf­falo on the streets of Seoul, headed for the trees. The other buf­falo soon es­caped from its con­fines too.

In their col­lec­tive buf­falo wis­dom, the great beasts de­cided that the park wasn’t much fun and that the Princes High­way looked a far more de­sir­able place, so they headed off for New­town.

The Aus­tralian crew chan­nelled their in­ner Crocodile Dun­dees, and fran­ti­cally at­tempted to herd them back to their en­clo­sure, but to no avail – they were de­ter­mined to have their 15 sec­onds of fame.

As the two lol­lop­ing crea­tures crossed the high­way, mirac­u­lously avoid­ing trucks and cars, Chris re­alised he had no choice. The emer­gency ser­vices was called.

It was then that the story broke. Twit­ter feeds shared the sur­pris­ing sight. Video footage was up­loaded. People called to share the story on talk back ra­dio. The story took on a life of its own. Within a mat­ter of hours, the ram­pag­ing wa­ter buf­falo story had hit ev­ery ma­jor news­pa­per, ra­dio sta­tion, TV net­work and so­cial me­dia site in the coun­try. What’s more, the story went global – be­cause in so many ways this was the per­fect story.

So, what made this such a per­fect story, and what does it say about the machi­na­tions of con­tem­po­rary me­dia? Here are the key el­e­ments: 1. Shock value: People every­where did a ‘dou­ble take’. The train of thought ran from “Did I just see two buf­faloes?” to “This must be a set-up”, to “There are ac­tu­ally two buf­faloes on King Street! I have footage to prove it.” 2. Lo­ca­tion: The denizens of Dou­ble Bay would have been less than amused by the in­ter­lop­ers, but on the colourful, crazy streets of New­town, where any­thing goes, the in­tro­duc­tion of two buf­faloes is in­her­ently funny. As one talk­back caller put it “I thought ‘Oh my God, there are two buf­falo’ … and then I thought, ‘ah well, it is New­town’.” 3. Near calamity: Be un­der no il­lu­sions, this story could have ended dis­as­trously. And yet, it was this knifeedge bal­ance with dan­ger that added some­thing spe­cial that made it per­fect for so­cial me­dia. 4. Drama: Con­tribut­ing to the high drama was the crew, hurtling along on a quad bike be­hind the buf­falo, yelling for people to get out of the way. 5. Crowds of people with mo­bile phones: 10am on a week­day is a busy time on King Street. The buf­faloes’ two-kilo­me­tre run pro­vided max­i­mum ex­po­sure for people want­ing to catch them on film. It also en­abled the story to be bro­ken by the gen­eral pub­lic. 6. He­roes save the day: Ev­ery­one loves ‘firies’, and the New­town Fire Bri­gade just hap­pened to be in the right place at right time. They helped the crew to cor­ral the buf­faloes into one lady’s front yard. 7. Aussie sense of hu­mour: There was some­thing about this story that ap­pealed to the slightly rugged, wild sense of Aus­tralians. While the Kore­ans felt a dev­as­tat­ing loss of face, the Aussies could see the funny side. 8. Clas­sic one lin­ers: The story spawned all man­ner of clas­sic one lin­ers, from the firey say­ing “I’ve seen a lot of bull in my time here, but never any­thing like this”, the lady who, in­dig­nant at the dam­age to her front yard, com­plained that “they’ve ru­ined my aza­leas”. 9. On­go­ing hu­mour: The au­thor­i­ties were philo­soph­i­cal, un­der­stand­ing that no one in­tended for the buf­faloes to get loose. It was just an­other re­in­force­ment of the old adage ‘never work with chil­dren and an­i­mals’. A week later, the New­town Fire Bri­gade posted a sign out­side the sta­tion: ‘Num­ber of days with­out Buf­falo In­ci­dent: 6’. This spurred on an­other flurry of so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity.

So what’s the les­son in this story?

My hus­band’s les­son was ob­vi­ous. He promised the au­thor­i­ties to ‘never work with buf­falo again’.

For me, as a mar­keter, it crys­talised the essence of the per­fect story, and re­in­forced just how hard it is to fake it.

In or­der to make a good story, you have to be au­then­tic. Ni­cole Smith has spent nearly two decades help­ing pro­fes­sional ser­vices firms to grow their businesses. A strate­gic mar­ket­ing ex­pert, Ni­cole es­tab­lished the Tin Shed mar­ket­ing co-op in 2010. See: www.tin­shed.co

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