Nobody knew what Recess was when the CBD seltzer company opened a pop-up shop in the middle of Manhattan. But the Instagrammable retail space, with mirrored walls and neon lights, piqued enough interest that people eventually poured in.
While the rent certainly wasn’t free, the resulting word of mouth and publicity was — which was by design.
“Everything we do at Recess is about generating earned media,” Recess CEO Benjamin Witte told Built In. “The focus has been to create our own content and experiences that are very shareable, and I think that’s what’s driven a lot of our awareness.”
Earned media — the unpaid publicity brands organically get from their promotional efforts — is more cost-effective than paying for advertising, and it helps brands build up their reputation and boost awareness.
But generating it isn’t easy: Brands can’t force journalists to cover them, nor can they compel people to talk about them on social media.
Like Recess, however, brands can take certain actions to help increase their chances of going viral and gaining organic visibility.
The 10 examples below show how it’s done.
Earned Media 101How Earned Media Can Help Brands Drum Up Attention
Oreo Steals the Spotlight With Super Bowl Tweet
When Super Bowl XLVII halted for over half an hour because of the stadium’s power outage, the creative agency working for Oreo published a tweet that read, “You can still dunk in the dark.” It quickly went viral, racking up thousands of social shares and earning coverage in outlets like HuffPost and Wired, which said Oreo “won” the Super Bowl. (Funny enough, the cookie company spent millions of dollars on a TV spot that aired during the big game; but it was the tweet that stole the show.)
Ocean Spray Capitalizes on Viral TikTok Video
Ocean Spray didn’t pay — nor plan — for the viral TikTok video in which Nathan Apodaca sipped from a bottle of Ocean Spray while he rode his skateboard and vibed out to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” But the juice brand did seize the opportunity it was given. It grabbed additional headlines by gifting Apodaca a new truck, as a way to say thanks, and by creating its own viral video in which Ocean Spray’s CEO paid homage to Apodaca’s original TikTok.
Porch Shares Original Research
The home repair company used internal data to figure out which ZIP codes in each state spent the most on home maintenance and what specific repairs were the most expensive. Then it packaged its findings into an infographic and pitched it to publications, positioning it as data that readers would find interesting and useful. Ultimately, the effort earned Porch 188 pieces of coverage, in places like the Washington Post and Reader’s Digest.
Home Depot Sells a Giant Skeleton
Leading up to Halloween 2020, Home Depot created and promoted a new decorative item: a 12-foot-tall skeleton sculpture. Not only did the $300 skeleton quickly sell out, but it also went viral on social media, surged on organic search and was the subject of satirical articles. Plus, Home Depot executives told Insider that last Halloween was “the strongest we’ve ever had,” demonstrating that making highly meme-able items pays off.
Ahrefs Lands Guest Podcast Appearances
Tim Soulo, the CMO of Ahrefs, which makes search engine optimization tools, achieved his 2019 goal of appearing as a guest on 20 podcasts. He wrote on Medium that he did it as an easy way to get brand exposure: The total commitment time is roughly two hours per episode, but “in exchange, you get to put yourself (your ideas, your product, your business) in front of thousands of potential customers.”
Related ReadingShould You Be Pitching Podcasts?
Burger King Likes Old Tweets to Celebrate a Product’s Return
In 2019, Burger King’s Twitter account began furtively “liking” decade-old tweets of various celebrities and influencers. No one knew why. People puzzled over it and speculated about what it meant (resulting in lots of social media engagement). Until finally, Burger King revealed its intentions: “Some things from 2010 are worth revisiting,” the company tweeted. “Like your old tweets, and funnel cake fries. Get them now for a limited time.”
Simulate Sends Limited-Edition Nuggets to a Supermodel
Simulate, maker of plant-based nuggets, sold out of its limited-edition “spicy nuggs” shortly after they went on sale. But when the company noticed supermodel Bella Hadid expressing disappointment for missing out on the sale in its Instagram comments, it quickly sent her boxes of it. Then she made an Instagram story about them — for her 44.4 million followers to see.
MSCHF Drops ‘The Office’ Slack
The Brooklyn-based collective MSCHF, which specializes in making viral products, released for a limited time access to a Slack-channel-based retelling of the television series The Office in its entirety. The gag was covered by Wired, Vice, The Verge, Forbes, AV Club and several other publications, earning MSCHF plenty of attention to harness for other monetizable products down the road.
Steak-umm Writes Deep Tweetstorms
The frozen beef brand rose from obscurity into something of a minor social media celebrity after its Twitter account began waxing philosophical about various cultural issues. Along with increased social engagement and visibility, the company’s sales rose nearly 15 percent the year after social media manager Nathan Allebach took over, and the brand’s social media presence got mentioned by the New York Times.
Hint Water Sends Product to YouTube Influencer
While influencer marketing isn’t the same thing as generating earned media — influencer endorsements cost money, after all — some brands send free products to tastemakers anyway, hoping they’ll give it a review or a shoutout if they like it. That’s what brand advisor and investor Nik Sharma did for his client Hint Water. He sent over a hundred bottles of peach-flavored water to YouTuber Sara Dietschy (he knew she liked to remind viewers her name rhymes with “peachy”), hoping the “absurd” amount of water would get her attention. It worked: “Soon enough, I had every YouTuber, photographer, influencer, and creator in New York and LA drinking Hint,” Sharma wrote.