How do we know if viral marketing is effective?



In 2013, Lufthansa Airlines was in a price war with other airlines on its busiest route – Stockholm to Berlin. To change the dialogue – and shift the focus away from pricing, Lufthansa created a viral promotional campaign challenge called “Are you Klaus-Heidi?” 

Now I must come clean and say that this is one of my favourite campaigns ever – and I’m not sure why.  Maybe the opportunity of a new life for a year in one of the world’s coolest cities is a private fantasy we all share – but in exchange for something so significant as our names, that’s a big ask.  And maybe that it was it became viral.

 It certainly is one of the most successful viral campaigns as measured in exposure.  Without any paid advertising it achieved

  • 42 people legally changed their names to Klaus-Heidi
  • 240 million impressions
  • Covered by major news outlets in over 30 countries
  • Was included in 25% of Lufthansa’s mentions in social media.
  • Main traffic driver to Lufthansa’s website, second to Google.

However, did the success of the campaign change the profitability of the Airline?  It’s true that the campaign did create a strong emotional link between Lufhtansa and Belin but was this strong enough that customers would pay more to fly on the airline?

It’s difficult to say – as price and tickets sold were not supplied as a measure of the success of the campaign.

Certainly, it did change the dialogue.  Lufthansa owned the Belin experience in Sweden in the minds of Swedes (and the rest of the world during this campaign).  But if they were unable to break free from the pricing of their competitors should we as marketers consider it an effective campaign?

Like all things in marketing it depends. 

We don’t know what Lufthansa’s goals were in launching this campaign. 

But as this the busiest and most price competitive market – one can assume that they wanted to move away from price-cutting and start charging more than their competitors and fill more of their seats at higher prices to Belin.

And while Lufthansa may be emotionally linked with Belin in Sweden – does this have any affect to their bottom line?  Does being emotionally linked to a brand guarantee that you’d pay more for it – when essentially its offering is identical to its competitors in the market (transport from Stockholm to Berlin).

If viral campaigns as this one do not have an effect on the bottom line – what value do they have other than entertainment?

If there isn’t an increase in revenue for Lufhtansa (and I’m not saying that it didn’t just that we don’t know) should we consider it a successful campaign?

How should we measure the effectiveness in viral campaigns when they are not directly about making a sale?

Published by cynthiaburgin

Cynthia Burgin a senior marketer with over 15 years experience in marketing and communicatons in Australia and Asia pacific markets. She has Masters of Business (Marketing) and am studying Digital Marketing and Marketing Analytics at RMIT to refresh my skills after an absence from the Industry.

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10 Comments

  1. Hey Cynthia, very interesting campaign. I had never heard of it before, crazy concept though. Yeah i think it would ultimately come down to what they were trying to achieve from running the campaign.
    240 impressions, broadcasted over 30 countries, even if it didn’t have an an immediate impact on the bottom line it would benefit the company in one way or another. Especially from a Brand awareness perspective, a way to measure success for a viral campaign. Even if it’s not about the sale, one way could be being consumer focused. Focusing on the numbers of consumers it has reached or the number of consumers that have engaged with the company in one way or another since the campaign. Things like website searches, social media follows, hashtag numbers.
    Good question, really makes you think!

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    1. If it’s not about capturing a bigger slice of the market, why do it? 6 years post campaign, is it still being talked about or has the campaign become the headline itself such that any halo effect has detached from the brand. Personally I preferred KLM’s ad with the Bengals that returned lost property to passengers.

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  2. Viral campaigning seems to at the very least to spark interest in the brand. Maybe increases sales down the line. Makes the brand seem cool. Perhaps as part of a whole marketing campaign and not alone it would increase sales.

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    1. HI lropes, I agree I think viral campaigns do spark interest in the brand – and this one did a good job at it. I personally think that this campaign would have assisted Lufthansa to not have to compete in a price war – especially on the Stockholm-Berlin route. The point that I wanted to make was that the airline had a problem – a price war on it’s busiest route – they ran a very successful viral marketing campaign to change the dialogue. But in presenting the results of the campaign they didn’t tie it back to the original problem – the price competition.

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  3. Interesting one Cynthia. I think I’d say this campaign would be semi-successful despite it not really returning on investment as yet. It going viral has left a mark on a lot of people out there, they’re now aware of the brand and what they offer – what Luthansa need to do right now is back up that campaign with another campaign to generate revenue/sales. They’ve done the first bit, expose the brand name, introduce themselves to the travellers out there, but now how are they going to back that up? What can they offer consumers where it will make them give Luthansa a try over giants like Etihad, Emirates and Qatar! They got the traffic and exposure as they wanted, as I said it’s a successful campaign because it went viral but it’s about acting now and seeing what could they do for those millions of people who engaged in their campaign and were entertained from it.

    Maybe launch another campaign and re-target the ones who have engaged with their content and try to suck them into flying with Luthansa with a cheeky promotion/offer?

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    1. I think that the campaign was successful in that it got people thinking about the airline in a different way – and it avoided price based advertising – which it seemed was a problem for them at that time. I would make the assumption that the benefit that the promotion had on the brand probably did trickle down to improved revenues and profits. In my blog I was trying to make the point- that even if you have a great viral marketing campaign – measuring clicks and likes should not be the key focus of campaigns – brand building or selling should be objectives and therefore included in the effectiveness measures at the end of the day.

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  4. Great question Cynthia. Aside from generating revenue, I presume that brand awareness and consumer engagement would be the primary objective of this viral campaign. In terms of measurability, I think the 240 million impressions and broadcast coverage in over 30 countries speaks for itself. Although you could call this campaign a success, I personally don’t believe this campaign increased the perceived value of their service enough to justify any increase in flight prices. I’m very interested to know whether this campaign generated any return on investment in the way of repeat purchase and customer loyalty.

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  5. Hey Cynthia, I didn’t know about that campaign and i think it depends what the company was trying to achieve, brand awareness, brand image, sales, profit, we don’t know but because it doesn’t involve money, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t successful I think. I think depending what they were trying to achieve it can be either easier or not to measure the effectiveness of the campaign as you said they weren’t judging related to the tickets sold so its hard too say and hard to measure brand image reposition or consumer perception.

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    1. Aurelie – Lufthansa didn’t spend media money – but they did pay an agency to develop the campaign, and of course the cost of the prize – one year in Berlin is a cost to them as well. The point I was trying to make – was that companies should set some parameters on what they consider their goal with a campaign – and that way they can measure whether it was successful against those parameters. The Lufthansa campaign gained a lot of free media attention – in that I’d say it was successful – but if at the end of the day there isn’t an effect on reveunes and profit – then what is the point of all the “likes” and “shares” and global media attention?

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