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45 minutes after Jollibee posted its first Facebook pre-Valentine video called ‘Vow’, I quickly shared it on my wall.  While praising the piece and claiming it’s personal relevance, I did it voluntarily, asked others to watch and even tagged my own best friend to it.  Few hours later, millions did the same.  A day after, it’s considered the new marketing phenomenon.

How and why?  What triggered netizens to make the branded organic post go viral and create conversations that further amplified it?  What are the new marketing lessons to be learned?  Here are my thoughts.

1. Tell the same story using a different storyteller.  If it were done in the 90s, the bride or the groom will be the storyteller, not the best friend.  And if so, the ending will be your cliché ‘and they lived happily ever after’.  Jollibee made a kill on this piece by letting the supporting character take center stage.  It also chose an unconventional setting to dramatize ‘real lasting friendship’ – instead of the typical ‘friends growing old together’ scene, it chose a surprising ‘heartbreaking sacrifice’ scenario that can’t be easily undone.

2. Play with emotions smartly.  Admit it or not, we are an emotional bunch.  When hurt, we find refuge through dramatic means and even make ourselves suffer by drowning our pain through movies, songs and books.  Jollibee leveraged this insight fairly well – use a story everyone can relate to, connect it with the brand’s value of celebrating different kinds of love, use ‘hugot’ as an executional angle, add an unexpected twist and launch it close to Valentine’s Day, an occasion patronized by the sentimental nation.

3. Let your brand’s equity, tone and look & feel evolve.  Truth be told, I’m Jollibee’s loyal follower as I was once its Brand Manager.  I’ve seen how it evolved, kept up with the times and adapted to new trends.  A decade ago, its TVC mandatory was to showcase how happiness can be magnified and portrayed to make viewers feel good.  Fast forward to now, the brand is fearless in potentially alienating its fans by showing the opposite – showcase vulnerability and pain for another’s happiness and shift from fun and bubbly to a slow and depressing tonality.  Only an industry leader would have the courage to gamble on this change and Jollibee did it.

4. Stellar acting pays off.  This material proved that just pretty faces will no longer make the cut, but real good acting is required to convince viewers to believe and share empathy.  The tension, subtlety and intricacies of the unknown actors’ performance on the church scene made every bit credible and the twist, truly heartbreaking.  The film director did an immaculate job in motivating his lead actor to cry without letting any tear fall, which in turn gave us that lump on our throats, pushing us to love and share it in our FB walls.

5.  Shorter duration is always better – not really.  The social media audience encounters countless types of content daily.  Producing videos that will have that ‘thumb stopping power’ is the new marketing challenge.  Over the last few years, the 30 to 60 seconds rule lorded and shorter formats were considered more efficient especially for paid posts.  Jollibee’s ‘Vow’ was over 2 minutes and it’s gone viral organically.  95% of the content was the build up and the remaining 5% was the punchline, copy and branding.  Hence, there’s no blanket rule to an effective video length if your content, context and channel are powerful and compelling.

6.  Every word matters.  Copywriting is the most underrated job in commercial production.  As viewers are generally more visual, we tend to give lesser importance to words, tone and story construction.  Jollibee recognized how critical copy development is for this material.  Watch the video again and observe how the storyline was carefully crafted and every word used from start to finish was well thought through resulting to a seamless delivery.  To seal the deal, the air tight copy on the last two frames verbalized its impeccable messaging – real, succinct, provocative.  For a ‘copy geek’, it’s orgasmic!

7.  Subtle branding signifies marketing courage and maturity.  Imagine running this in the 80s – the ad will be peppered with in-your-face product shots, cheeky consumption expressions, overly theatrical acting, brand logos from start to finish and a catchy upbeat jingle.  Unlike Western advertising where brands are braver by revealing their logo only at the last frame, progression in Asia is happening but in a slower pace.  Letting go of the tried and tested content formula is hard for most brands.  Yet, Jollibee proved that subtle physical product integration can be done effectively and with class.

8. Drop elements that will tease and spark controversies.  It’s amazing how memes and tweets relating to ‘Vow’ flourished like wildfire.  From ‘there’ll be a part 2’, to ‘they guy best friend’s gay that’s why they didn’t end up together’, to ‘he’s been friend-zoned at the outset and he just didn’t know’ to ‘the two fastfood crew should mind their own business’ and a whole lot more.  Intentional or not, keeping the film’s elements open to interpretation and questions paved the way for talk value.  Again, Jollibee got lucky here – its material had a natural social currency that led to tons of free publicity and overt amplification.

9. Sell feelings, not products.  ‘Relate much’, ‘that’s me’, ‘I feel for him’ – when these are the verbatim statements of viewers about your campaign, half of the job’s done.  Strong relevance is no longer just tapping into a real insight, but seamlessly dramatizing it and letting the audience see how they are portrayed – good or bad, it’s fine if it’s real and about them.  The market today’s very smart especially when you’re doing a hard sell.  Jollibee smoothly sold us its story since it didn’t use products, instead it pounded on a feeling that’s close to home.

10. Trust your gut feel and follow your heart.  As marketers, we tend to over analyze and intellectualize our campaign tactics.  True, in the digital age, almost everything can have KPIs and become measurable.  Plus, marketing entails huge amounts of investment that our business recommendations and decisions should be sound.  Yet, we sometimes need to throw the rulebook out the window and just re-learn to ‘feel’.  For sure, Jollibee’s internal stakeholders had mixed opinions about ‘Vow’, but their team and agency partners took the risk, trusted their gut, followed their hearts and pressed the launch button. Then suddenly, there’s magic.

Valentine or love marketing is one of the toughest campaigns to crack – but definitely not impossible.

Let Jollibee’s unconventional approach instill great lessons for us marketers as we aspire to develop our next marketing phenomenon.  Will it be for your brand next time?

Thoughts?  Leave a comment.