After his truck broke down, Idaho resident Nathan Apodaca created the feel-good viral social media sensation of 2020 when he hopped on his skateboard and cruised to work while sipping on a bottle of Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry and listening to Fleetwood Mac’s hit “Dreams.” He captivated millions of viewers when he captured the moment in a video posted on TikTok under the heading “Morning Vibe.”

For TikTok, Ocean Spray and Fleetwood Mac, the viral hit is making its way to their bottom line, driving “Dreams” to surge up the Billboard’s most downloaded music charts more than 40 years after its original release. Ocean Spray CEO Tom Hayes suggests that he expects to see a large bump in Cran-Raspberry sales thanks to the 15 billion media impressions the phenomenon created for the company by mid-October. On TikTok, the video is driving hundreds of millions of views of the original and tribute videos.

Each of the three brands reacted quickly to catch the tailwind created by Apodaca’s “Morning Vibe.” Fleetwood Mac original band members Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham all created tribute videos. Ocean Spray’s Hayes added his own tribute video to TikTok, while the company also gifted Apodaca a new cranberry-colored truck full of Cran-Raspberry as a replacement for the broken-down vehicle that started it all. And TikTok turned Apodaca’s video and tribute videos from celebrities and regular users alike into a national ad campaign that aired during the NBA Finals.

While such responses to ride the coattails of a viral hit seem intuitive, University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Kimberly Whitler says managers for traditional multinational brands have been more likely to miss the boat on these kinds of opportunities.

It’s no surprise, she says, that the three brands involved are a Chinese media giant (TikTok), a comparatively small farmer-owned cooperative (Ocean Spray) and a group of entertainers.

In “What Western Marketers Can Learn From China” in the May-June 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review, Whitler explained that Western executives of multinational brands have tend to use traditional media and ad strategies, based on marketing theories and practices created largely in the West. This often leads to marketing campaigns that require months of planning, consulting with ad agencies, content creation and carefully allocating money across platforms.

On the other hand, a rising generation of Chinese marketers are devising a faster, cheaper and often more effective marketing game plan that embraces more risk, relies on shareable, viral content and taps into the power of dominant, channel-crossing media giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

In the HBR piece, Whitler argued that she hoped Western marketers would not only learn to apply those approaches in global markets like China, but bring them home to domestic markets like the U.S., too.

Whitler said TikTok’s ability to capitalize on its latest viral hit is a perfect example of a Chinese firm taking this uniquely Chinese marketing approach. She notes that entertainers have long kept their finger on the pulse of what is popular with fans. And she believes Ocean Spray’s small size likely contributed to its marketing team’s ability to be nimble and keep the feel-good nature of the story going with its gift to Apodaca.

The marketing response to the viral success of “Morning Vibe” is a case in point demonstrating many of the ways she recommends Western companies should change their marketing approach:

  • Go all-in on a social, viral approach: Chinese marketers believe that viral sharing of socially engaging content is typically faster and cheaper and often yields better results than advertising. How many U.S. CEOs leverage and accelerate social sharing? Hayes’ tribute video has been viewed almost 3.5 million times, and videos of Apodaca drinking bottles of Cran-Raspberry the company gifted to him have been viewed tens of millions of times.
  • Move from promotions to content-based engagement: Engagement-based approaches encourage consumers to make purchases based on real, in-situation connection and relevance, not on an advertising-based “push” message from companies. Brands that focus on identifying and leveraging pockets of deep engagement can benefit. The sales jumps for Fleetwood Mac album and song downloads as well as Ocean Spray products speak for themselves.
  • Adopt a mobile-first mindset: Ocean Spray’s Hayes joined TikTok just to post his “Morning Vibe” tribute video, as did Mick Fleetwood, the first of the Fleetwood Mac bandmates to join the tribute bandwagon. Whitler advises marketers to begin creating experiences that think mobile first.
  • Question the value of planning versus speed: When economies of scale, efficiency and risk management take precedence for marketers, the result is bureaucratic, process-heavy planning that sacrifices the agility and risk-taking necessary to catch a viral wave.

Under the Hood of Ocean Spray’s New Truck Gift

An Ocean Spray manager shared the company’s play by play from the moment the marketing team learned about Apodaca’s video to the decision to give him a new truck to replace his old one.

The company has an internal team and an agency to track social media mentions and trends, but the video was shared with a member of the communications team very early, which allowed them to track it as its views and popularity continued to grow. The decision to give Apodaca the truck happened quickly.

“We saw an opportunity to improve Nathan’s quality of life,” the manager said. “We felt that this was an authentic way to lend a hand and help a friend of the brand.”

Whitler says Ocean Spray’s response provides two additional valuable lessons:

  • The company has created a structure to identify socially viral content and an environment to leverage it.
  • The decision to “lend a hand” to a brand advocate is a great example of delivering on a brand strategy.
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About the Expert

Kimberly A. Whitler

Frank M. Sands Sr. Associate Professor of Business Administration

Whitler is an authority on marketing, with expertise in marketing strategy, brand management, and marketing performance. Her research centers on understanding how a firm’s marketing performance is affected by its C-suite and board.

A prolific writer as well as researcher, Whitler has authored nearly 100 articles related to C-level marketing management challenges and is a contributor for Forbes and Social Media Marketing Magazine named her one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter.

Whitler has held leadership roles, including GM and CMO positions, within the consumer packaged goods and retailing industries, including Procter & Gamble, David’s Bridal and PetSmart. She has helped build $1B+ brands, including Tide, Bounce, Downy and Zest.

B.A., Eureka College; MBA, University of Arizona Eller School of Business; M.S., Ph.D., Indiana University Kelley School of Business