Your Business Courts Disaster By Following The Ellen DeGeneres Selfie Model

Ellen DeGeneres TweetEllen DeGeneres’ Twitter-busting Oscars “selfie” still has the world aflutter, with social media continuing to buzz about the interplanetary tweet. Many fans and followers marvel at the “smart move” by Samsung, a brand seen as nipping at the heels of Apple, cutting into sales of the vaunted iPhone with its Galaxy lineup. And with all of the attention given to the tweet, once again the doors have flung open to the “viral” debate, with companies large and small clamoring to find their lightning in a bottle.

Let’s put the kibosh on that thought.

I’m not old enough to be a curmudgeon, but my message to clients asking for help with an “idea that goes viral” is stern and unwavering:

Your business doesn’t need a viral idea. If the goal is qualified leads and conversions, what you need is a plan, one that keeps your brand top of mind with prospects and existing customers for the long-term.

If that “plan” sounds like content marketing, congrats. You are entirely correct. Your business needs the strong, sinewy muscle of a viable, well-thought-out marketing plan, not the flimsy tissue of a fly-by-night idea that leads to nothing but eyeballs and conversation.

I liken the notion of “going viral” to the mobile toys placed in babies’ cribs—great for distraction; woefully inadequate at accomplishing anything of substance.

Baby Looking Up At A Mobile Toy

Here’s three reasons the Ellen DeGeneres “selfie” business model is not one your company should follow:

1. You don’t employ superstars. I’m sure you have a talented core of employees, many of whom likely aspire to appear on Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) or The Voice.

But unless you employ real stars, seeing DeGeneres’ stunt as anything but a tired act made popular more than a decade ago with the advent of reality TV, is a mistake. DeGeneres is a hugely popular, successful actress who has a broad base of appeal and a sea of fans to match.

It’s no accident that Samsung and ABC chose her for the stunt. What we missed in all of the hoopla is it’s less surprising that an idea involving a wildly popular star at a star-studded event went viral than it is that Twitter crashed. The latter is the closest thing to real news here.

2. Your business likely does not have millions of followers—yet. Look at the “selfie” again. Yes, you see DeGeneres, but you also see some of the most famous faces on the planet. Faces with A-List names, like Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lawrence, Jared Leto, Channing Tatum, Angelina Jolie, Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o and Peter Nyong’o. These celebrities also have a large fan-base as well.

A fan-base who is active on social media. A fan-base who can ensure that anything any one of them shares is re-shared tens of thousands of times over. See my point? This “surprising,” “viral” moment should be viewed as anything but a surprise.

Jennifer Lawrence Twitter ProfileEllen DeGeneres Twitter Profile

3. Your money is better spent elsewhere. It’s rumored that the “selfie” heard ‘round the world cost Samsung  $20 million, which included sponsorship of the Oscars, the overall ad spend and the agreement to have the company’s Galaxy smartphone appear prominently as part of the show.

This type of “product placement” is nothing new, having been made popular in the 1990s as advertisers clamored to get their products noticed by attention-challenged teenagers.In recent years, however, video recorders have made ad-skipping a primary concern for advertisers, who’ve pressed the gas pedal, going all-in with product placement on TV shows and movies.

Leaving aside product placement for the moment, do you envision a large ad spend as wise for your business? Careful now. Before you answer, consider this: Large brands spend billions every year on ads to retain their top-of-mind positioning with consumers, not to juice sales.

Coca-Cola, for example, spends $3 billion each year in advertising. Do you think they sell more sugary drinks because of it? No, they don’t. The hefty expense is used as a protective mechanism against lost sales and to promote brand awareness against rivals like Pepsi.

“Advertising has no legitimate role in brand-building,” wrote branding experts Al and Laurie Ries in The Fall Of Advertising & The Rise Of PR. “Advertising’s role is defensive in nature. Advertising can only protect a brand once it is established.”

Samsung likely won’t sell any more Galaxy phones from the episode. (They certainly won’t sell an additional $20 million worth of phones.) Their goal was to make a splash, gain momentum and further establish the brand as the “cool, anti-iPhone” option.

For brands who do not meet the threshold of being multinationals with billions in sales, traditional advertising is certainly not the desired vehicle of choice. For a company such as yours, which is in the building stages, content marketing represents the smart way forward.

Go ahead and marvel at the 2 million-plus tweets from DeGeneres’s “selfie” episode. Just don’t see it as a business model worth following.

Let’s stick to the business of creating successful companies, one step at a time.

Are you with me?

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