The Social Currency of Ship My Pants

I’ve head from quite a few people about the blog post I wrote criticizing the notion that there's a formula for viral marketing success – and they all were curious how I felt about the Kmart Ship My Pants viral video in the context of my opinions about social currency.

So, first, I want to say that I thought this was a great campaign and I’m totally jealous that my company wasn’t involved in it! OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me proceed to say why I think its success is proof that there is no formula.

Like most people, I probably hadn’t thought much about the Kmart brand in a LONG TIME. But, if pressed, I probably would have said that Kmart was a dinosaur brand that wasn’t keeping up with modern e-tailing trends. Why?  Simply because I hadn’t really heard or seen anything from them that convinced me otherwise. Enter Ship My Pants which so effectively traded in several social currencies.

I thought the campaign smartly played the naughty card and played in a way that was completely harmless. No bad words were actually uttered, but we all got to have the fun of knowing that a bad word was implied.  And that makes it a little naughty, and a little dangerous, and that’s perfect for the internet. But its also important for the brand because it communicates that you (as a brand) are willing to take a risk now and then, to be successful… in this case, in a wholesome way. I think that indicates a hunger to please and that’s not bad a thing for a brand to be signaling. Second, it played the self-effacing card. Kmart deployed humor in a way that made fun of Kmart and its staid image – and, in the process, it humanized the brand. And that’s crucial because part of the aspirational value of a brand is the sense that the brand shares my values. And so, when I giggle at a little sophomoric humor, it makes me like them and want to give them a reward for making the effort in the first place. Finally, you could argue that there is a 3rd social currency in play – and that’s one of inspiration. I’ll bet that most people who watched this video found themselves thinking of other shippy puns that could have been used in place of, or in addition to, ship my pants. (“Look at the ship we can do!”) That’s all you can ever ask for.

Are there more social currencies being transacted? Probably. Maybe you think there were other currencies entirely. And that’s the point. An argument could be made that it wasn’t just one of these currencies that fed the huge success of this video, it was all of them (plus others that are unnamed) that made it happen. There is no recipe for creative – which is part of what makes it so much fun and part of what makes it maddening. Lose some of those elements, or maybe have just one not land precisely, and you may find that your huge viral hit is the same as all the other branded content out there – a viral meh.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line and let me know.