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Marketing & Sales
Sep 29, 2015

Going Viral: What We Can All Learn From #PizzaRat

Sponsored Content provided by Mike Duncan - CEO and Creative Director, Sage Island

When it comes to social media, most businesses and brands are just like people – they long to “go viral.” They imagine fame, glory, sponsorships, free products and swimming pools full of 100-dollar bills. They sign up for all the social networks and start updating their Facebook pages, tweeting about what they had for lunch, and posting photos of their dogs on Instagram. When their posts fail to launch their brand into the stratosphere, they wonder what happened. “If a senior dog with a tilted head can get 1.7 million Instagram followers,” they wonder, “why can’t I?”
The truth is that “going viral,” – that is, having millions of online followers who click, like and share everything you post –isn’t a science or a code you can crack. Many times, it’s the totally unexpected things that end up going viral, a combination of being in the right place at the right time and dumb luck.
For example, let’s say you spend months creating a clever video for your business. You write a script, hire actors, plan every shot, edit it beautifully, and then post the finished masterpiece on YouTube. Maybe you get a few hundred views, and you feel pretty good about it. Your hard work is being rewarded.  
Then, along comes Pizza Rat.
In case you missed it, Pizza Rat (also known as #pizzarat) took over the Internet for one whole evening a few weeks ago, thanks to a 14-second video of a rat dragging a piece of pizza down three steps in the New York City subway. As I write this, the video currently has more than 6 million views. It was retweeted by marketers, brands and journalists. It was written about in every online new source from Buzzfeed to NPR. It spawned memes, hashtags and spoof videos. It went viral with a capital V. All for a grainy, spontaneous 14-second video of a hungry rat. 

So how did Pizza Rat go viral? And is there any hope for your content to get even a fraction of the attention that this rat received? I think so. Here are three things to keep in mind – about Pizza Rat and about social media in general – when crafting content for your business or brand.

  1. Give it a positive spin. Bad things happen all the time, and the news is full of tragedy, war and crime. This leaves most people hungry for something light and funny to distract and entertain them. For one glorious day, Pizza Rat was that thing. He wasn’t political or divisive, and he effortlessly tapped into our universal love for pizza. We cheered for Pizza Rat, and that made us feel better about our own lives.

    When you’re creating content for your business, keep it positive. Try to entertain your audience. Offer something that will make them smile. Then once you’ve got them in your good graces, mention your services or products and watch as those warm and fuzzy feelings turn into sales.
  2. Tell a story. The quest of Pizza Rat was so compelling because it told a story. In 14 seconds we witnessed the two things that every good story needs – desire and conflict. Here is a rat that wants pizza; will he get it? We must find out, and so we keep watching.

    If you can craft your content into a story, it’s far more likely to gain interest and traction. After all, storytelling is as old as humanity. By tapping into this primitive urge, you can capture the hearts, minds and dollars of your audience in a real and authentic way.
  3. Stay on top of trends. Pizza Rat started out as a brief, spontaneous video, shot quickly on a smartphone during someone’s commute. A huge part of the video’s success and the reason it went viral is due to the fact that so many people tuned in and added to the story. The hashtag #pizzarat was trending worldwide on Twitter for a number of hours, and many fast-thinking brands and businesses took advantage of the moment to promote their own products in clever and entertaining ways.

Sure, a publishing house and a hungry rat don’t have much in common, but because someone from Penguin Random House saw the trending hashtag, they were able to spin it to the company’s advantage, connect with an audience, and show a sense of humor. Random House didn’t create Pizza Rat, but it benefited from his plight; the Random House tweet was favorited 81 times and retweeted 45 times, which isn’t bad for a silly joke about a rat.
If you only learn one lesson from Pizza Rat, it should be this: Going viral is unpredictable and, in the end, fleeting. Pizza Rat may have been momentarily famous, but today our viral friend is just another rat in the subway. Instead of trying to go viral, your business should focus on building a solid brand; creating content that entertains and educates; keeping your messaging positive; and having fun. If you need help achieving those goals, Sage Island’s team of Internet marketing specialists can help. Contact us today. We may not be able to create the next Pizza Rat, but we’ll have fun and help your business while we try.
Mike Duncan co-founded Sage Island in 1997, and since then has evolved the agency’s scope to include marketing strategy, creative design, technical development and a wide range of digital marketing services. With an integrated approach that leverages the power and measurability of the internet, the savvy Sage Island team develops strategies, builds brands, writes killer copy and delivers to clients all over the world. And they have an awesome time doing it. Sage’s collaborative working environment keeps creativity and innovation at the heart of the concept. With a 17-year history in Wilmington and beyond, Sage Island shows no signs of slowing down. To learn how Sage Island can grow your business, check us out at To stay updated on the latest in digital marketing, follow Sage Island on Facebook at, and on Twitter at

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