Getting Attention but Losing Brand Control with Viral Marketing

April 17, 2024

Earlier this year, we looked at how the century-old brand Stanley skyrocketed to viral fame after the company’s drink tumblers went viral on TikTok. Of course, Stanley cups are far from the only product to become a blockbuster thanks to the video sharing platform with more than 1 billion daily active users. For example, in 2018 the cleaning solution The Pink Stuff was a little known item with a bright look, fun name, and not much else going for it. Star Brands, the company behind the product, booked just two hours per month at a nearby factory to create their supply. “It was a brand with a lot of uses,” said Henrik Pade, a managing director at Star Brands. “But nobody used it.”

Then came Instagram, where a London-based lifestyle influencer with millions of followers launched The Pink Stuff into its first round of viral fame. The product’s pull on Instagram soon transferred over to TikTok, where Star Brands says that Pink Stuff-related videos have been watched more than 2 billion times. The company’s annual sales have quadrupled over the last six years to $125 million, none of which goes to marketing. Instead, Star Brands relies almost entirely on social media to promote The Pink Stuff, which comes with its own drawbacks. “We don’t spend money on traditional advertising,” said Pade. “It’s fully viral. Which is a little scary because we haven’t got any control over the message about our brand.”

Although social media can launch a product to enormous audiences of potential customers, business owners can only observe the online chatter rather than manage it. “The goal should be loyalty, not virality,” said Marina Cooley, a marketing professor at Emory University. “Virality is dangerous because it’s fleeting, there’s no stickiness to it. People are excited by the first interaction and then look for the next viral thing.” There’s also no way to tell when an item will gain traction online. Star Brands hired a social media manager to hype up Pink Stuff shortly after acquiring it, but the product only hit it big once a famous influencer decided on her own to post about it. “You can’t plan to go viral,” said Pade. 


  1. What are the benefits and drawbacks of The Pink Stuff’s dependence on viral marketing?
  2. Do you think brands like The Pink Stuff should start investing in traditional advertising after going viral? Why or why not?

Source: David Segal, “What Happens When TikTok Is Your Marketing Department,” The New York Times, February 11, 2024.