Football legend Cristiano Ronaldo awkwardly dancing to Shopee’s rendition of the ‘Baby Shark’ tune is definitely an odd sight. There is something unforgettable about the annoyingly catchy tune paired with Ronaldo’s stiff smile and even stiffer dancing. The video, advertising the e-commerce platform’s 9.9 Super Shopping Day, was all over television and YouTube in 2019. At the time, my friends and even my family were sharing it around. It seemed like everyone I knew had something to say about the dancing Ronaldo video.
Why did it go viral?
Cristiano Ronaldo’s face was definitely a contributing factor in the video’s spread. As arguably the most recognisable face in soccer, it would be harder to find a person who doesn’t find him familiar. Traditionally, brands may choose to cast influencers in their marketing to boost the credibility of their messaging. Influencers are often considered opinion leaders in fields associated with them and can strongly influence the views of their networks. However, this is likely not why the video went viral. People aren’t sharing the video because “Ronaldo is saying you should use Shopee, listen to his opinion.” People are sharing the video because its Ronaldo dancing awkwardly to the ‘Baby Shark’ tune.
Emotions are one of the key drivers of virality. Content must evoke emotions, positive or negative, for users to want to share it. The image of Ronaldo, football’s biggest star, looking incredibly out of place in an annoying dancing bit is funny! Humor is cited as the most common and popular viral factor. Viewers want to share a laugh with others, and spreading funny videos or ‘memes’ is a great way to do it.
Of course, not everyone finds the video funny. A quick look around at the comments of the YouTube video reveals many negative sentiments surrounding the advertisement. Comments like “Does (Ronaldo) really need the money?” and “I’m 100% sure that they threatened to kill his family if he didn’t do this ad” are among the YouTube video’s top comments. People don’t only share videos they think positively about. Content associated with negative emotions (ie. annoyance, disgust, ‘cringe’, anger) can go viral. The viral video of a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight evoked feelings of ire from many, resulting in a PR disaster for the airline. At the very least, my friends sent the dancing Ronaldo video to me to make fun of how terrible it was.
Was it successful?
According to Forrest Li, CEO of Shopee’s parent company Sea Ltd., 2019’s 9.9 shopping event recorded three times more orders compared to in 2018 thanks to this campaign. Ronaldo’s dancing helped double Shopee’s gross orders to 321 million and more than triple its e-commerce sales to US$230 million. The marketing campaign’s reach hit an astonishing 19 million. Furthermore, 80.77% of the brand’s share of voice was about Ronaldo and Shopee’s collaboration. In terms of numbers, the dancing Ronaldo video was clearly a success. It reached people, got people talking, and converted that buzz into sales.
Yet, the reception of the video was mixed. Some thought the video was humorous, while others thought it was a terrible abomination that should have never seen the light of day. Shopee’s 2019 9.9 Super Shopping Day marketing strategy demonstrates the high risk, high reward nature of viral marketing. On one hand, the high virality of the video increased brand awareness of Shopee tremendously. Love it or hate it, the irritatingly catchy tune was stuck in the heads of many who watched it. Had the approach been more restrained, the campaign may not have had the same buzz surrounding it. On the other hand, the viral video brought with it a fair bit of negative publicity surrounding both Shopee and Ronaldo. Some hated the over-the-top nature of the advertisement, while some fans of Ronaldo were disheartened to see their star “sell out” for an advertisement that made him look dumb.
In the end, the campaign worked out for Shopee. More people felt positively about the video than negatively, leading to their brand image improving overall. Ronaldo’s ‘Baby Shark’ dance is an interesting look at the uncontrollable nature of viral marketing. High dissemination of content does not directly correlate to a positive effect on a brand’s image. It is important for PR practitioners to not pursue virality at the cost of their positive brand perception.