Don’t Get Mad, Go Viral
Last Saturday, I noticed my Facebook newsfeed had blown up with people posting pictures of a sunny sky with the words “Go Blue” in skywriting over Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. The skywriting seemed to be a carefully-planned and well-executed dig at Michigan State University, courtesy of its cross-town rival, University of Michigan.* As an MSU graduate, I bleed green and was predictably less-than-amused. But I became interested a few days later when similar photos began showing up along with articles about the skywriting from the Detroit Free Press, ESPN and Yahoo! News.
It had gone viral, and not just because of the school rivalry. The story is this: Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSU Alumni Association, was at the game last weekend and decided to use the opportunity to bring attention to a cause close to home. His wife Colleen is a two-time ovarian cancer survivor, and received treatment from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Instead of fueling the fire, Westerman challenged MSU alumni to raise money for the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance fund–the goal being the same amount it would have cost to hire a skywriter–and for Michigan alumni to match it. With the help of a Facebook page, Twitter and other social sites, nearly $30,000 has been raised so far, and the story has taken over the Internets.
I love this because there’s a lot to be learned here. Was it annoying to see U-M’s popular chant hovering over my alma mater? Absolutely. As I’m sure it was for Westerman. But it’s a great reminder to take a moment, calm down and think about how to best respond when a competitor or adversary throws shade your way. Given the right reaction, brands have the opportunity to turn a negative tweet or a blog post into a positive experience. Creative brand responses, as we’ve seen on Twitter, take the Internet by storm—which in turn just creates more clicks, chatter and views.
While it’s fun to participate in harmless rivalry, in this case I’m proud of MSU for leaving it on the table and instead opening up a bigger discussion on an important cause.
*It turns out the skywriting was paid for by University of Michigan’s athletic department, which has said it paid to have the phrase written over other parts of the state as well and wasn’t targeting MSU.
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