When my dad was in his late teens, he played drums in Al Dvorin’s band. Eventually, Al and my dad enlisted together and went off to fight WWII. They both ended up in the Seventh Army Band and never saw much action. When the war was over, Al and my dad both resumed their music careers. By 1956, they both had made names for themselves and got a gig touring with Elvis Presley on his first U.S. and Canadian tour. My dad hated the screaming mobs and swooning teens that constantly stole his cymbals and attacked his car. When asked to sign-up for a second tour with the King, my dad declined.
Al, however, loved it and eventually became Elvis’ music director in Vegas. Each night, Elvis would perform to unruly crowds filled with fainting women and rapid fans. Elvis had three planned encores. Each time he left the stage, Al kept the band playing at a fever pitch. Elvis would burst back and do another number. After the third encore, Al kept the band playing even though Elvis was exiting stage left into a waiting Cadillac that sped away as soon as his rump hit the back seat. Al would then stop the music, but the crowds refused to leave. They yelled louder thinking Elvis would hear them and come back out. One night, after Al got the signal that the Cadillac was on its journey, he uttered the immortal words, “Elvis has left the building”.
For Al, the phrase was short and to the point and served a practical purpose. He wanted to go home and first needed the venue cleared of people. He had no clue that it would become one of the biggest catch phrases of all time.
This story came to mind when one of ComBlu’s clients was talking about one of his pet peeves when agencies come to pitch: the promise of great viral campaigns. He opined that viral campaign was akin to an oxymoron. Just as Al had no idea his phrase would go “viral”, neither can agencies promise similar “lightening in a bottle” How often do we get requests to “create a viral video’ or “ develop a viral campaign”? As marketing professionals, we need to find out what the client’s real objective is. It may be that a clever online campaign with a share button can achieve much, but it is not an objective and should not be the starting point of the conversation.
Just like Al was trying to fill a need, so are brands and marketers. Al found a great solution that took on a life of its own. A rare occurrence. Those brands that find themselves with this phenomenon on their hands need to be prepared to leverage it and ride its orbit. ( An “Elvis has left the building” community tied to Elvis sightings using Foursquare might be appropriate if Al and Elvis were performing today.) But, companies and agencies can waste a lot of resources trying to artificially create the next big thing. Social marketing has many nodes, channels and disciplines. Finding the right combination to meet business or organizational goals is a worthy strategy.
So the next time an agency promises the next big viral video or a client asks for a viral campaign, tell them that “Elvis has left the building.”
Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.