So what is viral marketing? The simple answer is: a marketing strategy that encourages people to pass along a marketing message. Some will argue it’s a fancy word for word-of-mouth marketing. Others insist it has to take place online—through blogs, Twitter and such. But no matter how you define it, the beauty of a well thought out and executed viral marketing campaign can help make a mountain out of a molehill. Or a beloved local icon out of a fiberglass sculpture—as was the case when the Lake Creature arrived in Minneapolis.

When the Lake Creature appeared in the waters of Lake Harriet, we knew it would cause a ripple among folks in the area. But it was the strategic viral marketing campaign that turned it from a ripple to a tidal wave among greater Minneapolis residents and area visitors.   As visitors to Lake Harriet took in the creature’s beauty, their imaginations ran wild: Who brought it here? And what it was doing in the community? For the first week, the only clue was a sign at the lake with the address to a non-branded micro site where, upon logging in, residents could continue the fun by helping build the mystical creature’s lore.

That same week, the chatter on Twitter proved people were taking their conversations about the creature from the shoreline to online. “There’s a creature in Minneapolis,” they said. “Lake Harriet has its very own Nessy.” Some passed along the microsite address, others just speculated as to what the creature was doing in the Cities and why. Within minutes of posting their tweets, the powerful influencers would receive a message from the Lake Creature inviting them to follow her on Twitter and help direct people to the microsite to submit photos and stories. 

So when the Minneapolis Parks Foundation stepped forward in mid-July to announce it was behind the project and hoped the creature’s presence would help enhance the lives of residents and bring awareness to Minneapolis’ beautiful parks, most would say “mission accomplished.” In the first week alone the Lake Creature gained more than 150 followers on Twitter; nearly 7,000 people visited her site and the effort generated more than 3 million media impressions. She even has her own Facebook fan page. Some would say that’s a viral marketing fairy tale—and we won’t disagree.

Allison Checco, Fast Horse