Circles.Life marketer on going viral: ‘It went viral because I faked the hype’

If everybody is talking or doing things in a certain way, do the opposite – that is the advice Megan Yulga, senior regional manager for brands and campaigns at Circles.Life, had for marketers attending Marketing’s Content 360 conference.

She said: “Be yourself. Speak differently. Brand tone matters. Consistency matters. I can talk your ear off about how to create a brand, but keeping your brand uniquely you, finding out that why or who you are, why people should care about you, is critical to standing out and disrupting.”

The brand, which is known for its tongue-in-cheek stunts and audacious on-ground activities, has over the years grown in prominence. And this is largely attributed to the boldness of its campaigns.

For example, recently it made headlines for its open letter to big boy competitors Singtel and StarHub accusing the two of mimicking its plans and products. This saw the brand then receive a taste of its own medicine when fellow challenger telco Zero Mobile took shots back at it.

Yulga said that for the brand, while content is “extremely important, it might not be the most important thing”.

“Content takes a lot of time, and I’m coming from a start-up background where you simply don’t have time. You have to do as many things as possible to get up and running and create this business,” she added.

As such, what is more crucial is for brands to stand out and build their own personality – even if it sometimes means taking risks and being controversial to be noticed. She said:

You have to be controversial, you have to have people who hate it. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

She added that unless you have polar opposite (conversations), nobody is going to talk about (your campaign) because there is no debate to talk about.

These stunts, along with its 95% CSAT (customer satisfaction) and +50 NPS (net promoter score), at the end of the day, has earned Circles.Life more than 5% of Singapore’s mobile subscriber market share, making it one of the fastest growing telcos in Singapore.

But breaking into a new market where no one knows or cares about the brand is never easy. Her simple tip for this is to “fake it till you make it”.

In March 2017, when the brand was close to unknown, it pulled a marketing stunt which saw the vandalising of a fake competitor to poke fun of the existing data packages.

The so-called vandals turned out to include influencer duo Youtiao666. Throughout the process, Yulga filmed and photographed the acts on their phones. Fake email accounts were also created to send the visuals to the media as passers-by. She added the fact it was “vandalism” in an MRT station was pretty scandalous, but that’s not why it went viral.

“It went viral because I faked the hyped around it. I went to this activation while [the influencers] were doing it and basically took my phone and videoed them doing it from all sorts of different angles. I created fake email accounts and attached it to the journalists and I spammed them like I was some on-boarder, or someone just walking by looking at this activation,” she said.

So I faked the hype around it and that’s why it went viral.

However, she stressed the content took off only because it was also backed by something substantial. The product was a solution to a problem that consumers were facing, expensive data, according to its market research.

She added: “Imagine your campaign as a bonfire and your content or your product is the log pile. You need to have a solid base in order for anything to flame and for a bonfire to form around it.”

Imagine the headline you want

In her view, the first step for marketers to generate great content is to imagine a desired PR headline – even before thinking about the execution.

“Start with your bare headline. I talk about this all the time and I leverage the art to the absolute fullest. Start thinking about creating your PR headline before you ever consider any executional things that go into it,” she said.

Among Circles.Life’s campaigns, perhaps one of the most memorable of all was the mysterious cash-dispensing vending machines in February 2018 that drew nearly a thousand people, prompting police to step in. The stunt saw consumers putting in three dollars into the vending machines at Raffles Place and getting SG$50 back in return.

For this execution, Yulga shared her ideal headline even before the stunt happened was: “Police break up Circles.Life activation.”

She noted that while this might seem like a PR nightmare and “insane” to some, the move would undoubtedly capture attention and exemplify the power of the telco’s new three dollar product.

The vending machine, which took the form of an intern in a cardboard box, was neither branded nor fancy, but yielded results. That showed the power of a strong headline, she said.

But, of course, having a strong marketing plan was also part of the marketing strategy for this particular stunt. As such, the telco engaged SGAG to drive the crowd to Raffles Place. Moreover, the team conducted a trial run quietly before the stunt to ensure success was on the cards.

“What you didn’t see was that I placed a cash vending machine along Orchard three days prior, and everyone formed a queue. It was pleasant, but nobody cared. That was our trial,” she said.

Facebook-first approach

Yulga shared with the audience at Content 360 that 80% of Circles.Life’s marketing budget is spent on digital paid media and most of it goes towards Facebook. Having a Facebook-first approach means content creators have to leverage text. As simple as it seems, she advises marketers to put up videos with subtitles.

Additionally, she pointed to the fact that most viewers are on the move with attention spans as short as one second. Therefore, she said:

Don’t be overly clever. Dumb it down, especially if you have a complicated product or problem or message that you are trying to say.

To understand social media platforms better, Circles.Life also works with platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Line, and WeChat directly.

She advised: “If you are struggling to know the latest algorithm for Facebook or how best to optimise for a specific platform, reach out to that company. They have creative teams who are just dying to help you because you are going to spend money on their platform.”

Further, she encouraged marketers to create growth loops and think about how they can re-engage the people they have invested resources on converting.