What is a viral marketing strategy, and how can you create one? According to The Economic Times, viral marketing is a marketing strategy that inspires users to spread or share a message with other users, which can lead to exponential growth. In other words, viral marketing involves going “viral,” typically through the use of social media.
But having a marketing campaign go viral on social media is like capturing lightning in a bottle — it’s typically a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, some viral marketing companies find their fortune doing just that. But out of all of them, few have seen more success than the Harmon Brothers.
With over 1,540,497,000 cumulative video views (and counting), these marketing experts have worked on some of the most recognizable viral video campaigns selling mattresses, apps, bathroom products, deodorant, and much more. Notably, many of these projects touch on sensitive subjects like body odor and bathroom habits, yet they have still managed to spin those delicate topics to see totally unprecedented success.
But how did they do it?
Well, it all started with a toothbrush.
The Birth Of The Harmon Brothers Brand
Raised in rural Idaho in an LDS family of 9 siblings, the Harmon Brothers first cut their sales and marketing teeth on potato sales. That’s right — potato sales. Daniel and his brothers would go door to door selling potatoes from his uncle’s farm in order to raise money for his college education.
“When we first started doing it, I think we were like 15, 16, somewhere in that neighborhood,” Daniel explained. “So, we made a little bit more of a regular business with it and had enough success that my uncle was like, ‘Quit mooching my truck. You’re running up lots of miles on this thing.’”
Later, Daniel and his brother Jeffrey would go on to sell home security systems door to door. “We were very successful with that,” Daniel stated, “and learned a lot of sales principles. That later informed very much what we have done at Harmon Brothers with the ad agency, in that driving sales has always been a big part of it. A lot of advertising out there very much leans into branding.”
Then later, Jeffrey and Neal, another Harmon brother, would design the Orabrush, an oral brush designed to brush tongues and reduce bad breath. That would spur Jeffery, Neal, Daniel, and Theron Harmon to quit their jobs and start the Harmon Brothers company in 2013.
“Jeffery and Neal were co-founders of Orabrush, and they had pioneered the advertising for YouTube,” Daniel explained, “of being able to pay $1 in and know you were getting $2 back out or whatever it was, to the point where YouTube was coming to us and asking us how to change the platform for the better, and they were using us as a case study when they would go talk to companies like Coca-Cola or Pepsi or whatever it was. So, the success, and a lot of the tricks we had learned, were from the Orabrush days.”
Despite seeing initial success on YouTube, the business was still off to a rocky start at first and struggled to keep its doors open. That was until they had their first major client: Poo-Pourri.
Suzy Batiz was inspired to create Poo-Pourri (the before-you-go toilet spray) after her brother-in-law asked an innocent question at a dinner party: “Can bathroom odor be trapped?” Batiz stated, “I felt this zing … I worked with essential oils as a hobby, and I said ‘I can do that.’” In 2007, Batiz and her husband Hector put $25,000 of their own money into Poo-Pourri and started selling it in small stores. But after six years of slow growth, they were ready to get on board with a more aggressive marketing strategy.
In 2013, the Harmon Brothers created Poo-Pourri’s first viral ad. This ad featured an elegant English woman talking in a hilarious fashion about the virtues of using Poo-Pourri to save yourself bathroom embarrassment. The original ad has over 44 million views to date, and the viral success quickly pushed the company into $4 million worth of backorders.
Today, Poo-Pourri is sold in over 20,000 retail outlets. After having been the victim of several failed businesses and bankruptcy, this turn-around was a welcome change for Suzy Batiz. “I believe that when something is born of pure passion, it has a living dynamic energy within itself,” Batiz stated. “Poo-Pourri was already alive.”
This success also launched the Harmon Brothers into the spotlight. “Once Poo-Pourri started getting shared and picked up in the news, Huffington Post, and all those kinds of things, they were citing the creative agency Harmon Brothers.” Daniel Harmon explained, “We were around my brother’s kitchen table launching this thing, just looking at our laptops and seeing this thing go crazy all over the place and being like, ‘Harmon Brothers Agency’ — are we an ad agency? Yes, we’re an ad agency. I mean, we did a campaign for a client. I guess that makes us an ad agency.”
The brothers would then go on to do the unthinkable time and time again — creating viral content that resonated with consumers no matter what the product. Here are some of their most memorable campaigns.
In 2010, Judy and Bill Edwards (and their son Bobby) were hard at work building the first “Squatty Potty” in their garage. Designed to help consumers everywhere make their bathroom time a little easier, the Squatty Potty was a viral sensation in the making. It just needed the right advertising.
In 2015, the Harmon Brothers released an ad for the Squatty Potty titled, “This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop,” featuring a unicorn doing the unspeakable (aka excreting soft-serve rainbow ice cream). The ad was funny and informative while clearly explaining the purpose of the product without being overly vulgar or indelicate. As of today, the ad has accrued over 170 million views on social media. It was so successful, in fact, that the Harmon Brothers created a sequel, featuring a new character, “Goldie Drops” the dragon. (I bet you can guess what Goldie Drops is up to in the ad.)
“Our first Squatty Potty campaign forged new territory in advertising. We were trying something that had not been done before, and we knew it was a bold risk. That decision paid off, so much so that it’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t seen our ads. Today, we’ve elected to double-down, expanding the narrative with new characters and a new direction,” explained Bobby Edwards. “We know people are going to love it and can’t wait to see how this new creative take will bring an already booming business to greater and greater heights.”
Brothers Tony and Terry Pearce were seemingly destined to do great things. With Tony’s skills as an aerospace engineer and Terry’s background as an expert in materials and manufacturing, the 2 were confident they were ready to revolutionize the mattress industry. Over 20 years of testing different comfort products went into the design of the perfect mattress, and the Purple was born. After raising over $170,000 through a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, the product was ready for launch. It just needed a solid marketing foundation.
In April 2016, the Harmon brothers released Purple’s first ad featuring the “raw egg test.” In this ad, a woman dressed like Goldilocks drops a heavy glass sheet with 4 eggs attached to a Purple mattress. While the glass sheet is supported by the mattress, the eggs do not break — demonstrating a Purple mattress’s ability to support a person’s weight while cradling their pressure points.
The message resonated strongly with consumers, and within 18 months, the video had accumulated over 53 million views, and Purple saw more than $75 million in online sales in 2016 alone. As of right now, the original ad has over 180 million views.
When asked about this strategy, Purple’s chief marketing officer Alex McArthur said, “The reality is that mattresses aren’t a sexy topic to most people. So, we had to get in front of people and communicate the difference in the product because the material in Purple is drastically different than anything else out there.”
Nate and Vanessa Quigley had the idea for Chatbooks (an app that makes creating family photo albums easy and automatic) in 2014. Shortly after Nate’s grandfather passed away, the family misplaced a record of the deceased singing “Home on the Range.” This record was of great sentimental value to the family, as Nate’s grandfather used to sing the song to his grandchildren when they were young. “We later found it,” Nate stated, “but it got me thinking of a business idea where we safeguard and organize our memories electronically.”
In 2016, the Harmon Brothers released an ad for Chatbooks that predictably went viral. This ad starred a frazzled, yet funny mom explaining how she never gets around to printing photo albums of her family before the Chatbooks ad helped her. Funny, relatable, and family-friendly, this ad quickly grew and raked in over 100 million views.
“I love how well the ad shows off the little moments — both good and bad,” explained Vanessa Quigley. “It’s all those tiny memories that make being a parent special, and the spot is a flawless demonstration that you don’t have to lose these memories inside the void of your smartphone. And it’s all done in true Harmon Brothers’ style: light-hearted, relatable comedy you can’t find anywhere else.”
Lume is a natural deodorant brand developed by mom and OB/GYN Shannon Klingman. After meeting many women in her practice who she felt were being over-treated for body odor with antibiotics, she had the idea to create an all-natural deodorant that could be used on all areas of the body. While there were many natural deodorants available at that time, most of them contained baking soda, which can cause rashes. So, Shannon set out to create the perfect product for an effective, aluminum-free deodorant. In the end, she came up with Lumē. All she needed was the right marketing team to sell it.
The Harmon Brothers were more than happy to step in to assist, creating Lumē’s first ad in 2018 just before Christmas. This ad starred a whimsical French woman in a bright orange dress, using humor and song to express the benefits that set Lumē apart from the competition. Within a month, the campaign had 7 million views and 30,000 shares — boosting Lumē’s sales by 526%.
The campaign was so successful that the brand decided to follow it up with a musical sequel in 2020.
Dr. Klingman said, “I’ve always known, if you want to talk about taboo subjects like body odor, no one does it better than the Harmon Brothers. We were thrilled with the success of the first Lumē advertisement produced by their team, so I knew there had to be a Part 2. We have the most effective aluminum-free deodorant on the market today, and the fact that you can use Lumē anywhere means we are defining a new category in hygiene. I am confident the new ad will continue to help women and men discover Lumē.”
Since the first ad’s release, Lumē has seen a growth in sales tenfold, and their original ad had over 70 million views. Since then, they have released more products including soaps, laundry sprays, and body washes — all thanks to the success brought on by the Harmon Brothers.
The Secret Formula
While many of the projects the Harmon Brothers worked on were simple like mattresses and apps for making family photo albums, many could be described as “gross” to put it mildly. One Washington Post article on their success was even titled, “Meet the Mormon Brothers Who Make Adorable Ads About Disgusting Things,” pointing to the obvious truth that it takes a special agency to tackle such “icky” subject matter.
What makes the Harmon Brothers portfolio even more interesting is their adherence to LDS values when selecting clients. The Harmon Brothers have turned down alcohol sellers before because they do not drink, and they don’t believe in swearing, either. But to quote Jeffrey Harmon, “There’s nothing in my beliefs that says, ‘You can’t talk about poo.’”
And talk about poo, they did! These ads have done more than just increase brand recognition for these products — they’ve also reduced the stigma associated with purchasing them. The Harmon Brothers ads have helped products like the Squatty Potty and Poo-Pourri to enter mainstream retailers they had been previously snubbed by. Reaching into that market and speaking openly without shame about the benefits of these products has been a genius
So, how did this group of brothers put a positive spin on unsavory bodily functions? Here’s how they did it successfully:
- Using Humor
All Harmon Brother ads that are explicitly for products have something in common: their use of humor. After all, what is a viral marketing campaign without humor? By playing up the novelty and whimsy of their selected products and using plenty of side-jokes, the company was able to keep the campaigns entertaining enough to warrant longer view times.
- Sharing Facts And Statistics
One of the most popular tactics used in Harmon Brothers ads is “tests.” They have the raw egg test, the suds test, the spoon test, and the carpet test, just to name a few. These marketers love using hard facts, statistics, and testimonials to get their points across and show how their products stand out from the competition.
- Using Euphemisms
Even the vilest subjects are handled with grace in Harmon Brothers ads. While they may make jokes about subjects surrounding the toilet, they are never outright vulgar or putrid. For example, they will often offset the disgust evoked by some of these subjects by using an elegant lady, prince, or unicorn to demonstrate their point. They never outright show any indecent imagery, instead using stand-ins like soft serve ice cream, cartoon representations, or diagrams. This greatly lessens the offense of their message because it gives the audience the confidence of knowing they won’t be exposed to anything that evokes outright disgust.
- Adapting To Social Media
All of the Harmon Brothers ads were released and promoted on social media. This is what gave them the “viral” quality that allowed them to be shared and viewed so many times. By creating entertaining, sharable ads, the agency put out videos that were interesting enough to warrant consumers stopping to view them while scrolling on social media. So, what is a viral marketing strategy? Well, if we’ve learned anything from the Harmon Brothers, it’s a campaign that puts together creative ads consumers just can’t help but share. So, next time you’re designing an ad campaign or pitching an idea for a new video, ask yourself what you can do to make it more unique, entertaining, and shareable.