Wolves Gone Viral

June 3, 2009
Amazon's Viral Sensation

Amazon's Viral Sensation

Last week we tweeted about a little whimsy from Taylor’s post about “Writer’s Block Dolphin Hawk.” We subsequently were informed about a world of underground satirical user comments about a shirt with a few wolves and a moon on it in a reply from our friend whom we are indebted to for filling us in, @jaredamay of Twitter. The story about the shirt has been covered by the likes of the New York Times, BBC and the Star Tribune, among many other major media outlets.

The quick back-story is that a college student from Rutgers, Brian Govern, left a snarky comment on Amazon about the shirt last November, thinking it was “just a completely serendipitous one-time thing,” as he told ABC News. One of the funnier lines was when he listed the cons of the shirt: “Cons: Only 3 wolves, cannot see wolves with arms crossed, would have been better if they had glowed in the dark.” The web site College Humor ended up picking it up, it landed on Digg and the snarkiness starting pouring in, as there are now about 1,000 comments left on Amazon and over 9,000 ratings of Govern’s original review.

It is currently Amazon’s best-selling apparel item. It used to be sold a few times a day and since May 19 it is suddenly being purchased 100 times every hour. All because of two witty paragraphs left by a college student in a user review. Three Wolf Moon chatter on Twitter has blown up. There are eight Facebook groups. There’s now a YouTube video. It’s basically every marketer’s dream; wake up one morning and sales and media coverage have gone absolutely through the roof, your product is a huge viral sensation and you didn’t pay a nickel for it.

Michael McGloin, the creative director of the small company based in New Hampshire that makes these shirts, The Mountain, is obviously thrilled and right-on when he said the following to ABC News: “I feel this will be in the history books of marketing, people will be trying to duplicate it. It’s just out of control.” I’m sure marketers are out there right now thinking about something ironically funny that they can say about their product in the social realm that will spawn a similar sort of craze. Meghan Daum of the LA Times, who wrote the piece that ran in the Strib, points out that “spontaneous bursts of creative product reviewing are now common enough that online reviews are starting to become a literary genre — albeit an underground one.” Companies will undoubtedly want to get in on this meta underground action, but will companies have success when the trend-setter was basically a rare consumer-initiated grass-roots movement?

Author Douglas Rushkoff said the following to ABC News: “Real viral media is this spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm by real people for something.” He’s also right about the social nature of media today as he said, “On the Internet, you have millions of people trying to connect to other people. … And the easiest way to do that is by humor.” It’ll be interesting to see what will become of  this “15 minutes” type of phenomenon, if any sort of copycat marketing pops up or if it truly is a “15 minutes” story that I won’t recall having written about a year from now.

Note: To further demonstrate the point about how satirical online customer reviews are trending, see another Amazon product that Daum mentioned, Tuscan Whole Milk or the My Little Pony: The Princess Promenade user comments that I discovered in a frenzy of witty, well-written comments in the Three Wolf Moon comment section.