Lessons for Communicators From Kmart’s Wildly Successful “Ship My Pants” Viral Video

If you’ve ever doubted the power of a good piece of viral communications, then check out what Kmart has done over the last two weeks.

When you take a look at the array of department-store brands from Walmart on one end to Lord & Taylor on the other, with Target, JCPenney, Kohl’s, Sears and others in between, Kmart has the least juice, without a doubt. It’s widely perceived as marginalized, with an unpleasant in-store experience and probably likely to go the way of Caldor and many other now-extinct brands.

So when the retailer rolled out its “Ship My Pants” video on YouTube earlier this month, expectations could not have been high.

Andrew Stein, Kmart’s vice president and chief marketing officer, told Time Magazine that the company wasn’t trying to make a viral ad. Instead, the objective was to promote a new service in which shoppers who can’t find something in store can have it shipped to them from Kmart warehouses.

Well, it did that and more. Since it was launched online April 10, the video has had more than 19 million views and more than 2 million social-media shares.

And while some people might have been offended by the scatological nature of the ad, most people thought it was funny—and building positive feelings and goodwill are a huge part of the communications puzzle for PR pros. And now, the ad is moving from digital to broadcast, according to Ad Age, with select cable networks running it starting this week.

Some things to consider for communicators looking to get their campaign to break through:

  1. Take risks. An old, staid brand is the last place you’d expect an edgy, funny commercial.

  2. Don’t sell overtly. The Kmart shipping service blends in so well with the joke that it’s almost overlooked. But it’s not.

  3. Test concepts on social media. This ad launched on Stein’s personal YouTube account and took off from there. It was decidedly not a big-budget campaign.

Follow Tony Silber: @tsilber