It may only be two years old, but Retroviral is making waves in the South African digital space. Mike Sharman, owner of Retroviral, is responsible for some memorable campaigns that Retroviral has created. These include Nando’s Last Dictator Standing, as well as #NoRegretFriday for SAB, which has since turned into a South African meme. Heavy Chef spoke with Mike about starting up your own business and creating viral campaigns.
Hi Mike. So when starting up your own business, Retroviral, what lessons did you learn that you wish you could have known beforehand?
Prior to starting Retroviral, I did a lot of research. The preparation started about a year before officially launching in 2010. I was working for an agency in London at the time during the day and spending most of my weeknights developing the RV essence, spoke to countless people, read blogs and tried to determine the intricacies of the agency model that I wanted to unleash on the universe. Because digital is so malleable it needs a new agency model to adjust to the 15s of fame landscape in which we operate. I don’t believe there is ever a perfect time to launch a business, but valuable lessons I learnt before taking the plunge were,
Know your worth. Courtesy of Dan Nash. When I was at varsity, there were only 4 Ps, now there are a few more. Understanding the space you are competing in and how you pitch yourself against the established players is crucial for survival and success. Don’t sell yourself too cheap or you will spread yourself too thin. Too expensive and you won’t be able to convince anyone to give your unknown agency a chance.
Fears of financial failure will cripple you. Courtesy of Melissa Attree. It takes the average SME in South Africa 1000 days to break even. That’s practically three years of blood, sweat and tears before you’ve even made a buck. Fear restricts creativity so I saved up before going solo to ensure that I could take risks with this business for the first few months of its existence. Fortunately those risks have paid off so far and as we approach our second birthday, we’re in a pretty enviable position considering the success we have achieved to date, if I do say so myself. It’s important not to take anything for granted and as we continue to expand, we will apply our secret sauce to every brand that we partner with.
Get a good accountant. I’m more a marketing man, than a numbers man, and I think it’s important to know what your weaknesses are and to strengthen those areas as much as possible.
In this environment, you learn something new everyday and it’s important to keep up to date with the evolution of the industry. You have to be aware of what brands are doing, where there are opportunities for campaign success and what has already been done before in international markets.
You have been involved in many viral campaigns, the most popular being The Last Dictator and #NoRegretFriday. In your opinion, what is the formula for a great campaign?
At Retroviral, we subscribe to our 3R formula. Remarkable content, seeded to the right people will lead to successful results. If the content – be it video, audio or written – is good enough, we are confident that the relevant influencers for your brand will be interested in sharing it. It’s important to note that viral is intangible and quality always wins over quantity. 1 million views on YouTube is great to brag about but has it actually had an impact on your clients bottom line? Have you sold more products? Business objectives are always more important for us than communication numbers.
Which campaigns do you admire that were not done by you, and why?
I love smart activations, especially what Argentinian beer manufacturers Andes and Salta are producing. My favourite local use of integrated print, mobile from last year was this Gold Loeries winner from 140 BBDO for Mercedes Benz. Simple premises make the most effective solutions. There is a reason all communication classes at varsity start with Keep It Simple Stupid.
What do you think are the most effective ways to monitor campaigns and their success?
You should be benchmarking success against sales because your client needs to sell more products, but it’s important to establish what makes the most business sense for a client from the start of a campaign. Communication can never lead business, it can only support it. If your product is bad, there isn’t an awesome campaign in the world that can save it.
We use BrandsEye to monitor online mentions and to convert those into a tangible Rand value equivalent, as well as OTS figures. We then take those figures and overlay sales numbers to see if our campaigns have complemented the business activity.
What would be the best thing to do if a campaign is not received the way it was expected to? Abandon or alter?
It depends entirely on the situation and the budget invested to date. I believe that there is always a way to salvage a campaign and there is always a reason why it has bombed. Digital is all about adaptation, so evolve or die. Even if you have to import your video content into iMovie and make some changes. You gotta do what you gotta do. That’s what makes our industry so exciting and #WhyWeDoDigital
Lastly, is your mankini really comfortable?
Totes. That’s why I wear it under my suits, just in case there is ever a situation where I have to save a kitten from a burning building and I have to get into superhero mode. All part of my world Sharmanation plans.