A Viral Hit, 7 Months Delayed: Aeroméxico’s DNA Ad Shows the Unpredictability of Organic Video

Amid a government shutdown over Trump's wall, Ogilvy's trolling gained traction

Americans were given genetic tests and offered discounts based on their percentage of Mexican DNA.Ogilvy

If you work for an ad agency, you might not want your client to read this. But then again, maybe you absolutely do.

In recent days, an Aeroméxico ad that plays on some Americans’ anti-Mexico sentiment has become a viral hit thanks to social media and the increasing national tension amid a government shutdown over Trump’s proposed border wall.

But oddly enough, it’s not a new ad. In fact, it’s seven months old. And unlike some ads that rise and fall in popularity based on surges of sharing, this one simply never took off in the first place.

So what happened?

The answer is partly that fate is fickle when it comes to organic ads, those posted online without any sort of media buy. But there’s also a lesson here in the value of major agencies as a cultural amplifier.

But first, let’s watch the video, a fun rug-pull that seeks to change the perception of Mexican vacations among small-town Americans:

The DNA Discounts campaign was created through a partnership of Ogilvy Mexico and Ogilvy Colombia, originally conceived by Bogotá -based John Raul Forero, chief creative officer of Ogilvy Latin America, and his team. It was then executed by both agencies, working closely with the client, airline Aeroméxico.

“We launched this campaign in June 2018. With no budget. Just YouTube,” says César Agost Carreño, CEO and CCO of Ogilvy Mexico. “It was kind of an experiment to see what could happen.”

The answer, for quite a while, was…not much. Without a media spend to boost its visibility, the campaign got little attention beyond a small core audience.

“It’s a mystery why it suddenly went viral,” Agost Carreño says.

Well, not a complete mystery.

A few things happened between the ad’s launch and its viral fame. For one, the U.S. government entered into what would become its longest partial shutdown ever, as President Trump demanded $5.7 billion from Congress to finance his border wall with Mexico. The highly politicized stalemate has ratcheted up tension around all things border, so it makes sense that a campaign intentionally made to nettle wall-wishers would do well in the moment.

But how would anyone notice a seven-month-old ad in the first place? Well, they didn’t. But the Ogilvy teams found an unexpected hero: their own corporate hierarchy.

On Jan. 9, Ogilvy shared the case study across its global social channels, where the agency network has nearly 300,000 Twitter followers and 430,000 Facebook fans. Its holding company, WPP, also featured the campaign as a work highlight.

Those signal boosts finally gave the campaign the fuel it needed to get off the runway and into American news feeds, where it was shared gleefully by those who supported its message of cultural integration and exploration.

For those wondering how legit the scenarios shown in the ad are, Agost Carreño says it’s all real and that each person featured in the video was a non-actor who did have a 23andMe DNA test done in advance of the reveal.

In the end, this case study is both a moment of celebration and a cautionary tale for agencies when it comes to their role in buzz-building marketing.

Without an ad budget to actually promote what you’re creating, will your spot ever get the mainstream attention it deserves? Perhaps. But in the end, it might be the agency’s own social clout that helps make that happen.

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