Marketing Brand Strategy Social Media

Jumping on the viral bandwagon: 6 times brands nailed it and how you can too


By Hannah Bowler | Senior Reporter

September 1, 2023 | 8 min read

We look at how marketers have translated viral trends into brand uplift while TikTok’s Kinney Edwards gives his top tips for appropriating a craze.

Lessons from the Grimance shake trend and more

Lessons from the Grimace shake trend and more

Brands are all eager to jump on a TikTok trend, with some unable to stop themselves getting swept up in the latest craze. Either way, TikTok for Gen Z consumers is the place where culture starts, so being active in its trends is a surefire way to engage with the demographic.

According to research from Flamingo, 71% of TikTok users believe the biggest cultural trends start on TikTok and 61% like brands better when they create or participate.

Here are six brands that translated viral trends into brand uplift and sales.

1. McDonald’s and the Grimace shake

When McDonald’s released its purple milkshake to celebrate the birthday of its Grimace mascot, it did not anticipate the TikTok trend it would create. A few weeks after McDonald released its campaign encouraging customers to wish Grimace a happy birthday, it sparked TikTok users to create videos in which Grimace was a murdering monster. The Grimace shake trend skyrocketed on TikTok with #grimaceshake having generated 3.4bn views on publication.

@courteneycoxofficial Happy Birthday Grimace #grimaceshake ♬ original sound - Courteney Cox

McDonald’s jokingly weighed in on the trend, tweeting a picture of Grimace captioned: “meee pretending i don’t see the grimace shake trendd.” Other brands like Sonic the Hedgehog and Xbox also got involved, tweeting their own Grimace-related horror images.

2. Scout and ‘tinned fish date night’

The canned fish trend took hold on TikTok when content creator Ali Hooke shared a series of videos about how she and her husband developed a tradition called “tinned fish date night.” Hooke typically opens cans of seafood to add to a charcuterie board and one of these videos gained 4.5m views.

Through the trend, tinned seafood company Scout rose to fame and led the brand to work with Hooke on a project that brought in 500 transactions via affiliate sales per month on TikTok. During the height of the trend, Scout secured a northeast regional deal with Whole Foods and its e-commerce sales rose 208%. Now TikTok has become 85% of the brand’s social strategy.

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3. ‘@Glossier sponsor me’

Last summer, a relatively unknown TikTok creator shared a story about how she was stopped on a jog by someone asking what perfume she was wearing – it was a Glossier fragrance called You. She uploaded the video with the caption ‘@Glossier sponsor me.’ The beauty brand turned this into a piece of organic content using a TikTok ad tool. The brand attributed the viral moment to helping it sell a bottle of You perfume every 37 seconds.

4. Fruit Roll-Ups ice-cream

Fruit Roll-Ups found itself in a viral food trend where the TikTok community rolled ice-cream into Fruit Roll-Ups. The trend went far beyond TikTok, with the likes of Food Network, Delish and Food & Wine magazine all posting recipes. The brand then hopped on to the trend after a creator asked if it knew what was going on. Fruit Roll-Ups’ video now has over 592,000 likes.


trying the fruit roll up ice cream hack

♬ original sound - Griffin Magleby

5. Rare Beauty rolling things down stairs

In July, Rare Beauty jumped into a trend where users were rolling items down a set of stairs and posted a video rating how each Rare Beauty item fell. The video got over 73,000 likes and over 714,000 views.

4 tips from Kinney Edwards, global head of creative lab at TikTok...

  1. Be authentic to the trend: “Try not to push the trend outside of its core. If the trend is entertaining and all about feeling good, keep the vibe going. If it’s centered around a particular cultural moment or situation, make sure you’re making that the main focus.”

  2. Relate it back to your brand: ”Approach your content with the idea of adding to the trend in your own unique way that makes sense for your brand. Do you often play into your heritage or share behind-the-scenes reveals? Use that as inspiration and a way to keep the continuity of what you may be known for to the audience. What’s your unique POV on the trend?”

  3. Bring something new to the table: “What’s new about the way you take part? What could be a surprising build or additive to the content they’ve been seeing around the trend? Audiences are always looking for something new and different, so seeing a fresh take while respecting the trend can be exciting and still remain relevant.”

  4. Be interested. And interesting: “Above all, brands need to come across as though they have a vested interest in trending content. People don’t want to see a brand do the bare minimum for the sole purpose of attaching themselves to a trend. Consumers want to see brands participate with their same energy and intention.”

  5. Know when not to jump on a trend: "Sometimes a trend may address or callout something related to your brand, product or service in a negative way. This can be an awkward and scary moment for your brand, but learning to simply acknowledge the existence of the trend can be a powerful way to build empathy or show your human side. A great example of that was McDonald's Grimace Birthday shake response."

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