**Originally published November 12th, 2019. Updated January 14th, 2020**

In today’s ultra-competitive business landscape, it’s more important than ever for brands to take part in the conversation on social media. But there’s much more to a successful online presence than just consistent posting or building relationships with your followers—you must also look to use pop culture trends and moments to your competitive advantage. This is an active space where brands and trends come together and provide a creative opportunity for some playful (and often very effective!) social media marketing.

We wanted to highlight five of the most popular viral challenges of the past year, and discuss how brands can capitalize on their popularity. So let’s get started!

The Vans Challenge

It isn’t just water bottles that have become all the rage when it comes to the trend of ‘object flipping’. Thanks to Twitter user @ibelievethehype, people in droves began throwing their Vans sneakers in the air – all in an effort to show that no matter how you toss them, they always land right side up.

Considering the meteoric rise of the water bottle flipping challenge, it’s no surprise the Vans Challenge immediately went viral. What makes it more intriguing is that the findings suggest the hypothesis is mostly true, with most of the tosses resulting in shoes that land right side up. Those that fail to land facing up are deemed “fake” by the online community.

There’s actually a good reason why the Vans challenge works, as well. The footwear brand, which originally started as a skater-oriented company, designed their shoes to be fitted with a heavy sole that was intended to help weigh feet down on a skateboard while cushioning the impact of the activity. This heavier sole design may explain why Vans always seem to land right side up. Don’t believe us? Try it for yourself!

The Cheese Challenge

Contrary to what the name may insinuate, this challenge doesn’t involve “cheesing” for the camera with an embellished smile. Instead, it involves cheese in the most literal sense. That’s right, this viral challenge quite literally consists of adults throwing cheese slices onto a wide-awake, typically unsuspecting infant.

The now infamous #CheesedChallenge all started when a Twitter user going by @unclehxlmes shared a video of the aforementioned act: throwing cheese slices at babies and children. Seemingly overnight, media outlets began to message him asking for his permission to use the clip, which caused him to then delete the tweet.

“I did not expect it to get onto these news articles and to turn into a trend,” he said in a Tweet where he explained why he chose to delete the video. “Firstly, I saw the video on Facebook and did the typical nab tweet for a joke on Twitter as people do.” Once he clarified that it wasn’t actually him in the video – which amassed over 10.3 million views and 758k likes on Twitter – he spoke to the child’s mother and promptly removed the tweet.

The “goal” of this challenge is to make the slice of cheese stick to the child’s face – amusing viewers in the process. In each of the copycat videos that followed, the child’s response to being ‘hit’ is mostly predictable. Shock. Bemusement. Confusion. It’s understandable considering that just about anyone would be in a state of shock after being momentarily blinded by a slice of cheese.

But despite the virality of this dairy discus challenge, the trend has not been absent of criticism. Twitter and other social networks had mixed feelings on this challenge, and negative feedback became a part of the conversation around this growing fad. One of the most notable critics was actress, model, and mother-of-two Chrissy Teigen, who in response to virality tweeted, “I love a prank as much as anybody but I cannot get myself to throw cheese at my adorable, unsuspecting baby who has all the hope and trust in the world in me.”

The #10YearChallenge

This challenge is simple enough but certainly took off quickly after it’s inception. The basis of this one is all about posting a photo of yourself from 10 years ago alongside your most recent snapshot and asking yourself (and your audience) how hard did puberty hit you? Often embarrassing and almost always funny, the real challenge is to be as genuine as possible. So it doesn’t count if you are Facetuning your high school prom photos people.

10 year challenge photo

The Whisper Challenge

This is one of the more entertaining challenges to watch because of the extreme randomness of what people say. The object of this challenge is to try and read someone’s lips and figure out what they are saying while you wear headphones that are playing very loud music. The results are often hysterical, highly-unexpected, and always good fun.

All you need is a pair of headphones, some loud music, and a pinch of imagination to get you off and running. You have to make sure the music for the listener is loud enough so that the other person can’t be heard whatsoever. Keep in mind, the object of the game is to try and figure out what they’re saying by reading their lips.

Participating parties take turns trying to guess what each other is saying. While this game is mostly for amusement and hilarity, you could track points if you wished to determine a winner.

The ‘Old Town Road’ Challenge

Lil Nas X broke the internet when he dropped his Billboard hit single “Old Town Road” this year, getting a colossal push from the popular social media platform TikTok. The hybrid song that masterfully blended elements of hip-hop and country music became the soundtrack for countless “Yee Yee Juice” and “Yee Haw” challenge videos where users morphed into modern-day cowboys and cowgirls. There’s no denying that “Old Town Road” is the undisputed record of the year (it’s now the longest-running charting single in Billboard history), and the song’s historic rise is largely due to its domination on TikTok.

Which leads us to…

How Brands Can Capitalize on these Viral Challenges

Capitalizing on hot cultural trends isn’t as simple as just jumping in on the action. When it comes to current trends, brands must ensure they don’t go too far (or try too hard) in attempting to be socially relevant. Brands should seek to demonstrate social media competence while simultaneously not overselling their own cultural awareness.

Capitalizing on cultural trends is a strategy that can certainly provide a big marketing “win”, but it’s equally imperative that a brand stays true to their voice in the process. Ultimately, you must strive to be tasteful and self-aware to ensure successful social media marketing – free of controversy or missteps.

baby with slice of cheese on face from the cheese challenge

On top of this, timing is everything. No one can predict when any of these given trends are on the cusp of becoming viral. Typically, they are random instances of massive popularity. Brevity is key, so it’s important to act swiftly and make the most of certain trends before they die down, losing their relevancy and leaving the cultural conversation.

Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut answer to success when it comes to responding to viral moments. It’s a mix of creative execution and timeliness. However, there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances of success while limiting the chance of failure:

  • If you want to hop on the bandwagon of a growing challenge, run your ideas past a diverse focus group, including your in-house team. Take this feedback and your teams insights into strong consideration before you publish any challenge-related content
  • Google search both your messaging and imagery before publishing your content. While your concept may be clever, you must ensure that the idea hasn’t been done before and that neither your imagery nor wording is associated with any existing content –  especially if there is any negative press or feedback associated.

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