Wildfire.

This month, I was thinking about how things catch on — like a wildfire blazing in the forest.

In a matter of days or weeks, something can spread so fast and so forcefully, it becomes a cultural phenomenon.

It’s stunning to see this process unfold, but what amazes me: sometimes the catalyst comes from sharp and savvy marketing.

Here are a few notable things that caught my eye over the years:

Red Bull Stratos — Freefall Jump

 Image Source: Yahoo, Redbull

Image Source: Yahoo, Redbull

In October 2012, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from 23 miles above the Earth at almost 1000 MPH. A daring, dangerous feat…that was perfectly marketed by Red Bull, the energy drink company. By live-streaming on YouTube and branding it Red Bull Stratos, the company created massive global exposure for the campaign — and it became the most prolific online event for that year. Results? The campaign did great for the business — sales rose 7% to 1.6 billion in the US in six months. (AdAge)

My marketing lesson: Embrace your brand — for both its success and failure. Red Bull knew it was taking a huge risk. Any failure or loss of human life would have been extremely terrible for the company. But they didn’t doubt themselves. They knew who they were (a bold, gutsy brand) and backed it up with a big, brave bet — and it paid off extremely well.

Dumb Ways to Die

 Image Source: Dumb Ways to Die

Image Source: Dumb Ways to Die

Can you think of a remotely compelling way to talk about railroad safety? Well, Australia’s Metro Trains and agency McCann did that…to astonishing success. In 2012, they turned a potentially boring PSA into one of the most successful marketing videos: Dumb Ways to Die. It was devilishly cute and adorable, and you couldn’t help sharing it with your friends. The video exploded in popularity through social activation — reaching 100MM social views. It spawned a mobile app, train station posters, and even a safety book. Results? It generated a million pledges to be safe around trains, with a 20% reduction in rail-related accidents. (AdAge)

My marketing lesson: In your message, sometimes you don’t have to preach the obvious. Metro Trains and McCann could easily have done a direct, boring message about train safety. Rather, the companies decided on being light-hearted and entertaining. By trying a unique approach, Dumb Ways to Die became much more memorable and impactful than a traditional approach.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

 Image Source: ALS Association

Image Source: ALS Association

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, usually doesn’t get attention compared to other diseases. Yet in summer 2014, something wonderful happened. A grass-roots phenomenon called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge exploded on the scene. The idea? Record yourself throwing a bucket of ice-water over your head, tag three people to do the same in 24 hours, and then donate to the ALS Association. An remarkably easy, simple feat — and it scorched through social media. Everyone got on it — politicians, celebrities, activists, athletes and yes, even me! Results? The campaign raised $220 MM in total for medical research and treatment.

My marketing lesson: Break down your campaign to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). The campaign could have been easily complicated — with cumbersome ways to inform, publicize and donate. Rather, the activity was made extremely approachable and shareable by lowering the inertia to participate.

Working in this field, I am often struck how sharp marketing can ignite something and take it to a whole new level. Now I have to work on sparking my own wildfires of the future!