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Viral Hall of Fame 2007

Viral Hall of Fame 2007
#3. Farm Aid

MarketingSherpa Summary:
With no budget, Farm Aid wanted to increase traffic in the three months before their annual September benefit concert. They created a cool microsite,, and ran a contest challenging fans to upload photos and explain why they were the ultimate fan. Email signup and a tell-a-friend feature also appeared at the site. In response, the site received millions of visits, and paid subscriptions increased 73% for their Farmyard Fanclub membership compared to the year before.

Agency: ISITE Design
Client/company: Farm Aid
Brand campaign was conducted for: Farm Aid
Launch date of campaign: July 11, 2006
Target audience/demographic: Farm Aid concert fans and good food enthusiasts

Campaign Goal:
Farm Aid's website typically has lots of activity in early July, when the annual benefit concert is announced, and again in late September, when the concert is held. But users tended to disappear during the three months in between. We wanted to find a way to keep users interested and involved in the site during the full three-month period. We wanted to create a viral contest that went beyond a funny forward to capture authentic stories from users and engage them in a fun way that would have them coming back to the site over a two- to three-month period. Oh, and did I mention we had zero budget?

About Farm Aid: Farm Aid is a national nonprofit organization with the mission of keeping family farmers on their land and promoting fresh local food. Farm Aid raises awareness with a large annual music concert featuring top artists, including Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp and Neil Young.

A campaign microsite called Top of the Haystack was created to seek out the ultimate Farm Aid fan. The ultimate winner would receive an all-expense paid trip to the 2006 concert. The site went far beyond a typical sweepstakes, encouraging fans to upload a photo and explanation of why they were the ultimate fan. Fans then were pitted against each other in head-to-head contests. Results were tallied on the site, and a leader board tracked fans moving up and down in the rankings. Having fans participate in the challenge and see all the stories not only was highly engaging and encouraged repeat visits, but it also shared the amazing stories of Farm Aid's many supporters. Additional random drawings, sponsor involvement and integration with the main website kept interest high and drove significant results for Farm Aid during a normally slow period. While the microsite had a separate brand than the main Farm Aid web site, careful attention was put into how to effectively integrate them to encourage visitors to engage in our mission-oriented content. Google Analytics was put in place to measure the effectiveness of the campaign.

Seed Strategy:
We contacted friends and family first to get enough entries to fill the contest before going live. Then, we announced the contest in an outbound email to our house list of 20,000 users and linked to it from on our website and blog. We provided our early entrants with e-cards and tell-a-friend tools to encourage them to help spread the word.

Buzz Generated:
• July 11, 2006 – haystack featured on
• July 12, 2006 – contest mentioned on, a blog about sweepstakes and contests
• July 17, 2006 - blog entry on
• July 17, 2006 – Mentioned in Ning’s blog
• July 26, 2006 – fan asks members to vote for her on the discussion board
• July 27, 2006 - News entry on John Mellencamp's online fan club
• July 28, 2006 – Haystack is featured on the home page of the Randi Rhodes show and mentioned on the radio show
• Listed as one of the top apps on the Ning site for the duration of the contest
• Contestants asked people to vote for them on their own personal blogs and MySpace sites

Specific (Goal-Related) Campaign Results:
We went beyond traffic to measure the ultimate success of the campaign. The goals that really mattered were how well we engaged visitors in crossing back to the Farm Aid website and engaging in our mission-oriented content. Results exceeded Farm Aid's wildest expectations. They included:
• 73% increase in paid membership accounts year over year during the campaign period
• 56% increase in new accounts in August (The concert is announced in July and held in September, so this is a key month)
• 11% of the microsite visitors traveled on to visit the main Farm Aid website
• Visitors were viewing an average of 60 pages per visit during the contest peak
• More than 500 people submitted amazing and heartwarming stories and photos
• Early success secured a sponsor for the campaign to cover the prize cost
• Hundreds of fans promoted the contest virally with e-cards

Biggest Learning:
If all goes well, we’ll bring the contest back this year when we announce the concert, but this time we’ll extend the initial time period to seed the entries. This would allow the early buzz to grow over a longer period of time, and more entries at the start would encourage a bigger initial impact from word of mouth and viral from the entrants themselves. We still got millions of visits and consider it an overwhelming success, but we feel some small changes like this could greatly increase the participation.

The most surprising part of the campaign was all of the fantastic stories that came in from the entrants. It opened up our eyes to the power of user-generated content and gave us more ideas for how to incorporate the same ideas on our main site.