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Viral Hall of Fame 2008

Viral Hall of Fame 2008

MarketingSherpa Summary:
This Northwestern Mutual Insurance campaign encouraged microsite visitors to "let it go." Visitors to the interactive page could select concerns, such as financial troubles or illness, and dispose of them via catapult, rocket, submarine or hot air balloon. The microsite leveraged a tell-a-friend feature and could be shared on social media sites, such as Digg and By the third month of the campaign, the site's traffic was 213% higher than Northwestern Mutual's total microsite traffic for 2007.

Agency: Downtown Partners Chicago, Firstborn
Client/company: Northwestern Mutual
Brand campaign was conducted for: Let Your Worries Go
Launch date of campaign: March 2008
Target audience/demographic: Affluent families with members ages 25-54

Campaign Goal:
Generate a 50% increase in microsite traffic versus last year when the branding campaign was launched by Downtown Partners and EVB for Northwestern Mutual. With a modest budget to promote the site through online and offline activity, the team was pleased with the traffic generated in 2007. But there was room for improvement.

In a highly competitive and typically lackluster category, the team was challenged to find an interesting and innovative way to build awareness for Northwestern Mutual and to deliver the message while using the online medium to its full potential. The budget also remained the same, so it was necessary to develop an idea that would generate more viral activity to encourage people to interact with the Northwestern Mutual brand.

The campaign was based on the insight that people are unable to let go of unresolved issues. With this realization in mind, the designers came up with creative that showed how Northwestern Mutual could help put people's minds at ease when it came to financial worries, such as funding college education, planning for retirement and overall financial security.

To execute the strategy, they chose the most commonly used phrase people use when they're persuading someone to forget about troubles - "let it go". The expression tells people to clear their minds of worries or issues that continue to weigh on them. Those three words became the foundation for positioning Northwestern Mutual as the financial services company that empowers clients to "let their worries go."

Focusing on this idea, the team developed a microsite where people could go to launch their financial worries by using a catapult, rocket ship, submarine or a hot air balloon. Because Northwestern Mutual as a company is very committed to philanthropic causes (each year, it spends more money on philanthropy than on consumer marketing), the idea was extended to include a charitable component.

In addition to financial worries, people could launch four societal worries: hunger, illness, natural disaster and poor health and fitness. At the end of the campaign, The Northwestern Mutual Foundation promised to donate up to $1 million to the top societal worries launched.

Seed Strategy:
The "" was promoted through thought-leader sites, such as and Currently, has been the lead referring site for visits and blogs. also includes "tell a friend" and "share this" functionality, so people can forward a link to friends or post to Digg,, etc. after interacting with the site.

The site was supported offline through a print campaign and public relations. The Northwestern Mutual Foundation is also working with charities affiliated with the societal worries to promote the microsite through their individual PR and marketing activities.

Buzz Generated:
The campaign has seen great success in the blogosphere. Over 10% of site traffic is attributed to links from blogs and message boards, such as Yelp NYC, AdRants, Josh Spear and Milk & Cookies. Coverage from press around the US has included the Chicago Sun-Times, the San Francisco Business Times and

Josh Spear: Let your worries go:

The Business Journal: Northwestern Mutual letting its worries go:

Specific (Goal-Related) Campaign Results:
The campaign has been live for three months. In the first month alone, all of the 2007 site traffic was exceeded and the campaign goal was reached. By the second month, site traffic was 156% greater than that of the entire 2007. And by the third month (May), traffic had exceeded 2007's by 213%.

Phase two of the campaign is about to be launched, including the process of finalizing the PR plan for a donation event being held at the end of 2008.

Biggest Lesson:
We were surprised at the level of interest created among the online community. Financial services is seen as a lackluster category - especially when it comes to online media. But the online community embraced Northwestern Mutual for finding a relevant, interesting and medium-appropriate way to further its message. Several bloggers were pleased to know that a financial services company could support an effort such as Not only is site traffic increasing, Northwestern is being positioned as an interactive thought leader in the financial services category. From this, the biggest lesson learned has been to continue to look for new ways to approach the online space. Innovation and creative thinking are critical to viral success for a financial services brand.