Pizza, tickets, toys: How freebies make stuff go viral

What does it take to trend on Twitter? Well, you could be controversial or newsy or cute. Or maybe pay $200,000 for a sponsored trend.

Or you could get Fooji, a Lexington-based company, to set up a Tweet storm for you by giving away goodies that people love to get.

Founded in January 2016 by University of Kentucky grad Gregg Morton and University of Cincinnati grad Erik Zamudio, Fooji has been behind social media campaigns that help make movies, TV shows, and soon they hope, consumer products, go viral.

Take a recent campaign for the movie “Battle of the Sexes.”

People who tweeted with #BattleoftheSexes and a pig emoji got a tiny stuffed pink piggie.

Another movie campaign, this one last month for “Thor: Ragnarok,” asked people to tweet the trigger hashtag and a custom Thor emoji. In return, 1,600 people got a movie poster signed by five of the Marvel movie’s stars. Others got a digital poster to print out.

That campaign in 10 markets around the country generated more than 40,000 tweets and more than 50 million impressions; the movie trended on Twitter and kicked off advance ticket sales two months before opening day.

That’s a lot of buzz for the buck. Morton said that the cost of the campaign was about a tenth of what it would have cost to buy that publicity on Twitter.

“We look at what we do as generating media for clients without them having to buy it,” Morton said.

The idea for Fooji came to Morton and Zamudio after they launched a way to order food with emojis. Eater, Mashable, Food & Wine, ABC News and others wrote up the gimmick; suddenly, they heard from brands that wanted to use their idea as a way to engage their fan base.

“We realized quickly that’s where the business is, so we pivoted to that,” Morton said.

In Fooji’s first 21 months, more than 700,000 people have participated in their campaigns. In 2016, they delivered 51,000 promotional items; so far in 2017, they’ve already delivered 63,000, according to the company.

“In the first 12 months, we did over $1 million in revenue, and we will do significant multiples of that this year,” Morton said.

The brand wins multiple ways: increased visibility inside and outside the fan base, and rich data on that base.

Here’s how it works: Fooji builds campaigns that reward people for performing an action on social media — tweeting with a specific hashtag and emoji. The tweeter gets a prize — food, flowers, toys, champagne, you name it — within an hour.

For “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” Fooji delivered a coffee mug, instant Starbucks pouches and a box of Entenmann’s doughnuts. For “Beauty and the Beast,” they delivered single red roses to most people, with a few getting a special version: a long-lasting Luxe Bloom rose in a glass bell jar like the one in the Beast’s library. For the season debut of “Empire,” it was cookies. (Get it?)

And the immediacy counts: The items are typically delivered by whatever platform is most readily available in a particular city, whether it’s Uber, Lyft, Grubhub, Eat Street, Shipt or another service.

Recipients then share their joy on Twitter, doubling the engagement.

“We look at ourselves as ‘super influencers,’” Morton said. “It’s a big marketing channel and it’s going to grow.”

Next up: watch your Twitter feed for the hashtag #UnlimitedScreaming. It’s a new campaign Fooji is launching on Friday October 13th for Amazon to promote the streaming service’s horror films section for Halloween.

Over three Fridays in October, Fooji’s bots will be watching for that hashtag and a pumpkin emoji to give away 10,000 pizzas nationally, including in Lexington.

After working with companies like Disney, Amazon, ABC, Fox, Warner Brothers, GlaxoSmithKline, Anheuser Busch, Adidas, Tums, Google, Hulu and more, Fooji is now targeting Procter & Gamble based in Cincinnati and Coca-Cola in Atlanta as well as Chicago-based ad agency Mindshare.

If that expansion comes to fruition, Fooji will almost certainly be looking for more space; they moved into an open-plan office on Short Street only last year but already the company has about 60 employees, including a handful on the West Coast.

And they have been in discussions with JMI, which handles branding and promotions for the University of Kentucky.

“We’re looking for an opportunity to do an activation when it makes sense,” Morton said. “We will be looking to do something with March Madness, for sure.”

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