For the last three months, I’ve had the fascinating and unique opportunity to watch something very unusual: I watched something Go Viral.
It started when my officemate and client Anthony Weintraub came in one day and said “You know that this year Thanksgiving and Chanukah overlap for the only time in any of our lifetimes?” I said I had heard, and what of it.
“(His 9 year old son) Asher thought of something last night, and we may try to see how it goes. He thought that it would look cool to make a menorah in the shape of a turkey. He wants to call it a Menurkey. (You see where this is going…) We told him to design one, and he did. You think it could sell?”
That started a journey for Anthony, his wife (and also our officemate) Caroline, Asher and their younger son Emmanuel. Because as soon as they put the Menurkey on Kickstarter (another idea of Asher’s, along with giving a percentage of the revenue to charity), their project took off. They thought they would struggle to raise their initial $18,000 to produce a few hundred Menurkeys. They raised it in a couple of days. They went up to $25,000, then $45,000. And the media began to notice. Thanksgivukkah started to become a Thing, and the Menurkey became its symbol. Anthony and Caroline started to struggle to keep up with orders, tried to find new vendors. They were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and on the hipster Grid in New York Magazine. The Today Show. The Food Network. On and On. Anthony began to look tired. The rest of his work (he and Caroline are filmmakers and app developers) started to take a back seat to the Menurkey. Interns who thought they were going to work on a Pilot started to create spreadsheets to track Menurkey sales.
Then Anthony got a call from the Jewish Museum looking to be the exclusive New York retailer, with initial orders of several thousand. He just shook his head. The Menurkey was viral. It was in hundreds of newspapers and posted about on websites. When the holiday finally arrived, Instagram’s top-posted feed was devoted to pictures of lit Menurkeys.
Then came the apotheosis of the Menurkey. I walked into the office one day last week and found Anthony shaking his head.
“We just heard from the White House. Guess who’s going to President Obama’s Holiday Party?”
My point in telling this story, beside the fact that it was REALLY COOL to sit there and watch this unfold, to actually see something become part of the zeitgeist in front of me, is that it was absolutely impossible to predict. Because that is what Going Viral is. I hear authors and publishers talk and write all the time about setting out to go viral; to try to create something that will be as popular as the Menurkey. But the thing is, the Menurkey worked precisely because it wasn’t calculated, and it would not have worked if all the elements hadn’t been there—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. That combines two uniquely family-oriented holidays. That had a funny name. And involved a cute symbol. That was created by a nine year old boy! (It would NEVER have gone viral had Anthony created it—it just wouldn’t have been such a good story that the Today show and the Journal both would have wanted to interview Anthony. But Asher, with his nine-year-old baffled pose, was irresistible. And he was giving a percentage to charity.)
This morning we were sitting in the office, a few boxes of returned Menurkeys scattered around (hey, you can’t please everyone!!). Anthony was back from Washington; Asher, back in fourth grade. We were rehashing their last three months. Anthony said that had they planned better they might have sold more Menurkeys. I disagreed. I believe that sometimes there IS magic, that you hit something perfectly, that there is a wave that you need to ride and just hang on and enjoy the rush, and simply enjoy it and appreciate it. If Anthony had started planning six months before, there was just as much of a chance that our office would have been overrun by plaster menorahs, beaks out and pristine. Instead it seems to me that they sold exactly as many as they ought to have sold. And got to meet the President.