When marketing online or off, it helps to have a fanatic group that can spread the word for you. But, as the story of an unusual new meme demonstrates, it can often be hard to predict exactly where that fanatic support may come from.
Take the case of a young man named Alex Lee, who works checkout at a Target outside Dallas. Within the space of a day, a photo of Lee taken anonymously by a customer and posted to Tumblr was re-posted on Twitter and quickly went viral.
In less than a week, Lee’s Twitter account had amassed half a million followers (it’s now over 700,000!) and the hashtag #AlexFromTarget had been tweeted more than 800,000 times. The resulting mainstream media frenzy included a visit on the Ellen DeGeneres show below:
Here’s how it apparently all went down.
On a Sunday afternoon, a Twitter user with the handle @auscalum posted the photo of Lee claiming she had found it on Tumblr. The original tweet has since become inaccessible.
But the photo went quickly viral and Lee’s account @acl163, which started at 144 followers, had exploded.
Soon fans were beginning to add their own hilarious touches including tweets offering advice on how to copy Lee’s look:
STEAL HIS LOOK: ALEX FROM TARGET shirt: $29.99 Target pants: $35.99 Target watch: $19.99 Target bags: $0.05 Target pic.twitter.com/FxV2cWUKWy
— Dream Closet (@TheDreamCIoset) November 3, 2014
And suggestions for alternatives including Frankie from Starbucks:
And Kieran from T-Mobile:
Kieran from T-Mobile. pic.twitter.com/sbb8e1JM4K
— Tweet Like A Girl (@TweetLikeAGirI) November 3, 2014
Lee says he first realized what was going on only when his manager showed him a photo on a mobile phone. He soon tweeted his own bewilderment to the world:
Am i famous now? — Alex Lee (@acl163) November 2, 2014
And, of course, it didn’t take long for his employer to get into the act:
— Target (@Target) November 3, 2014
Initially, a marketing firm called Breakr tried to take credit for the phenomenon. In a post on LinkedIn, Breakr founder and CEO Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares explained:
“Yesterday, we had fun on Twitter with the hashtag #AlexFromTarget which ended up to be one of the most amazing social media experiments ever. We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”
But there appears to be limited proof the viral sensation was part of a conscious marketing campaign, reports BuzzFeed. The website says some of those involved claim to have never even heard of Leonares’ company.
It’s more likely that Lee’s popularity is the work of dedicated fangirl Twitter users like @NiallWifiPizzas and @5SOSBeliefs. These Twitter accounts have large followings and passionately promote boy bands like One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer. (Lee’s resemblance to members of these bands all with boyish good looks and perfectly quaffed hair, has been mentioned more than once.)
And both Twitter accounts clearly had a hand in Lee’s wild promotion in recent weeks, The Washington Post reports.
The message for marketers is a simple one. It is possible to create a huge buzz in a very short time via social media — even if you are new to the market.
Just find a dedicated fan base with a similar interest and see if you can get them to do some of the work for you.