Retroviral ECD, Mike Sharman Reveals How He Became a ‘Viral Scientist’

Launched in 2010 during the Soccer World Cup, Retroviral is an online communications agency that is said to have made more brands go viral than any other agency in the continent. According to the ECD Mike Sharman, the agency amplifies brand content by leveraging digital editorial and influencer channels.

“We have never wanted to be the biggest, but rather the best. We excel at quality, at breakneck speed and this is what differentiates us from our traditional cousins. We get shit done.” says Sharman

Retroviral is behind one of the nation’s best stories told, the #BiogenJourney. A campaign that documented a 30 something-year-olds weight loss journey for ten months. His #BiogenJourney gained momentum on social media, inspiring other South Africans to join the movement and conquer their goals.

What makes Retroviral different from other digital agencies?

For us, viral isn’t just vanity metrics – it is science plus the sizzle. Our reason for being is to engineer creative content that converts to a commercial result for the brands we represent. We overlay our comms data with client sales data to validate how we aided in moving the needle.

We play best with challenger brands in need of disrupting the status quo.

How can traditional agencies and brands best adapt to digital transformation?

Digital should never be an add-on but still we see brands trying to stretch budgets to shoehorn an idea – geared for one channel – into media where it won’t work.

We’re obsessed with story selling – stories that emotionally connect with an audience, in order to rationally drive sales. 

How do you think they should respond to the new wave of marketing? 

Stories are at the heart of our industry and the challenge is to consider how a short film can transcend the divide between the traditional 30s realm into the multi-minuter for native Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / Instagram posting.

Do you think South African agencies and brands understand the influencer market?

Influencer marketing as a concept is still in its infancy in SA and generally there are two aspects that trip brands / agencies up:

a) trying to control the content like a micro manager 

b) poor choice of influencer to engage in the process was born out of Retroviral in 2013 because we had relationships with all of the key influencers at the time and we wanted to represent both influencers and brands as fairly as possible to utilise an algorithm that negated vanity metrics and leveraged reach, resonance and relevance as a way to determine real influence for a brand to commission the right influencers to work with.It is incredible to see how the SaaS platform [that I’m a co-founder of] now has a global reach of more than 1.6bn and is being used as the go-to influencer marketing tool around the world.

What are you hoping to achieve through Retroviral and how do you plan on transforming the country’s advertising and marketing industry? 

Retroviral is a boutique agency – it’s a fancy way of describing ourselves as small, but we punch way above our weight and get to work on some of the most coveted brands in the country, if not the world. I’m proud that our agency is representative of all South Africans and all orientations. I look forward to creating more jobs in this business. 

For more information on Retroviral, visit their website.


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