Flying Viral: What Businesses Can Learn from the Flappy Bird Saga

This is a guest post by Megan Totka, Chief Editor for

What Can Businesses Learn From Flappy Bird
Image via Flickr

We know that viral sensations come and go. We understand how fickle the modern user can be when it comes to what’s hot and what’s not.

Yet we’ll always be fascinated with how such sensations get started and how they manage to fizzle out.

Imagine one of the most downloaded apps in recent memory, rising to success almost overnight. Then imagine that the app’s creator pulls the plug at the peak of its success. No fuss, no gimmicks, no questions asked. Gone.

Such is the story of Flappy Bird, a seemingly simple mobile game created in a matter of days and released last May. The game (not to be confused with Angry Birds) itself involves the player tapping a touch screen and avoiding scrolling obstacles, controlling a bird-like creature that looks like something out of the Super Mario Universe.

Simple enough, right? The app soared to the top of the mobile charts with millions of downloads and became an overnight success during January, yet has since been discontinued by its creator, Dong Nyguen, a Vietnamese developer, who simply “couldn’t take it anymore.” Despite making an estimated $50,000 a day in ad revenue, Nyguen disagreed with the game’s sudden popularity and addictive nature. Nyguen claims that there was no promotion for the app; meanwhile his decision to shut the whole operation down seems like anything but a gimmick.

The success of Flappy Bird almost seems like satire; however, perhaps it’s simply an experiment in today’s mobile users and the viral nature of the web. Despite its creator sentencing the app to death, it seems like the saga of Flappy Bird is only gaining more steam (possibly bogus reports of phones available with the game have appeared on eBay for exuberant prices).

So what gives? What can businesses, marketers and the average user learn from Flappy Bird?

Viral Success Cannot Be Replicated

Attempting to justify the success of something like Flappy Bird is a riddle in and of itself. The game and its premise have existed in some way, shape, or form for years. Flappy Bird could have just as easily been any other sort of throwaway game in the app store, ignored and discarded in lieu of something of with a bigger budget and more promotion.  The game itself doesn’t represent anything new in terms of innovation or gameplay, facts that have even been acknowledged by the game’s creator.

So how did Flappy Bird spread like wildfire and take over the mobile sphere in a matter of moments? And why?

Viral success is something that is never easily explained, and thus such trends cannot be replicated or imitated. They are truly organic and usually spawn from our share-heavy culture. Sure, imitators of Flappy Bird have already popped up in en masse, but will they have wings? In short, the success of such an app is a truly a one-in-a-million sort of chance.

What can marketers take away from Flappy Bird’s success? Considering that the game was created on the fly, garnered massive popularity on a whim and had little to no promotion, well, it doesn’t seem like much. In fact, it seems like antithesis of what marketers are taught to create. Thus the enigma.

We Share, We Care

“Who cares about a stupid game?”

Enough people to drive the “stupid game” to become one of the biggest cult hits in recent memory.

Due to its place in the mobile space, Flappy Bird was prone to sharing on the social channels. From Twitter to YouTube and Tumblr to Facebook, many users found it difficult to escape the game’s grasp. From meme pictures to “rage” videos, the app put itself at the forefront of some of the most rabid users online (namely the younger crowd). And let’s not forget…

The Frustration Factor

Remember that users love to hate. The frustration factor of a game like Flappy Bird, now infamous for its level of difficulty, gave users a common ground to brag, complain, and draw interest to the app. In addition, the same frustration factor further pushed the buttons of competitive players, boasting their scores on Twitter and Facebook, thus creating a community and conversation of competition. In short, Flappy Bird was a perfect storm for viral success. Where it goes from here we can only speculate.

The Bottom Line 

While the success of Flappy Bird is something that can’t truly be imitated, the success of the app is something fascinating. The viral web will often elude today’s small business owners looking to make their own mark on a volatile mobile landscape. We’ve seen in the past year how something as small and simple as Vine has managed to make its mark through similar principles, all through taking something simple and encouraging users it pass it around.

Although the everyday SMB may not be delving in apps or the mobile marketplace, we should always take steps to make sure users are sharing our content and that it keeps them talking. In the case of Flappy Bird, the name of the game was frustration. For your SMB, it may come down to something bold or controversial in your marketing or message.

Just remember that the sky’s the limit for the modern SMB; especially after the Flappy Bird saga, just about anything seems possible.

Megan TotkaAbout the Author

Megan Totka is the Chief Editor for She specializes on the topic of small business tips and resources. helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.