Viral marketing describes any strategy that motivates individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence. Like viruses, such strategies take advantage of rapid multiplication to explode the message to thousands and then to millions. The message is often more effective as it will come from a peer source making the recipient more receptive to the message. Viral marketing can be used for both B2C and B2B. The appeal of a viral is that it enables companies to go off-brand or experiment with their brand in ways they wouldn’t ordinarily and once properly seeded, it works by itself.
Viral marketing exploits common human motivations; the desire to be cool or popular, “in the know” or part of a community is often the driving force behind a viral campaign. Most people are social animals. The online community enables people to share information quickly and easily. It also provides the tools for people to forward the original message so as not to dilute the primary message or objective of the message. Social scientists tell us that each person has a network of 8 to 12 people in their close network of friends, family, and associates. As Myspace or Bebo have shown, the same holds true for online. When a relevant or engaging message is introduced into existing communications between people who are familiar it is more likely to be read than if sent as EDM or placed in a banner ad slot. The key ingredient is a message that will appeal enough to motivate an individual to forward It along to friends, colleagues or family. This key ingredient can take many forms:
Humour; videos, jokes
Safety; warnings or urban legends which supply snopes with a steady amount of traffic
Fun; games, puzzles, facts
Emotive; love, friendship and even intimacy
Gain; financial (coupon, discount) or tangible (free sample, prize)
Planning a viral can be implementing a brilliant idea or the product of many creative brainstorms. Regardless of how the creative vehicle is conceived it is important to consider the following:
Objective; brand awareness, traffic driver or conversion
Distribution; target markets, crossover and viral sites
Tracking; activity, data collection & easy forward mechanism
Viral campaigns can be transmitted in a variety of ways:
Email – this is ideal and works well from known sources as opposed to a mailing list so you will have a smaller mail-out than traditional EDM campaigns. This shouldn’t be a problem if the creative is engaging or relevant.
Newsletters – an ideal way to spread a campaign although more likely to be used for on-brand or safe virals which can be received with more scepticism than an email transmission.
Blogging – according to MarketingSherpa, Blogs are now the seed campaign of choice. W hether you allow users to keep blogs on your site to or seed your viral within blogs throughout cyberspace.
Online communities – some online communities such as YouTube or MySpace are hotspots for viral videos. Or for a targeted or specific message online forums or niche communities are ideal.
Do’s & Don’ts
Don’t force forwards. If a recipient is forced to forward a viral or give email addresses in exchange for something the yield will generally be fake addresses or addresses of low quality. Use the time or money on creating something that compels recipients to forward on their own.
Do employ engaging or entertaining creative. This can not be stressed enough. Many virals fail because they are just not funny or engaging. Before unleashing a viral, send a test to some friends and ask what they think and if they sent it on.
Don’t ask recipients to forward to x number of friends or family. This message is generally ignored and smacks of desperation.
Do include a forward to a friend link. This will enable tracking to determine if recipients deemed the creative worthy of forwarding as well as what they did next.
Don’t let your viral make promises that your site can’t deliver. Ensure the total user experience is a positive one and that the user can navigate easily throughout the destination site to achieve the campaign objective.
Created for Miami Advertising Agency Crispin Porter and Bogusky by The Barbarian Group in April 2004, the Subservient Chicken is a viral marketing success story. The campaign is a micro site that features a person in a chicken costume with a command field where users can type a range of commands and the “chicken” will then perform the action requested using pre-recorded footage and appearing like an interactive webcam. There were over a hundred commands the chicken will respond to although when asked to perform anything offensive the chicken walks up to the camera and shakes a finger in disappointment. If a competitor is mentioned such as McDonald’s or Taco Bell the chicken approaches the camera and places his finger down his throat whereas “Burger King” elicits a more positive response. The objective was to reinforce the message “Get chicken just the way you like it” in a fun and engaging manner.
Within one week of being seeded into several chat rooms, the micro site received 20million hits. Users were amused by the absurdity of a chicken in garters following orders, impressed by the technology and intrigued to find out who was behind this strange Web phenomenon? Many were surprised to see it was Burger King.
For full results: http://www.adweek.com/aw/national/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000828049
Created for Careerbuilder.com by Cramer-Krasselt in late January 2006, Monk-e-mail allows consumers to choose and accessorize one of three monkeys; type in, record a message by phone for the monkey to lip-sync, or select a pre-recorded message, and then send it to friends and co-workers . The objective was to extend CareerBuilder’s 'Working with Monkeys' TV campaign to the internet. To seed, one email was sent to all CareerBuilder.com employees (approx 1500) and to all agency employees (approx 300). There was no marketing budget to promote this campaign.
As of March 21, 2006, Monk-e-mail has received 7+ million unique visitors, 14+ million Monk-e-mails have been sent and opened. The campaign was also picked up in many different press mediums: blogs, newspapers, TV shows, message boards, etc. To date, Google returns over 84,600 results for Monk-e-Mail 7 weeks after launch.
For full results: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/9.html
Created for Sony by Zipatoni in November, 2006 a micro site was created to appear as a genuine fan site featuring a video of “Cousin Pete” who performed a rap about how wanting a PSP for Christmas. When visitors grew suspicious they contacted the site administrator who responded "We don't work for Sony. And for all you dissin' my skillz I'm down for a one on one rap off or settling it street stylez if you feel me playa." which raised further suspicion and prompted a WhoIs lookup unmasking Sony Computer Entertainment US. To add insult to injury, the news spread in a viral fashion of the embarrassing campaign across the web via blogs and gamers which were Sony’s target market. http://www.ukresistance.co.uk/sonylieblog/default.aspx.htm
For more: http://www.videogamesblogger.com/2006/12/12/sony-pays-pr-firm-to-lie-about-wanting-a-psp-for-christmas-terrible-rapsong-video-included.htm
Barry Scott Blog
Created for Cillit Bang by Cohn & Wolfe in late 2005, a blog was created to appear written by Cillit Bang talking head, Barry Scott. Hoping to cash in on the ironic/ cult appeal of Barry the blog could have been a success had it been allowed to seed naturally, which normally takes about 3 months “Barry” was leaving comments on other blogs throughout the blogosphere. Had the comments been relevant it probably would have worked. Sadly, ‘Barry’ crossed the line. When someone blogged about being reunited with their father after 10 years, Barry’s made-up past suddenly included a similar chapter and this made up character was offering advice; ‘I was apprehensive but I kept telling myself that no matter how estranged we’d become there was no river to wide to cross. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help. Cheers, Barry’.
Cohn & Wolf denied any involvement which made the situation all the more embarrassing after ‘Barry’s’ comment was traced to the same IP address as the firms.
For More: http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2005/09/on_cillit_bang_and_a_new_low_for_marketers/