Viral Marketing & Viral Advertisisng
Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social
networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such
as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological
and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the
Internet. Viral promotions may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames,
ebooks, brandable software, images, or even text messages. The basic form of viral marketing is
not infinitely sustainable.
The goal of marketers interested in creating successful viral marketing programs is to identify
individuals with high Social Networking Potential (SNP) and create Viral Messages that appeal to
this segment of the population and have a high probability of being passed along.
The term quot;viral marketingquot; is also sometimes used pejoratively to refer to stealth marketing
campaigns—the use of varied kinds of astroturfing both online and offline to create the impression
of spontaneous word of mouth enthusiasm.
The term Virtual Marketing was coined by a Harvard Business School professor, Jeffrey Rayport,
in December 1996 article for Fast Company The Virus of Marketing. The term was further
popularized by Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson
in 1997 to describe Hotmail's e-mail practice of appending advertising for itself in outgoing mail
from their users.
Among the first to write about viral marketing on the Internet was media critic Douglas Rushkoff
in his 1994 book Media Virus. The assumption is that if such an advertisement reaches a
quot;susceptiblequot; user, that user will become quot;infectedquot; (i.e., sign up for an account) and can then go
on to infect other susceptible users. As long as each infected user sends mail to more than one
susceptible user on average (i.e., the basic reproductive rate is greater than one), standard in
epidemiology imply that the number of infected users will grow according to a logistic curve,
whose initial segment appears exponential.
Among the first to write about algorithms designed to identify people with high Social Networking
Potential is Bob Gerstley in Advertising Research is Changing. Gerstley uses SNP algorithms in
quantitative marketing research to help marketers maximize the effectiveness of viral marketing
campaigns. In 2004 the concept of Alpha User was released to indicate that it had become now
possible to technically isolate the focal point members of any viral campaign, the quot;hubsquot; who are
most influential. Alpha Users can today be isolated and identified, and even targeted for viral
advertising purposes most accurately in mobile phone networks, as mobile phones are so personal.
In response to its use, many sites have started up trying to describe what viral marketing is.
Real Life Examples
The Ponzi scheme and related investment Pyramid schemes, are an early and unfortunate
example of viral marketing. In each round, investors are paid interest from the principal
deposits of later investors. Early investors are so enthusiastic that they recruit their friends
resulting in exponential growth until the pool of available investors is tapped out and the
Multi-level marketing popularized in the 1960s and 70's (not to be confused with Ponzi
schemes) is essentially a form of viral marketing in which representatives gain income
through marketing products through their circle of influence and give their friends a chance
to market products similarly. When successful, the strategy creates an exponentially
growing network of representatives and greatly enriches adopters. Examples include
Amway and Mary Kay Cosmetics.
BusinessWeek (2001) described web-based campaigns for Hotmail (1996) and The Blair
Witch Project (1999) as striking examples of viral marketing, but warned of some dangers
for imitation marketers.
Burger King's The Subservient Chicken campaign was cited in Wired as a striking example
of viral or word-of-mouth marketing.
In 2000, Slate described TiVo's unpublicized gambit of giving free TiVo's to web-savvy
enthusiasts to create quot;viralquot; word of mouth, pointing out that a viral campaign differs from
a publicity stunt.
Launched in 2002, BMW Films was among the earliest viral marketing campaigns. It
attracted nearly 55 million viewers and helped to elevate the career of Clive Owen.
Cadbury's Dairy Milk 2007 Gorilla advertising campaign was heavily popularised on
YouTube and Facebook.
The Big Word Project, launched in 2008, aims to redefine the Oxford English Dictionary
by allowing people to submit their website as the definition of their chosen word. The viral
marketing project, created to fund two Masters students' educations, attracted the attention
of bloggers worldwide, being featured on Daring Fireball and Wired Magazine.
The 2008 film Cloverfield was first publicized with a teaser trailer that did not advertise the
film's title, only its release date: quot;01·18·08.quot; Elements of the viral marketing campaign
included MySpace pages created for fictional characters and websites created for fictional
companies alluded to in the film.
The release of the 2007 concept album Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails involved a viral
marketing campaign, including the band leaving USB drives at concerts during NIN's 2007
European Tour. This was followed up with a series of interlinked websites revealing clues
and information about the dystopian future in which the album is set.
In 2007, World Wrestling Entertainment promoted the return of Chris Jericho with a viral
marketing campaign using 15-second cryptic binary code videos. The videos contained
hidden messages and biblical links related to Jericho, although speculation existed
throughout WWE fans over who the campaign targeted. The text quot;Save Usquot; and quot;2nd
Comingquot; were most prominent in the videos. The campaign spread throughout the internet
with numerous websites, though no longer operational, featuring hidden messages and
biblical links to further hint at Jericho's return.
In 2007 The New York Times' advertising columnist Stuart Elliott wrote about a business-
to-business viral campaign for a software company, showing that viral advertising has
application in areas outside of consumer marketing.
In 2007, Portuguese football club Sporting Portugal integrated a viral feature in their
campaign for season seats. In their website, a video required the user to input his name and
phone number before playback started, which then featured the coach Paulo Bento and the
players waiting at the locker room while he makes a phone call to the user telling him that
they just can't start the season until the user buys his season ticket. Flawless video and
phone call synchronization and the fact that it was a totally new experience for the user led
to nearly 200,000 pageviews phone calls in less than 24 hours. Avirginsplea.com claimed
that a 25-year old virgin living in Toronto named Geoff needed five million hits on his
website in 30 days in order for Jenn, one of his very hot platonic female friends, to help
him lose his virginity.
Early in its existence (perhaps between 1988 and 1992), the television show Mystery
Science Theater 3000 had limited distribution. The producers encouraged viewers to makes
copies of the show on video tape and give them to friends in order to expand viewership
and increase demand for the fledgling Comedy Central network. During this period the
closing credits included the words quot;Keep circulating the tapes!quot;
The marketing campaign for the 2008 film The Dark Knight combined both online and
real-life elements to make it resemble an alternate reality game. Techniques included mass
gatherings of Joker fans, scavenger hunts around world, detailed and intricate websites that
let fans actually participate in quot;votingquot; for political offices in Gotham City, and even a
Gotham News Network that has links to other Gotham pages such as Gotham Rail, a
Gotham travel agency, and political candidate's pages. The movie also markets heavily off
of word of mouth from the thousands of Batman fans.
The brand recognized for safe, conservative vehicles took a daring — for Volvo — approach to
marketing by presenting on the Web a contrived story about a small town in Sweden where 32
folks bought new S40s in a single day.
Included was a quot;documentaryquot; about the event, supposedly by faux film director Carlos Soto
(who even had his own faux Web site).
The effort helped launch the entry-level luxury S40, which became a top-seller for Volvo last
quot;The whole idea was quite provocative and young,quot; says Tim Ellis, global advertising director.
quot;The unexpectedness of this very family-oriented, squeaky-clean brand doing something like
this was interesting. People didn't really want to believe Volvo would do something like that.quot;
The goal was to make the release of Microsoft's xBox video game Halo 2 as big an event as the
opening of a blockbuster movie.
To build such buzz, Chris DiCesare, director of marketing for Microsoft Game Studios, created
a complex marketing scheme that began online with an apparent War of the Worlds-style
invasion. A beekeeper's Web site, ilovebees.com, appeared to have been overtaken by the evil
force — the Covenant.
The campaign then involved calling random pay phones, messaging and calling consumers' cell
phones and blogs and live chats online. The game tallied first-day sales of $125 million last
Long John Silver's.
Long John Silver's 2-minute 'Road Trip with ShrimpBuddy' promotes the chain's popcorn
Not since the movie Forrest Gump has shrimp had the potential to create such a buzz. The fast-
seafood chain has launched shrimpbuddy.com, a Web site that features a two-minute, feel-good
film about a road trip by a guy and his buddy, who is a shrimp.
The guy narrates a series of flashback images showing the two pals enjoying laughs, meals and
traveling together. In the end, the guy eats his shrimp buddy at a Long John Silver's restaurant
— to promote the chain's Popcorn Shrimp.
quot;The new Popcorn Shrimp is a product that is going to appeal to a younger, hipper, on-the-go
consumer,quot; says Don Gates, director of marketing for Long John Silver's.
quot;They're young; they're Web savvy; they have a great sense of humor.
quot;They're the kind of customers who will enjoy Road Trip with ShrimpBuddy. Heck, they're the
kind of customers who'd enjoy going on a road trip with a shrimp buddy.