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Kaplan & Haenlein - Two hearts in three-quarter time - how to waltz the social media viral marketing dance


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The concept of viral marketing has been discussed in the literature for over 15 years, since Jeffrey Rayport first introduced the term in 1996. However, the more widespread use of social media has recently pushed this idea to a whole new level. We provide insight into the relationship between social media and viral marketing, and illustrate the six steps executives should take in order to dance the social media/viral marketing waltz. We define viral marketing as electronic word-of-mouth whereby some form of marketing message related to a company, brand, or product is transmitted in an exponentially growing way–—often through the use of social media applications. We consider the three conditions that need to be fulfilled to create a viral marketing epidemic (i.e., giving the right message to the right messengers in the right environment) and present four different groups of social media viral marketing campaigns (nightmares, strokes-of-luck, homemade issues, and triumphs). We conclude with five points of caution that managers should heed when trying to launch their own viral marketing campaign.

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Kaplan & Haenlein - Two hearts in three-quarter time - how to waltz the social media viral marketing dance

  1. 1. Business Horizons (2011) 54, 253—263 hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz thesocial media/viral marketing danceAndreas M. Kaplan *, Michael Haenlein ´ESCP Europe, 79 Avenue de la Republique, F-75011 Paris, France KEYWORDS Abstract The concept of viral marketing has been discussed in the literature for Web 2.0; over 15 years, since Jeffrey Rayport first introduced the term in 1996. However, the User-generated more widespread use of social media has recently pushed this idea to a whole new content; level. We provide insight into the relationship between social media and viral Social media; marketing, and illustrate the six steps executives should take in order to dance Viral marketing; the social media/viral marketing waltz. We define viral marketing as electronic word- Word-of-mouth of-mouth whereby some form of marketing message related to a company, brand, or product is transmitted in an exponentially growing way–—often through the use of social media applications. We consider the three conditions that need to be fulfilled to create a viral marketing epidemic (i.e., giving the right message to the right messengers in the right environment) and present four different groups of social media viral marketing campaigns (nightmares, strokes-of-luck, homemade issues, and triumphs). We conclude with five points of caution that managers should heed when trying to launch their own viral marketing campaign. # 2011 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.1. One. . .way: Viral marketing goes the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Preventionsocial media (2010), approximately 60 million Americans con- tracted the H1N1 virus between April 2009 andThe bubonic plague, also referred to as the Black April 2010–—more than 150,000 per day! AlthoughDeath, is widely considered to be the deadliest only 265,000 were actually hospitalized and 12,000pandemic in human history. Between 1348 and perished, many of us won’t soon forget the panic1350 it killed more than 35 million people across surrounding this ‘swine flu.’ Now, consider an epi-Europe, corresponding to approximately 50,000 demic of another sort. On July 14, 2010, Procter &lives lost per day. Yet, as compared to more recent Gamble uploaded a 30-second video spot via theepidemics, these figures seem modest; according to social media application YouTube, to promote its Old Spice brand. This video, entitled The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, was viewed 23 million times in * Corresponding author. 36 hours–—representing 15 million ‘infections’ per E-mail addresses: (A.M. Kaplan), day. If H1N1 had spread with the same rapidity, (M. Haenlein). 60 million infections would have been reached after0007-6813/$ — see front matter # 2011 Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.006
  2. 2. 254 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinless than a week, and the 35 million casualties of the Three. . .conditions: How to create an epidemicBlack Death would have taken no more time than along weekend. Four. . .groups: Social media viral marketing cam- Admittedly, watching an online video is certainly paignsnot comparable to getting infected by a potentiallydeadly disease. Nevertheless, these numbers illus- Five. . .pieces of advice: Spreading the virustrate the incredible speed with which so-called ‘viralmarketing campaigns’ can spread at a time when Six. . .degrees of separation: From epidemics tosocial media start to rule the world (Kaplan immunityHaenlein, 2010). Viral marketing allows firms to pro-mote their products and services with very low budg- 2. Two. . .concepts: Word-of-mouthets and still reach the same levels of awareness that and viral marketingare usually only achievable with high-frequency TVadvertising. Viral marketing enabled The Blair Witch Before we discuss how successful viral marketingProject and Paranormal Activity to become block- epidemics can be created, which different types ofbusters, although the individual budget of each mov- viral marketing campaigns exist, and what firmsie was less than the average salary of one starring should consider when trying to launch a viral mes-Hollywood actor. Brands such as Evian (Roller-Skating sage, it is first necessary to clearly define what viralBabies), Burger King (Subservient Chicken), and marketing stands for and how it links to relatedOld Spice have all benefited from viral marketing concepts, such as word-of-mouth and social mediaepidemics, while JetBlue, Heinz Ketchup, and others (see Figure 1).have suffered severely at the same hands. What is this new form of advertising that allows 2.1. Word-of-mouthaverage people like Stephen Voltz and Fritz Globe tobecome celebrities and spokespeople of firms, while Word-of-mouth (WoM) is a topic that has been ofat the same time being such a headache to multi- interest to marketing researchers for more than fivenationals like Microsoft and Sony? We intend to decades. It can loosely be defined as the sharing ofanswer these questions and to illustrate the six steps information about a product, promotion, et cetera,of waltzing the social media/viral marketing dance: between a consumer and a friend, colleague, or other acquaintance (MarketingPower, 2010). WoM One. . .way: Viral marketing goes social media has been shown to substantially influence consumer attitudes and behaviors, and to be up to seven Two. . .concepts: Word-of-mouth and viral mar- times more effective than traditional print adver- keting tising in impacting brand switching decisionsFigure 1. Relationship between word-of-mouth and viral marketing
  3. 3. Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance 255(Katz Lazarsfeld, 1955). Despite what one might related to a company, brand, or product is trans-initially think, WoM is not a purely altruistic behav- mitted in an exponentially growing way, oftenior: it offers advantages to the sender, as well as the through the use of social media applications. Viralreceiver. For senders, WoM is an opportunity to help marketing has two defining elements. The first is aothers and to improve their self-confidence in doing growth, or reproduction, rate greater than one;so (Phelps, Lewis, Mobilio, Perry, Raman, 2004; this implies that each receiver passes the messageSmith, Coyle, Lightfoot, Scott, 2007). For re- to more than one other person. For example, whenceivers, it reduces decision-making time as well initially seeded to one person, a viral marketingas risk (Chiu, Hsieh, Kao, Lee, 2007), as friends message with a reproduction rate of two would betend to be perceived as unbiased sources of infor- transferred to 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 (et cetera) newmation (Smith et al., 2007). people in the following periods. If the reproduction In recent years, there has been an extensive rate exceeds one, the resulting growth pattern isamount of research investigating WoM in online space. exponential: similar to that which can be observedSimilar to traditional WoM, electronic WoM–— such as for other phenomena in business (e.g., compoundbook reviews exchanged on pages like–— interest), physics (e.g., nuclear chain reactions),has been shown to influence purchase behavior biology (e.g., bacterial growth), and epidemiology(Chevalier Mayzlin, 2006) and to lead to the (e.g., spread of a virus).acquisition of higher value customers (Trusov, The second characteristic usually associated withBucklin, Pauwels, 2009). This presents interesting viral marketing is use of social media applications.managerial implications, as the inherent anonymity Social media can be defined as ‘‘a group of Internet-of online feedback mechanisms can make such plat- based applications that build on the ideological andforms subject to strategic manipulations by com- technological foundations of Web 2.0, and thatpanies which would like to increase their sales allow the creation and exchange of User Generatedthrough favorable comments (Dellarocas, 2003, Content’’ (Kaplan Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). It is an2006). Also, the relative ease with which electronic umbrella term describing different types of applica-WoM can be collected and analyzed allows firms to tions such as collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia),use comments exchanged via newsgroups and the blogs/micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter; see Kaplan like for marketing research purposes (Godes May- Haenlein, in press), content communities (e.g.,zlin, 2004). This approach, which is referred to in YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook),the literature as netnography (Kozinets, 2002), can virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft), andlead to valuable insights due to its ability to observe virtual social worlds (e.g., Second Life; see Kaplan consumers in an unobtrusive way. Haenlein, 2009b). Social media applications are In comparison to traditional WoM, electronic WoM particularly suited for viral marketing, as thehas two main advantages. The first lies in its higher community element embedded in them makes itdiffusion speed for new pieces of information. When convenient to transmit the marketing message to aWoM is exchanged using traditional face-to-face large group of people. Some researchers thereforecommunication, diffusion is limited by the size of use the terms ‘viral marketing’ and ‘social mediathe social network each individual maintains. Given marketing’ interchangeably (Kozinets, de Valck,that, on average, people have only three close Wojnicki, Wilner, 2010).friends (Marsden, 1987) and a total social network Viral marketing is a relatively recent phenome-of no more than 150 (Hill Dunbar, 2003), chains of non and has been discussed in the literature under aWoM communication and customer referrals tend to variety of different terminologies such as word-of-die out quickly. In contrast, WoM exchanged elec- mouse (Goldenberg, Libai, Muller, 2001), buzztronically can reach a much larger group of other marketing (Thomas, 2004), stealth marketingcustomers. Second, electronic WoM is substantially (Kaikati Kaikati, 2004), and word-of-mouth mar-easier to monitor than traditional WoM, which can keting (Kozinets et al., 2010). The term ‘viral mar-only be measured using a relatively tedious process keting’ was borne of an article written by Harvard(Reingen Kernan, 1986). This allows for better Business School’s Jeffrey Rayport (1996). Publishedanalysis of the impact of WoM on tangible business in the business magazine Fast Company, ‘‘The Virusoutcomes (e.g., sales, profits) and, ultimately, the of Marketing’’ makes reference to the exponentialcalculation of return-on-marketing measures. growth pattern inherent in viral marketing by com- paring diffusion of the marketing message with the2.2. Viral marketing spread of a virus. Successful viral marketing should lead to a growth pattern similar to major epidemicsWe define viral marketing as electronic word-of- such as the Black Death in the 14th century, Spanishmouth whereby some form of marketing message Flu in the 20th century, and Swine Flu in the
  4. 4. 256 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenlein21st century. The more resistant and durable a viral formation (Feick Price, 1987). As individuals at-marketing virus is, the better! tuned to the pulse of things, market mavens are typically among the first to receive the message and transmit it to their immediate social network.3. Three. . .conditions: How to create Once a market maven hands over the message to aan epidemic social hub, a viral epidemic has begun. Social hubs are defined as people with an exceptionally large numberTo make viral marketing work, three basic criteria of social connections (Goldenberg, Han, Lehmann, must be met: the right people need to get the right Hong, 2009). They often know hundreds of differentmessage under the right circumstances (see Figure 2). people and have the ability to serve as connectors orNext, we provide additional detail on each of these bridges between different subcultures. The excep-elements, drawing on prior research in the areas of tional social network of social hubs can facilitatemarketing and sociology, as well as the work of immediate transmission of the message to hundreds,Malcolm Gladwell (2002). if not thousands, of other consumers. Yet, in some cases, a direct link between a3.1. The messengers: Market mavens, market maven and a social hub is just not hubs, and salespeople While market mavens may know the message earlier than others, they might not be particularlyThe first critical element in creating a viral market- convincing in transmitting the information. In thising epidemic entails finding the right people to case, salespeople could be needed to receive thespread the message. Consistent with classical laws message from the market maven, amplify it by mak-of concentration, 20% of messengers can be ex- ing it more relevant and persuasive, and then trans-pected to carry 80% of the load; it is, therefore, mit it to the social hub for further distribution.especially crucial to select wisely the initial hostsfor the epidemic. Three groups of messengers are 3.2. The message: Memorable andrequired to ensure the transformation of an ordinary interestingmessage into a viral phenomenon: market mavens,social hubs, and salespeople. Even the most perfect combination of market Market mavens are defined as individuals mavens, social hubs, and salespeople is of limitedwho have access to a large amount of marketplace value when the news itself is not adapted to becomeinformation, and proactively engage in discussions viral. Only messages that are both memorable andwith other consumers to diffuse and spread this in- sufficiently interesting to be passed on to othersFigure 2. The three basic conditions for creating a viral marketing epidemic
  5. 5. Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance 257have the potential to spur a viral marketing phe- disconnected subcultures. Platforms that have thenomenon. In medical terms, this is equivalent to the ability to host different subcultures simultaneously,difference between having flu, which is usually only such as virtual social worlds (Kaplan Haenlein,contagious for several days, and being a carrier of 2009a, 2009b), are therefore particularly well suit-the herpes virus, which establishes a lifelong infec- ed to kick off viral marketing phenomena.tion. While ordinary flu tends to die out quickly and Second, some plain old good luck is needed toaffects a small number of people, herpes can turn glue everything together, as it’s often just not theinto a true epidemic and impact thousands of indi- right time and/or place to launch a viral marketingviduals. Long infectious periods and diseases for campaign. This ambiguity makes viral marketingwhich no antidote exists are an epidemiologist’s hard to understand for companies: actions whichnightmare and a marketer’s dream come true; well, worked well in the past, or for one’s competitor,at least in a marketing sense. may simply be ineffective in a specific case. Consid- Making a message more memorable and interest- er the viral marketing campaign launched ining, or simply more infectious, is often not a matter May 2009 by Starbucks. The coffee vendor encour-of major changes but minor adjustments. One op- aged its customers to take pictures of themselves intion is to rely on true stories about real people front of the company’s new billboards, and post the(‘My brother has a friend, John Doe. . .’), which shots to the micro-blogging application, Twitter.are often more persuasive than corporate advertis- At the same time, film producer and political activisting. Another option is to use rumors, especially Robert Greenwald saw this as a perfect opportunitypositive ones that reflect well on the person telling for promoting his latest documentary about unfairthem, as they have a particularly high chance of labor practices at the coffee chain; he, too, askedbeing transmitted to others (Kamins, Folkes, people to take pictures of themselves–—but whilePerner, 1997). And then there are the obvious safe holding signs criticizing the company’s practices.bets like practical short lists (e.g., ‘The ten best Many responded to Greenwald’s calling, and soonways to lose weight’), humorous or even hilarious about half the photos distributed on Twitter weremessages, and sex. More generally, messages with very different from those initially intended by Star-viral potential must trigger an emotional response bucks. Why things like that happen, we don’t know;in the receiver (Dobele, Lindgreen, Beverland, maybe sometimes, it’s just not your day!Vanhamme, van Wijk, 2007). Effective messagesoften contain an element of surprise, combined withother emotions that can be either positive (e.g., joy) 4. Four. . .groups: Social media viralor negative (e.g., disgust, fear). So, don’t shoot the marketing campaignsmessenger if your viral campaign doesn’t take off. Itmay just be the message’s fault! Viral marketing campaigns emerge from an interac- tion between the firm and its customer base. The3.3. The environment: Dunbar’s Number initiator can, therefore, be either a company or aand ordinary good luck group of consumers. And like any other marketing action, viral marketing campaigns can result inIn addition to getting the right message to the right positive or negative outcomes. Combining thesepeople, two other environmental conditions make two dimensions results in four different types ofthe difference between success and failure in the viral marketing campaigns: nightmares, strokes-of-domain of viral marketing. First, messengers will luck, homemade issues, and triumphs (see Figure 3).only pass on the message when they think it’s not Next, we provide examples of each of these fouralready something everyone knows about. The pe- different types via case studies, illustrating howculiar thing is that ‘everyone’ usually means 150 companies can either encourage good things orcontacts, as this is the maximum number of people avoid bad things happening to them.with whom an individual can maintain stable socialrelationships in their daily life. This threshold is 4.1. Nightmares: The case of JetBlueoften referred to as Dunbar’s Number, and is relatedto the size of the human neocortex (Hill Dunbar, Valentine’s Day 2007 is probably not a date that David2003). Companies may fail in trying to create a viral Neeleman, founder and CEO of American low-costmarketing epidemic because they spread the initial airline JetBlue Airways, holds in warm memory. Thismessage too broadly. Instead of concentrating on has nothing to do with his personal life–—David and hishaving as many seeds as possible, firms should in- wife, Vicki, are the happy parents of nine children–—stead focus on having an infectious message (leading but rather with the company he founded in 1998. Theto a high reproduction rate) and seeding it to many chain of events started quite unspectacularly, when a
  6. 6. 258 A.M. Kaplan, M. HaenleinFigure 3. The four groups of social media viral customers affected: ‘‘We are sorry and campaigns But most of all, we are deeply sorry.’’ He also took precise action and introduced JetBlue’s Bill of Rights, which provides detailed rules for compensation in case JetBlue should need to cancel any future flights. Of course, firms should try to avoid getting into such trouble. But, if this is not possible, the JetBlue example illustrates that admitting your mistakes and saying ‘I’m sorry’ can go a long way. 4.2. Strokes of luck: The Diet Coke and Mentos experiment What happens when you throw some Mentos candies into a bottle of Diet Coke? Lawyer Stephen Voltz asked himself this question in November 2005, while waiting for his friend Fritz Grobe, a professional juggler and comedian who was making some final prepara- tions for his evening show. To find the answer–— that gelatin and gum Arabic in the Mentos will chemi- cally react with caffeine, potassium benzoate, aspar- tame, and CO2 gas in the Diet Coke, producing a geyser effect–—Voltz and Grobe conducted a seriesJetBlue flight from New York to Cancun was delayed of experiments. The two researchers discoveredon the tarmac due to a brutal ice storm. Instead of that best results can be achieved by drilling holessolving the issue rapidly, it took JetBlue nearly in the Mentos, stringing six of them on a paperclip,9 hours to gather materials to defrost the plane and drilling another hole into the cap of the Diet(partly because the equipment was frozen, itself). Coke bottle. This sequence can lead to a geyserThis resulted in a near-complete breakdown of 20 feet high!JetBlue’s operations, with thousands of flights In spring 2006 Voltz and Grobe posted to contentcancelled and hundreds of others delayed; the firm communities Revver and YouTube, a video entitledwas unable to reschedule flight crews because of Experiment #137, involving 500 Mentos and 100 bot-internal IT systems problems. tles of Diet Coke. Within 24 hours the video received Not surprisingly, customers were outraged and 4,000 hits, and views increased by 1,000 per hour. Asvented their anger in a wave of negative comments of this writing, Experiment #137 has garnered moreon blogs, micro-blogs (e.g., Twitter), and social than 12.5 million views. The Diet Coke and Mentosnetworking sites (e.g., Facebook). The fury lasted experiment got so popular that Voltz and Grobe werefor several days, as JetBlue had to cancel nearly a invited to be on the David Letterman show, to per-quarter of all its flights the following weekend form the experiment on live television. Perfetti Van(February 17/18). The impact of this incident was Melle, Mentos’ parent company, reacted immediate-even more substantial because JetBlue had worked ly by shipping thousands of free Mentos to Voltz andhard in the previous months to build a positive image Grobe to support their work. Additionally, the com-and an excellent reputation. Business Week even pany hired Olympic snowboarder Ryan Thompson towanted to crown the firm as one of four companies stage his own Diet Coke/Mentos geyser at a skiwith the best customer service, and planned to resort in Colorado, and launched a website (www.promote this prominently on its cover page. Yet, which invited users to submitdue to the ‘‘worst operational week in JetBlue’s their personal experiment videos in exchange forseven year history’’ (McGregor, 2007, p. 58), the free iTunes downloads. All this resulted in a 20%magazine changed its mind at the last minute and increase in sales for Mentos during summer 2006.replaced JetBlue with retailer Nordstrom. Interestingly, Coca-Cola displayed a very differ- On Monday, February 19, David Neeleman (2009) ent reaction. On June 12, the company issued aissued a public apology for the cancellations and sent press release stating that it would hope ‘‘peoplea letter to the airline’s clients. Instead of trying to want to drink Diet Coke more than try experimentsfind excuses or to cover up the situation, he admitted with it’’ since the ‘‘craziness with Mentos’’ wouldthat he was ‘‘humiliated and mortified’’ by the sys- not fit the brand personality of Diet Coke (Schneider,tems failure, and expressed his deep regrets to the 2007). The firm subsequently sent two T-shirts and
  7. 7. Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance 259baseball caps to Voltz and Grobe, with a note wish- tially denied any relationship to Sony: ‘‘We don’ting them all the best. Yet, only 4 weeks later, Coke work for Sony. And for all you dissin’ my skillz I’mdecided to transform its corporate websites down for a one on one rap off or settling it street( and by adding stylez if you feel me playa.’’ Only some weeks later,the content community The Coke Show, to encour- the blog was taken down and Sony admitted toage users to post user-generated content. And final- having made a mistake:ly, toward the end of the summer, both Coca-Cola Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you haveand Google approached Voltz and Grobe to negoti- figured out (maybe our speech was a little tooate a deal, the details of which were never re- funky fresh???), Peter isn’t a real hip-hop mavenvealed. So, even if you are not the early bird, you and this site was actually developed by Sony.might still catch a worm or two if you put enough Guess we were trying to be just a little toomoney on the table. clever.4.3. Homemade issues: Charlie’s and Yet, at that point, the brand was already damagedJeremy’s Sony PSP blog and the hip-hop videos of ‘Cousin Pete’ became a source of continuous amusement on YouTube.One of the key rules of social media usage is honesty:deception of the social media community is strongly 4.4. Triumphs: Burger King’s Whopperfrowned upon, and often met with anger (Kaplan Sacrifice campaignHaenlein, 2010). Yet, sometimes even the mostsuccessful firms seem to forget this basic tenet. ‘A friend is worth more than gold,’ the old sayingConsider consumer electronics giant Sony Entertain- goes. While this may apply in real life, it’s certainlyment. In 2006, Sony decided to create a fake blog not the case in Facebook, as Burger King’s Whopperentitled All I Want for Christmas Is a PSP. This blog Sacrifice campaign clearly illustrates. In Decemberwas supposedly managed by ‘Charlie,’ an indepen- 2008, the fast food chain giant created a Facebookdent ‘‘designer/artist/playa’’ and owner of a Sony application whereby users were encouraged to re-PSP entertainment console, in order to convince move 10 people from their list of virtual friends, inthe parents of his best friend ‘Jeremy’ to buy their order to earn a coupon for a free Whopper sandwich.son a Sony PSP for Christmas. Besides this immedi- Although the campaign ran for only 10 days, afterate objective, the blog also wanted to offer an which Facebook disabled the application, it was aindependent platform for all young adults who tremendous success. More than 82,000 Facebookwould like to have a PSP, but for one reason or users downloaded the software and subsequentlyanother had not yet convinced their parents to buy sacrificed 233,906 of their friends, generating overthem one. 20,000 free Whopper coupons. As featured in The Sony tried hard to make the blog appear real. For National Post and The New York Times, advertisingexample, the company attempted to use language it agency CP+B–—which was in charge of the project–—assumed the target group audience would speak estimated that the Whopper Sacrifice campaign gen-themselves, including typos and abbreviations. It also erated about 35 million media impressions. Theintroduced new characters along the way, including effort was capped off by a TV commercial in which‘Cousin Pete’–—who, by the way, was not ‘related’ to Burger King used the campaign to illustrate the valueeither Charlie or Jeremy–—a hip-hopper who enriched of its products: ‘Americans love the Whopper morethe blog with videos of himself. Unfortunately for the than they love their friends!’’company, Sony neglected some basic elements of This outstanding triumph demonstrates theensuring the appearance of credibility. For instance, aforementioned importance of a high-impact mes-the blog was registered by a company named Zipatoni sage, launched in a perfect environment: the basicwhich, at that time, was one of Sony’s advertising rules of creating a viral marketing epidemic. Withagencies. Furthermore, the hip-hop videos of Cousin respect to the message, the idea of ‘defriending’Pete were so obviously scripted and staged by pro- people was appealing and memorable through afessional advertising copywriters that the target combination of humor and sarcasm, without beinggroup immediately recognized them as fakes. That’s too extreme. It had a direct relationship to Burgeranother rule of social media usage Sony Entertain- King, by measuring the value of the firm’s flagshipment and Zipatoni did not obey: be unprofessional product in terms of number of friends sacrificed.(Kaplan Haenlein, 2010). Each ‘defriended’ person received notification that Combined, these mistakes resulted in the blog they had just been sacrificed for a 10% share of agoing viral; but, not at all as Sony had anticipated. Whopper, and were encouraged to download theWhen faced with furious comments, ‘Charlie’ ini- application for themselves in order to ‘toss your
  8. 8. 260 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinfriends before they toss you.’ This resulted in a cannot heal a bad product, inappropriate price, orsubstantial viral element. Regarding the environ- insufficient distribution. To reveal its true poten-ment, previous research has shown that Facebook tial, viral marketing needs to be accompanied byfriendships are entered into rather casually, with changes in the rest of the marketing mix. Considersome users having several hundreds of friends (Lewis, Burger King’s Subservient Chicken campaign forKaufman, Gonzalez, Wimmer, Christakis, 2008). some inspiration. In 2004, Burger King launched aThis implies that a Facebook ‘friendship’ probably viral marketing epidemic around an interactivecorresponds more to acquaintanceship in real-life website ( where usersterms. The Whopper Sacrifice campaign provided could give commands to a human dressed in apeople with the opportunity to prune their list of chicken costume. The program was a huge success,acquaintances, and to do so in an innovative and not least of all because the advertising agency infunny way. charge of it also modified other major elements of the firm’s marketing mix. According to CP+B President Jeff Hicks, the company redesigned most5. Five. . .pieces of advice: Spreading anything it could: from employee uniforms, tothe virus drive-through areas, to ketchup packets. Viral mar- keting might draw customers to stores, but theyViral marketing is as much an art as it is a science. need convincing reasons to come back once theNevertheless, in order to increase the odds of cre- hype is over!ating a successful campaign, there are some basicrules companies should follow when spreading a 5.2. Viral marketing needs to be backedvirus (see Figure 4). Next, we describe these rules up by traditional forms of communicationin more detail and provide examples of companieswhich have either followed them very closely, or The buzz surrounding viral marketing epidemicsdisregarded them completely. usually tends to die out quickly, and doesn’t last longer than a couple of weeks at best. Remember5.1. Viral marketing is only as good as the that viral marketing is all about excitement, andremaining marketing mix nothing tends to be more boring than yesterday’s news. To maintain momentum, firms therefore needDespite all the advantages of viral marketing, one to complement viral marketing with more tradition-needs to be realistic. Even the most successful buzz al forms of communication. A good example of this isFigure 4. Five pieces of advice when spreading a virus
  9. 9. Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance 261Wilkinson’s Fight for Kisses advertisement. To sup- should ‘take care’ of. This person subsequentlyport the launch of its newly-developed disposable received a message with a video, showing a bodyrazor, Quattro Titanium, the company relied on a wearing a toe tag bearing the recipient’s name.viral marketing story about a baby fighting his father Needless to say, most reacted with either shock orfor kisses from the baby’s mother. This campaign disgust. Unless a company and brand want to beconsisted of an animated video and an interactive remembered for bad taste, they had better be carefulcomputer game, combined with a series of press with messages that are too edgy.announcements, radio spots, and sponsorship of theFrance—Ireland rugby match that took place during 5.5. Successful viral marketing requires athe same time period. Despite its limited budget of little bit of luck and gut feelingonly s62,000 (about US$90,000), the campaign wasa huge success and resulted in a five percentage As noted, environment represents one of threepoint market share increase within the target group. factors that can differentiate between good andIf all forces act in concert, they can indeed move bad viral marketing campaigns, and some fractionmountains! of it is always beyond the control of the firm. Executives therefore need to accept that the tran-5.3. Excessive planning and intervention sition between careful planning and viral marketingkills any viral marketing campaign success is subject to ‘random’ noise and that failure is always a possibility, even with the best planningAs with any communication exercise, viral market- and best intentions. What worked well yesterday, oring campaigns need to be carefully planned prior to is working well for the competition, does not nec-their launch. Once the virus is set free, however, less essarily guarantee success today. The viral market-control and intervention is preferable. Specifically, ing failure of Heinz Ketchup provides a case in point.companies should not try to ask their customers to In 2007, Procter Gamble organized a highly suc-spread the virus if they are reluctant to do so. A truly cessful video contest, Be the Next Pepto Star. Userscompelling viral marketing campaign needs to stand were encouraged to create funny 60-second videoson its own feet and develop its own dynamics. A case portraying the five symptoms aided by Pepto-Bismolin point is mineral water company Evian, whose (i.e., nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stom-Roller-Skating Babies campaign has been crowned ach, and diarrhea) and to upload them to the Guinness Book of Records as the most viewed Heinz Ketchup tried to copy the campaign someadvertising spot, with more than 45 million online years later, and it turned out to be a disaster. Peopleviews. The company engaged in careful planning uploaded videos in which they used Heinz Ketchupprior to launching the video by choosing the right as toothpaste or acne cream, and publicly accusedtopic (Evian already had an advertising campaign the firm of looking for cheap labor to create ads.based on babies 10 years earlier), the right music Why does an idea work in one setting and not(a remix of a 30-year-old rap song), and the right another? The answer is hanging somewhere in cy-messengers. But once the virus had been unleashed, berspace.Evian limited its role to reacting to–—instead ofproactively influencing–—the viral phenomenon. Toomany cooks spoil the broth, in viral marketing as well 6. Six. . .degrees of separation: Fromas in the kitchen. epidemics to immunity5.4. Highly provocative and edgy Over 40 years ago, researchers Jeffrey Travers andmessages are a tricky business Stanley Milgram (1969) conducted an experiment with 296 individuals from Nebraska and Boston.Good viral marketing messages need to be both Each participant received a letter and the namememorable and interesting. That said, firms must of a person the letter should be sent to. Partic-exercise caution and beware of using messages that ipants were asked to either forward the letterare too provocative; there is often a very fine line directly to the target person, in case they knewbetween being provocative and being inappropri- that person on a first-name basis, or to send it toate. Computer manufacturer Microsoft learned this another person they knew who would be morethe hard way during promotion of its Perfect Dark likely to know the target person. Many lettersZero game for the Xbox 360 platform. In the context evidently got lost along the way, but those thatof a viral marketing campaign, users were invited to arrived had–—on average–—passed through sixprovide the name and email address of a person who intermediaries: a result implying that the meanJoanne Dark, the assassin within Perfect Dark Zero, social distance between two random individuals
  10. 10. 262 A.M. Kaplan, M. Haenleinin the U.S. is as low as six. This observation is now Godes, D., Mayzlin, D. (2004). Using online conversations tooften referred to as ‘six degrees of separation’ or study word-of-mouth communication. Marketing Science, 23(4), 545—560.the ‘small world phenomenon.’ Goldenberg, J., Han, S., Lehmann, D. R., Hong, J. W. (2009). Though the small world experiment has subse- The role of hubs in the adoption process. Journal of Market-quently been criticized for methodological flaws, it ing, 73(2), 1—13.illustrates very well the tremendous reach that can Goldenberg, J., Libai, B., Muller, E. (2001). Talk of the network:be achieved through interpersonal communication. A complex systems look at the underlying process of word-of- mouth. Marketing Letters, 12(3), 211—223.It is exactly this characteristic that makes viral Hill, R. A., Dunbar, R. I. M. (2003). Social network size in a valid alternative to many traditional Human Nature, 14(1), 53—72.forms of advertising. Pepsi, for example, made the Kaikati, A. M., Kaikati, J. G. (2004). Stealth marketing: How todecision to not run any TV ads during the 2010 Super reach consumers surreptitiously. California Management Re- view, 46(4), 6—22.Bowl. Instead, it used an estimated US$20 million of Kamins, M. A., Folkes, V. S., Perner, L. (1997). Consumerthe saved budget for the Pepsi Refresh Project, an responses to rumors: Good news, bad news. Journal of Con-interactive online platform where consumers, busi- sumer Psychology, 6(2), 165—187.nesses, and non-profit organizations can submit and Kaplan, A. M, Haenlein, M. (2009a). Consumer use and businessvote on ideas that have a positive impact and make potential of virtual worlds: The case of second life. The Inter-the world a better place. national Journal on Media Management, 11(3/4), 93—101. Kaplan, A. M., Haenlein, M. (2009b). The fairyland of second On a more abstract level, the small world experi- life: About virtual social worlds and how to use them. Businessment also shows that infection and immunity might Horizons, 52(6), 563—572.only be a few steps apart. Just as people can build up Kaplan, A. M., Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite!resistance to illnesses, viral marketing could lose its The challenges and opportunities of social media. Businesspotency sometime in the future. In this sense, it will Horizons, 53(1), 59—68. Kaplan, A. M., Haenlein, M. (in press). The early bird catcheslikely share the same destiny as telemarketing and the news: Nine things you should know about micro-blogging.television advertising, which have become increas- Business Horizons.ingly ineffective over recent years. Even today, Katz, E., Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1955). Personal influence: The partvoices are raised against using consumers as adver- played by people in the flow of mass communications. 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