Viral Marketing

(Transfered from Blogger / Typepad versions of blog) 

 I’ve been asked to bang on about viral marketing twice in the last couple of weeks in very different settings and at quite a serious level of banging on. It’s made me really think about the subject. Is there a renewed interest in ‘viral’? Well I certainly hope not per se (as you’ll see!) but I guess again it’s a symptom of this renewed interest in whatever sort of online marketing people can get their hands on (and hence the tangential relation to this blog).So what do people mean by the term? I think there is the original meaning; then there’s the old models, new method meaning; and finally the mere-observation meaning. So in reverse order:

1. The mere-observational meaning
This is “Build it and they will come” by another name. So take for example Google Maps. How did you find out about it? Someone probably told you. Why did they tell you? Because it is great. There’s been lots of useful functional things on the internet that have worked this way. Most of them created by Google. Really this is an example of the reality of social networks in computing that the way people share knoweldge is through fast recommendation online. Commercial marketing application: none.

2. Old model, new method
Traditional offline techniques adapted to online. Favourites are: “member get member” – tell your friends about our meat pies and we’ll send you a free meat pie; cause-related marketing – tell your friends and we’ll give children in africa a meat pie. Commercial marketing application: moderate.

3. The original meaning
This is what people really mean by the term, especially if they’re flogging you a campaign of some sort. This is the monkey falling out of the tree; this is the the Zidane headbutting game. Content which is so fresh; vivid; fun; entertaining or distacting that you think you should forward it to everyone on your contact list. Does this exist in the real world? Without a doubt. There’s hundreds of examples of it. I might see a good one a week and several bad ones. I wouldn’t forward them myself because I’d worry about being a year behind the viral trend but they go round and round the internet. Does it have a commercial application? Nope. I’m not saying it’s totally impossible. A couple of brands have been able to do it. Carlsberg found a great way for their brand to be an indispensible part of the World Cup correction gag; TV ads from John West and Budweiser were funny enough that people would forward them on and the undoubtedly massive-budet mini offering (; but how many can we honestly say we’ve seen and remembered the advertiser. I could count them on the fingers of one hand – with a couple of fingers missing. The reality is that for the gag itself and the brand to co-exist is extremely rare. Either the brand will manage to extinguish the gag in it’s eagerness to be seen, or the gag will completely overshadow the brand. And given that these pieces are so often made up of sexual; violent or distasteful humor, there’s even a threat of damaging the brand. The three best known virals: Mastercard, Ka and VW Golf – all renounced by their apparent creators.