The Oldest Form Of Advertising.

Everyone knows someone (or is that someone) who’s so involved in a certain hobby or profession that they can spout the latest news about anything in that field. I often do this to my friends with things about space since I can’t help myself when and often lose hours trawling through Wikipedia and online space publications. It’s these kinds of people that advertisers love, since they’re basically a captive audience for their marketing and are basically employees working as pro bono evangelists. There’s nothing companies love more then getting something for nothing.

So enter Viral Marketing. Whilst the term itself has only been around for the past 12 years or so the concept has been around for quite a lot longer. Probably one of the best examples of this was Charles Ponzi’s famous Ponzi Scheme which went viral very quickly as news spread about the amazing returns on investment he was offering. Its this kind of reaction that many marketing companies try to achieve these days by targeting “high value” individuals who will do a lot of the grunt work for them. In the end the hope is that the advertising critical mass will be hit with little involvement from them, and hopefully without the public at large knowing it was orchestrated by them.

Up until recently the public of Australia hadn’t experienced a successful viral campaign, but that all changed when a love-struck waitress found a coat left behind by a dashing man. The story had all the elements of a great love tale: a chance event, love at first sight, tragic departure, a small clue and a desperate struggle to find the “one”. It’s the kind of thing that the media loves to grab a hold of because it’s got something in it for everyone and makes for a great chat over a coffee (It was on most of the morning shows, but few of the more serious evening programs). From the start people were sceptical, but it managed a good few days of press before someone decided to do some actual investigation and find out who she really was. There was of course a bit of backlash from the community at large who felt they’d been led up the garden path and were astonished that advertisers would do such a thing. There was a brief period after the whole thing came apart where the media actually educated the Australian public about such campaigns, something which I found quite refreshing.

Viral campaigns are a double edged sword when it comes to drumming up hype for your desired product/service/idea. Sure you might end up creating an environment where the product advertises itself (like it seems to do with any Apple product) but at the same time you give up control over what the outcome might be. Whilst you might be successful you have to take caution not to make a fool out of the people you’re advertising to, as the bad news will spread just as quickly as the good. Additionally it’s hard to gauge the results of a viral campaign as they’re notoriously unpredictable, unlike more traditional methods which have decades of research behind them.

I guess it all comes down to an old Japanese proverb: “If you believe everything you read, better not read”. As always, keep a sceptical eye on the media and practice self education on anything that someone might posit to you.

That’s not to say that all viral campaigns are bad or misleading, some are actually quite entertaining:

3 Comments

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  1. “Up until recently the public of Australia hadn’t experienced a successful viral capaign, but that all changed when a love-struck waitress found a coat left behind by a dashing man.”

    This is far from the truth! Where did you jump to the conclusion that Australia hasn’t seen a successful viral marketing campaign before this one? You write this post like it is gospel when you state things like that and anyone with a bit of marketing knowledge would know that it is blatantly wrong.

    The example you gave is one of thousands of successful viral campaigns in Australia. This is my area of study and I look at how successful viral campaigns have increased brand awareness for many companies in Australia. Some of these companies have large marketing budgets and will kick off a viral campaign in conjunction with other advertising efforts. Some are small businesses and use viral marketing out of the need to get their name out there without spending much money.

    In fact, a very well known example of a small company making it big due to viral marketing happened a few years ago. Sumo Salad used viral marketing to launch its brand with a small video of a fat kid trying to get out of a skinny guy (a parody of that weird Maccas commercial) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSmpkKmsvRA.

    Bigger companies such as Coca-Cola, Guinness, Bundaberg Rum and Johnnie Walker have all launched extremely successful viral marketing campaigns in Australia.

    Movie studios launch viral campaigns constantly! They commonly hire agencies in Australia to set up campaigns and push websites through email marketing. For example, http://www.makeupyourmind.com.au was a website set up by an agency in Australia to help launch the movie Fast Food Nation back in 2006, and gained over 100,000 views just through viral marketing.

    Whenever an agency finish an ad, they immediately put it on youtube and try to kick off a viral campaign. A good example of this is the ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign initiated by the agency hired by Tourism Australia campaign a couple of years ago, where Australia was in the top 3 countries in terms of viewers. The Carlton Draught Big Ad was insanely popular online and spread like wildfire through emails.

    Also, I don’t think you are correct in stating that viral marketing is unpredictable. If the brand is getting attention, then very rarely does it end badly for the company. Most marketers know exactly how to pitch the product online and what is likely to be the result of their online viral strategy. The most successful viral campaigns are funny videos and funny emails (increasing the chances of the user clicking that forward button), and are unlikely to result in negative repercussions for the company. It is only when a campaign is offensive or misleading does it have the potential to cause problems, but most marketers avoid this, and the ones that choose to roll with such campaigns have thought about the consequences and have concluded that for their product, ‘any publicity is good publicity’.

  2. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance of previous examples, since I’m probably one step removed from the typical avenue that these campaigns are usually channeled through. I’m more then happy to give way to someone, like yourself, who obviously knows a lot more about this area then I do. I’d just ask that you’d give me the same liberty on topics where my expertise lies. A comment like yours shows that there’s even more to viral marketing then I myself understand, and I welcome the oppotunity to be educated (which, you’ll notice is the actual thrust of the blog post).

    The only reason I mentioned that particular campaign as it was the first one I saw from the very beginning that eventually played out to be being a viral campaign publicly. It hit most of the mainstream media and caused a bit of ruckus that eventually led to its undoing, and I still believe that for a lot of people in Australia it would’ve been their first encounter with the term “viral marketing”. Sure there have been hundreds of campaigns before that but how many of them were so publicly rediculed when they were found out? If you have some examples, I’d love to see them (no doubt you have).

    I’ll still stand by my point that viral campaigns lack the predictability of more traditional advertising methods. Sure there are metrics which can predict with some accuracy the success of the campaign but in reality you’re still relinquishing some control of the content delivery and distribution to the world at large. Just as with websites that are based around user generated content so are viral campaigns are at the mercy of the consumer. I will submit to the fact that traditional means of advertising are not immune to this either, however since they are more mature I would believe that the methods used to predict a successful outcome would be more accurate.

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