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: