From time to time a strange discussion takes place with one of our clients, prospects or someone I meet at a party. In the later case I was discussing what a viral marketing campaign was and whether it could actually be commissioned by a client. The scary answer by inexperienced (or dishonest?) marketing agencies is horribly consistent: let’s do a one minute video – it will be funny and maybe a bit outrageous and as a result we will have ourselves a viral marketing campaign.
This kind of answer makes me sad and a little angry. I must also admit that I was once involved in a project like this and had to fight with the ‘advertising people’ about the fact that a funny video alone simply would not do it.
Recently Seth Godin, the man who ‘owns’ the concept of viral marketing (calling it ‘ideavirus) has revisited the subject on his blog. He wrote a post entitled ‘what is viral marketing’ which is a great recap of the meaning of the concept.
He summed up my feelings better than I could:
The reason for this post is that viral marketing is getting a bad name, largely from clueless marketing agencies and clueless marketers. Here’s what they do: they get a lame product, or a semi-lame product, and they don’t have enough time or money to run a nationwide ad campaign. So, instead, they slap some goofy viral thing on top of it and wait for it to spread. And if it doesn’t spread, they create a faux controversy or engage a PR firm or some bloggers and then it still doesn’t work.
My word of advice next time the topic comes up:
1) You can never predict whether a campaign or video will go viral
2) The real question is why do you want something to go viral and what you are trying to accomplish: the answer to this is often that you want to get your message out and get a discussion going on a topic or raise awareness of some issue. Instead of trying to create a viral marketing video, why don’t you concentrate on doing just that?
3) Stop using the word ‘viral’ – if you want traffic, say you want traffic, if you want people to forward the message, say that too. Nobody wants viral marketing for its own sake – and the most successful viral marketing video were accidental (ask the Star Wars kid).
I want to end this with another quote from Seth Godin’s post:
Something being viral is not, in an of itself, viral marketing. Who cares that 32,000,000 people saw your stupid video? It didn’t market you or your business in a tangible, useful way.
Marketers are obsessed with free media, and, as is often the case, we blow it in our rush to get our share. We create content that is hampered or selfish or boring. Or we create something completely viral that doesn’t do any marketing at all.