Viral marketing is the holy grail of marketing. The goal of any successful marketing campaign is to generate buzz and awareness about the product or service being offered. If done correctly, the campaign will generate expansive reach, strong brand-building, strong sales, all at a relatively low production and distribution cost.
Viral marketing can occur through many mediums, but the Internet is currently the reigning champion. Cheap resources (always-on internet access), efficiency in building contact networks (email, messengers, blogs, websites, etc.), and an abundance of new content (think Youtube.com) means that there is always something interesting and easy to share. Videos and websites are probably the most effective internet platforms for internet viral marketing.
The caveat of viral marketing is that since you are leveraging other people’s resources (their time and effort, their email lists, etc.), they will be on the lookout for signs of commercialism. A person will not spread a company’s message because there is no benefit for him. He actually suffers because he is losing credibility among friends. On the other hand, if the same person told his friends to give to an orphanage or other charity, he will be well received and appear magnanimous.
So assuming that your target viral marketer – the person who sees your ad and must spread the advertisement to his acquaintances – falls somewhere in between the extremes of shamelessly plugging a company and expounding upon the virtues of charity, you must balance the inherent commercialism with his desire to spread your message. You must produce something so interesting and compelling that your target marketer has no choice but to share it, marketing message payload and all.
So here is where we strike upon the most difficult challenge of creating a successful viral marketing campaign – finding the balance of creativity and uniqueness while not diminishing the purpose of your marketing in the first place. The challenge is stiff: too commercial and it will not spread beyond the first marketer, too radical and your brand image may no longer match the content of the advertisement. However, do not despair. It has been done with impressive success, and as long as there is an audience of willing consumers, many more impressively successful campaigns will manifest.
Examples of Successful Commercial Viral Videos
The Superbowl is the largest television event in America. Every year, 40 percent of America households, or approximately 80-90 million Americans, are tuned into the Superbowl at some time. The 30 second Superbowl commercial, the most revered spot in American broadcasting, sold for a reported $2.5 million in the 2006 Superbowl.
With viral marketing, the same level audience can be reached, but at a fraction of the cost. The best viral marketing is not blasted at once to a large audience, but once seeded to a few individuals, will grow until many millions of people will have heard of it. Importantly, these people are not just receiving a television broadcast, but they are telling their friends about it, discussing it, joking about it, and making a mental impression of it. One person who tells others about a video he saw is more valuable than 10 who see your video and forget about it.
One successful viral video shows 2 men dressed in lab coats demonstrating the befuddling Diet Coke and Mentos chemical reaction. Apparently, if you drop Mentos breath mints into Diet Coke, it creates a reaction akin to mixing baking soda and vinegar. Many videos were produced, but this particular video was probably the best produced, including a musically choreographed demonstration of over 100 Diet Coke and Mentos fountains. After being featured on CNN, it was revealed that the video’s creators had already made several tens of thousands of dollars selling the advertisements at the beginning and end of the video.
The Diet Coke video is an example of how viral videos can make money. But a company that wishes to get exposure needs a different approach. One way is for the company to sponsor the creation of a new video (or the sequel of a previously popular video), and then intersperse the company’s logo and website throughout the video. A good example of this is Stride gum’s commission of “Where the Hell is Matt” – a video that shows Matt dancing for a few seconds at dozens of places around the world, all set to funny music. The video is novel and ridiculous at the same time – just how many airports, customs, and taxis did Matt and his crew have to go through just to shoot a few seconds of Matt’s dancing? Anyways, the video took off, and Stride cannot be disappointed with their return on investment.
However, the Matt video still only straddles the line of balancing commercialism and content. The perfect video would both integrate the company’s product with content so compelling that the commercial aspect is no longer a concern. To remove the commercial aspect would destroy the very fabric of the commercial. Below, I have included the links of 2 successfully circulated videos, one for Coca-Cola and one for Carlton Draught. These ads are classics of viral marketing because of their power, their persuasiveness, and elegance in weaving together commercialism and content.
A Case Study for Successful Web Marketing
Viral videos excite on a visual and auditory level, but have limitations in spreading your company’s message. Unless you are making a branding video, and can pull of something like Coke or Carlton Draught, the user may not even know what your company does unless he goes to your website or otherwise tries your product. A website can be a successful viral platform that not only generates visitors, but can also deliver your company’s message. In this case study, we will look at a service called AdCubes that combines all the elements of successful viral web marketing.
The first element that of a successful viral website is to have an idea that is at once unique and creative. The website must offer something the visitor and the visitor’s friends will need. In the case of the AdCubes, the product is mundane – it is an advertisement that is sold to anybody who wishes to purchase it. However, the concept is unique. Each ad cube costs $1 more than the previous one. As more and more people visit the site, the ads become more valuable, and the price is naturally driven up by purchases made by the same visitors.
The payoff for buying an ad is huge – the person who purchased the first ad for $1 has received hundreds of clicks for his investment. As the value of the ads increase, people will return to the site often, morbidly curious how much advertisers would pay for the same cube that others have purchased for less. Will the price top out at $100 per cube? Or will it be nearer $100,000?
The beauty of this system is that it is self-reinforcing. People will come and buy ads, and tell their friends about the site. As more and more buzz builds, traffic increases, advertisers increase, and the price of the ads increases. The increasing price drives more buzz, and eventually will garner media attention. Then when buzz is peaking, the price of ads will peak as well, driving higher and higher interest in the concept. In the end, the payoff to the site’s owners could be millions of dollars. The payoff to advertisers could be millions of impressions and thousands of clicks. The payoff to visitors would be to witness a web phenomenon in action.
Of course, there is a lot of seeding that must be done before a site can successfully become a viral property. However, once the seeding process begins, a well-planned site will grow closer and closer each day toward critical mass. Once the critical mass is satisfied, then the site truly becomes viral, growing more and more popular without any input from the creators. This process can be facilitated by improving distribution channels. In the case of AdCubes, a links page allows webmasters and blogs to easily post about the site. Each sales confirmation email also contains a request for the advertiser to tell his acquaintances about his new AdCube.
There are many approaches to making a successful viral web site, but the basics are the same. You must have compelling content, it must be accessible for free or at low cost, and it must be easy to transmit. Once the basics are in place, the only thing left is seeding the first visitors until you reach the critical mass.
It is essential for marketers to understand viral marketing. Why spend resources on getting your company message out when you can recruit others to do it for you? You will need to have creativity in spades to find that all-compelling idea that people cannot help but spread, but find that idea, and you will be well on your way toward profiting from the holy grail of marketing.