Viral campaigns may be in need of a health check? A deeper look.

Most people don’t get viral. In fact, very few do including most of the advertsing agencies in Australia. Personally I beleive the headline in the SMH article below is an unfair reflection of a grossly misunderstood medium. It is not “Viral Campaigns” that need the health check – it’s the agencies trying to jump on the viral bandwagon.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/viral-campaigns-may-be-in-need-of-a-health-check/2006/10/04/1159641393111.html
Let me explain why I think there are issues:

I’m going to start by defining what the medium is:
What is viral behaviour? It is an online ‘word of mouth’ transaction promoting someone else’s digital content (this could be an email, website, image, video, blog article etc).
What is viral marketing? – the method of using viral behaviour to engage the user and promote content that has specific marketing goals (brand, offer, subscription, product awareness) etc.

In both cases, the user is not forced to engage, the decision to forward rests with them (so marketing companies cannot “push” like with most other advertising mediums). The very nature of the beast means that in order for viral marketing to work, the guts of the promotion must be driven around something that motivates the user to ‘pass it on’. Otherwise it fails.

– What do most people think viral marketing means? When everybody passes your content around like a tornado resulting in mass exposure. A drop in numbers means a decline in popularity.
This is a common misperception of both the medium and how it is best used and measured. I’ll come onto this later.

So are users cooling off to Viral Marketing?
Now let’s put something into perspective. How can you make a claim that the average consumer is cooling off with regards to word of mouth behaviour online? You can’t. The internet that exists today has been shaped by user choice and word of mouth. Hello… YouTube?! Anyone notice where that came from? A top 10 global website born out of word of mouth online behaviour. No,  it’s not a campaign but it leads strongly into the following point: Here’s the fact: Consumers aren’t cooling off to viral marketing. The problem is that (agencies) that claim to be producing viral campaigns do not understand the medium properly and their creative is failing to engage. Our consumer enjoys viral, but they won’t pass it on unless it meets the primary psychological factor for viral behaviour – the motivation for the referral. We have a stack of exit poll results from our viral campaigns that stand testiment to the fact that consumers LIKE and APPRECIATE viral campaigns that are relevent and engaging. So – don’t confuse ‘numbers’ from one or two campaigns with what users are really doing when it comes to viral behaviour online. They are more active in this medium than ever before.

The next common mistake with viral – Measuring success by number of unique visitors in the shortest space of time possible. (Groan)… now I cannot understand why when the industry talks about “Viral” we end up with “Big Ad” as a stand out. Yes it was passed around but it is a terrible example of the medium working well. Here we have a medium that doesn’t just reach – it can touch and interact. Big Ad is just about the worst case study for viral you could ever use. Viral should be judged by its impact and results based on the brief, not simply by views alone. There are DOZENS of measurables that could deem viral a success. Under the right circumstances a successful viral campaign may only reach one person (example: to invoke a political change) for it to be a success ALTERNATIVELY a viral campaign might take 3 years to reach the numbers needed. So let’s start keeping things in context when it comes to viral.

What most pundits in the marketplace fail to understand is that there IS a science to viral. It is NOT unpredictable and it IS 100% measurable. It is a containable and viable form of marketing. Amnesia has 8 years experience of viral now. We’ve studied it, we’ve analysed the mechanics, motivators and detractors. We’ve even discovered that alll viral campaigns break down into six distinct catagories. We’ve identified seeding points and we’ve even got our own algorithm that identifies whether a viral campaign will spread. We have dozens of case studies to prove our points. We won the first ever ADMA award for online marketing that was a pure Viral Campaign. All our clients (Pepsi, Xbox, Unilever, IKEA etc) have embraced the medium with enormous success.

Last year we produced www.driftgame.com.au (which won a Webby Award). $0.00 media spend and 6.5 million games, 2.8 million visits and counting. But thats not the point… We measured 1.6 million distinct brand interactions that measured the users engagement and understanding of the communication message. Now THAT is what viral marketing is about.

Another recent campaign recorded 90% on an exit poll from the viral saying they intended to make that product their next purchase. Try getting that info from a TVC! This medium is interactive – use it!

If you just want eyeballs – then try 38 million impressions on messenger for 20K each month. Viral cannot buy you those numbers. Am I making sense here?

Our site for Lipton (www.braintrain.com.au) will do very well and it will meet all the business objectives laid out during briefing. It will engage and inform the relevent messaging, but the user will make their own mind up if they want to pass it on. It’s NOT a pure viral campaign but part of a carefully planned digital ecosystem designed to produce results. There’s no mystery in what we are doing.

For the time being we will continue to watch the marketing world ‘fail to understand’ viral – the most exciting and brutally honest medium there has ever been. Articles will continue to be written about viral based on education from pundits who shouldn’t be talking about it in the first place.

This isn’t a rant – it might sound like one, but we love the fact that other agencies aren’t able to channel the medium consistently like us. Here’s the final point – The term “VIRAL” deserves better. The web experience we enjoy today is born from VIRAL because it is the users that choose how the web lives or dies. We (Agencies) do not control the experience, we have to tap into what people want and need. Negative words used for ‘VIRAL’ should be exclusively reserved for those claiming to understand the medium that clearly don’t.

:) Iain.

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  1. John R says:

    Very interesting.

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