So what is it?
There was a shampoo commercial some years back that demonstrated the concept nicely. The commercial featured a beautiful model with equally beautiful hair. After explaining the benefits of this particular brand of shampoo, she suggests that we try the shampoo, and if we like it that we should “…tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on….” All the while, her single image is multiplied on the screen with every “…and so on, and so on, and so on…” so that in just a few seconds, the screen is full of small images of the model. That is how Viral Marketing works.
While it's true that the existence of the internet is the reason this is now a potent communications force, it is really the phenomenon of online social networking that lies at the heart of it.
Here’s why; in the T.V. shampoo commercial sited above, the model demonstrated how quickly you can spread a communication by telling just two friends; however, in social networking circles, it is not unusual for people to have dozens, hundreds, (even thousands) of ‘friends’ to whom they can forward a message.
If a video or other communication captures the interest or imagination of these people (people known as having high Social Networking Potential or S.N.P.), the number of people who see that communication can grow exponentially, as each person sends it to their list
The real question for marketers then is: can Viral Marketing be planned and implemented as part of a marketing campaign, or is it strictly an organic process that depends on luck and the whims of social networkers?
The answer as you might expect is, ‘it depends.’
Ultimately, the public will decide what catches on and what doesn’t.
- In 1999, the movie “The Blair Witch Project” created so much internet ‘buzz’ that the ‘buzz’ itself became a news story of its own. Of course, this generated even more online ‘buzz’, and so on, and so on, and so on….
- In 2000 TiVo gave free TiVo’s to people with high S.N.P., relying on Viral Marketing word-of-mouth to spread news about the product.
- In 2008, the movie Cloverfield made use of social networking websites directly, creating pages on MySpace for fictional characters and companies in the movie.
Should this kind of strategy be part of your marketing mix? When appropriate, sure. However, because it relies so heavily on the whims of the marketplace, making Viral Marketing the centerpiece of a marketing campaign must be given careful consideration.
-by Andrew Sokol