April 26, 2009

Are we overdoing the Viral thing?

The Heineken Walk-In fridge advert is the best advert I have seen in a long time. Actually Heineken has never ceased to amaze me for the power of its ads all around the world. And it’s not because I have worked for them 6 years, it’s because I have learned to recognize great marketing ideas and great brands when I see them.

What comes to mind though is a growing trend now to call all sorts of YouTube videos “viral”. The term has become fashionable to the point that marketers who don’t make virals nowadays are not “real”marketers. But, what makes something viral is more than posting a simple video, and sorry to rant, but there is nothing viral about a video unless it triggers me to do something. Important things to consider are:

  1. The Delivery Method: How you reach critical mass – email ? advertising ? PR ? how you drive the initial traffic ? for it to snowball you need to have snow and to make a ball and throw it with force where it can pick up on its own ;-) (hence the importance of a context the better the context the less effort you need to reach critical mass – when the phenomenon spins by itself).
  2. The Replication Method: It’s the need to share - the way Word of mouth raps around a story and drives people to go and check something for themselves, or makes people forward a link to someone else. That’s viral. Something Mutates.
  3. The potential to induce Behaviour Change: The fact that once you have been in “contact” with a viral (virus – think of the analogy with biology) – your behaviour is changed, something is triggered that wasn’t before. And you’ll take action if nothing else by forwarding the link. The keyword here is the Stickiness factor.

In the example of the Heineken video although it is a mere advert what is fascinating is the growing number of “spoof” ads, run a search on YouTube for Heineken Fridge ad and you’ll find many.

As I write this I am not sure if those are made up by Heineken some seem to be (Let's not be naive it happens) or totally spontaneous and user generated but it certainly looks like the phenomenon is getting out of control.

Take another recent example: the Samsung LED Sheep video. Is that a viral?

It certainly has been claimed as one. But to me I’d say it was a great “go crazy ad”, a clever PR stunt, and yes it got people to talk, and they even forwarded a link... I mean 7 million viewers forces respect but was that really a viral? Is Susan Boyle a viral? is Obama viral? their videos went around the world... but... Popular content can’t really be called viral.

So I guess my point is = I prefer mutating content – I’d like to distinguish interesting videos which people like to share with a viral mechanism for which a lot more thought has gone into to make it different and sticky.

Take a classic example like the Dexter treatment. When you give a friend the “Dexter” Treatment you are given a chance to personalize the content to suit your friend. So the content changes every time you forward it and is highly personalised to the target. The delivery mechanism is email and the result is so believable that you actually want to do it to your friends as well (replication).

Check http://www.thedexterhitlist.com/

To me this type of mechanics deserves a lot more to be called "Viral".


Anonymous said...

Hi Jean!

Great and timely post! I've been long thinking about writing a post on VIRAL myself, since i feel most of the meaning, sense, direction and utility of Viral has been lost within the hoopla / madness of "Social marketing"!

By definition, a VIRAL must have 3 necessary characteristics:
1) An Idea that sticks and stays with the host, and
2) Has propensity to mutate while with the host and spread,...
3) ...with varying degrees of virility

With this context, most of the so-called "virals" are not virals - esp. when they are visibly endorsed by the brands (instead of the 'idea' behind the brands) and when they are not creating new points of mutation.

An example of a good viral was perhaps MacBook Air. Even though it was the original TVCF which was posted online, it triggered many other "parody" TVCFs by users, which incidentally outscored the hits / visibility of the original TVCF. The result? even though many of them made fun of the TVCF, the real winner was MacBook Air, since it created a buzz for the brand!

Good POST! Waiting to see more!

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