Is Anyone Immune From The Viral Marketing Bug?

by Patrick Omari - Date: 2008-09-20 - Word Count: 975 Share This!

Since its original creation and subsequent commercial introduction in the late 1980s, the internet has grown exponentially at an almost limitless speed. The internet, as its predecessors television and radio, is becoming the most dominant media for new marketing techniques. As video killed the radio star, will the internet kill the TV star as each new media consumes its predecessors.

Commercials have evolved. The clear, concise product messages of the past are often replaced with unusual, obscure short films, although some ads will still use the obvious approach when promoting a product. As the internet's share of commercial sales grows, more companies are using its influence to introduce products to their intended market.

Due to the size and scale of the internet, web advertising needs to be more effective than ever before. At a time where adverts struggle to even reach their target market, viral marketing is quickly becoming cost-effective as the 'virus' concept spreads and more potential customers become 'infected'. Viral Marketing is generally considered to be video clips, games, images, e-mails and recently text messages.

In the mid 1990s, Hotmail was offering free e-mail services, a revolutionary concept at the time. One of the first examples of viral marketing, Hotmail would offer free e-mail addresses with a simple promotional tagline. The message would spread through groups and communities rapidly and the campaign was a success. Hotmail had made its mark, the product had become well-known and popular and the brand had been established with just a small number of viral messages.

An early viral marketing campaign ensured the success of the film The Blair Witch Project (1999). The production team spent a tiny production budget of just 22,000 dollars and took 250 million dollars at the box office thanks to the viral. The marketing campaign relied heavily on word-of-mouth promotion, with internet chat rooms building anticipation and intrigue about the film's content and time of release.

The Blair Witch Project was a movie with actors, however, prior to its release the film was rumoured to be a documentary by college kids that had gone terribly wrong. The rumours spread quickly and the infected would go on to infect more and more people. By the time the film was released, the buzz around it was at fever-pitch. The Blair Witch creators were pioneers of the viral ad, with viral marketing in its early stages - the standard had been set.

A great viral ad will gain attention and intrigue around a product, so consequently the product must be good, if not great. As the money spent on viral ads increases with the format's popularity, the expectation on each viral will also increase. A viral ad's success will be judged on the amount of views the clip achieves, not necessarily on the related sales.

Increasing sales is inevitably the main target for any company looking to use viral marketing, but the main objective of the ad will not be to promote a specific product. To prevent the viral being too similar to a conventional advert, the product or company name will not be a prevalent part or will be completely absent from the clip.

Recently, there have been many video clips that the viewer would not immediately associate with the product. A UK television advert for Dairy Milk chocolate emerged in September, 2007, featuring a gorilla playing drums to the Phil Collins song 'In The Air Tonight'.

The advert, three times the length of a regular TV commercial, begins with a close-up of the gorilla's face. As the camera begins to pan away, the song begins and the gorilla is seen to be seated behind a drum kit. He creaks his neck before launching into the emphatic drum solo. The final shot is the Dairy Milk logo with its slogan 'A glass and a half full of joy'. The video currently has about two million views on youtube, a major success as a viral ad.

Companies of all sizes will be looking to benefit from the buzz surrounding viral marketing videos. One of the world's biggest companies, Nike, launched the legendary video showing Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho hitting the crossbar four times in a row without the ball touching the floor. Viewed over 50 million times, the video is classed as possibly the best viral ever made. The confusion about how genuine the advert was, as seen in the case of The Blair Witch Project, only increased its popularity as communities shared the video and questioned how it was made.

A new viral ad launched by Holiday Extras, a UK-based company selling airport parking and hotels, features comedy actor Paul Kaye as a car-park proprietor. The clip, at 92 seconds, shows a hideous alternative to the service that the company aims to offer the customer. This inversion of a traditional television advertisement shows how far advertising has moved since it inception. Having only recently been launched, it will be interesting to see how many views the video receives.

A successful viral advert relies on viewing figures, not the popularity of the advert itself. The aim of the viral is to launch or reinforce a brand identity and to encourage word-of-mouth promotion. With little or no money involved, the viral can be seen by a massive audience who will then talk about it to non-internet users as well as fellow web-users. However, as the new media gains popularity and attention, the competition will become fierce, forcing viral ads to be more diverse and attention-grabbing than ever.

So, what will the future hold for viral marketing? As the internet becomes the dominant marketing tool for companies of all kinds, it will be used in different ways to promote products and services. As quickly as the viral marketing epidemic spread, a vaccine may appear in the form of new advertising techniques. It is the companies and advertisers that must stay ahead and attempt to infect the public with progressive, innovative campaigns.

Related Tags: viral marketing, videos, viral, funny video, adverts, viral ads, paul kaye, parking video

Patrick is an online copywriter. His current interest is in Heathrow Terminal 5 parking, Airparks Luton and the new Paul Kaye video.

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