What Everybody Ought to Know About Viral Marketing

This weeks’ Viral Marketing phenomenon is the Cadbury Gorilla. Except that it isn’t.cadbury.jpg

It’s a funny video of a gorilla playing the drums along to Phil Collins. Who wouldn’t want to pass it on? It’s been posted to YouTube as well. So Cadbury and their agency can expect plenty of people to view it.

But does it sell Chocolate bars? I doubt it. As funny as it is, there is no correlation between forwarding this video on to your friends to buying chocolate bars. So we can’t really call this viral marketing, can we?

Let’s make the distinction between “viral” and “viral marketing”.

“Viral” is easy. A teenager can videotape themselves singing in their bedroom and it can go viral. A Facebook group about Pluto can go viral. And a chocolate bar company can film a funny gorilla, and it can “go viral”. Just make something funny, quirky, and easy to spread.

Viral Marketing is, well, something else.

The term ‘Viral Marketing’ was made popular by Steve Jurvetson, a venture captalist, when describing Hotmail’s practice of adding the phrase “Get Your Private, Free Email from Hotmail at http://www.hotmail.com”. By making the product part a strong part of the message, and intertwining the product benefit (free, private email in this case), you could assume that this was a viral marketing success.

The days of a free email address being an exciting proposition are long gone. And this example of viral marketing is cliched. So let’s move into the naughties.

Nowadays, marketing philosophers (myself included) will annoy the pants off you by saying, “You have to remarkable to be remarked about” and “You can’t be a viral marketing success with having a product or service that’s truly viralworthy”. Or some similar schtick. But I’m afraid it’s true. As Seth Godin defined it:

Viral marketing is a special case of an ideavirus. Viral marketing is an ideavirus in which the medium of the virus is the product. It’s an idea where the idea is the amplifier.

That said, let’s look at some more recent examples to explain Viral Marketing.

  • Threshers wine chain in the UK offered a 40% off discount voucher online last Christmas … it started small but in the end was downloaded by millions of people.
  • Movember – now there’s a clever viral campaign. The annual “Grow a moustache in November for charity” campaign is classic is viral marketing, because every willing participant is sporting a ridiculous (yet charitable) set of handlebars for an entire month.

The three above are all valid examples of viral marketing. The spreadworthy nature of the blendtec videos was the blender. The spreadworthy deal at Threshers was Threshers. And the message that the mo’ spreads is Movember.

As people spread the message, they spread it about thing that was originally intended to spread. That, my friends, it viral marketing.

And I’m reluctant to mention Facebook. But Facebook has been an example of Viral marketing too. Because the benefit of being on Facebook (“I keep in touch with my friends”) is linked to the sign-up effect of Facebook (Hooly-dooly, look how many of my friends are already on facebook”).

Now, I’m not suggesting that Viral Marketing is easy. The internet has made it soooo much easier to spread a message. But still, Viral marketing isn’t easy. Far from it.

But if the product (or at least the offer linked to the product) is talkworthy, and you link it to a medium that it easy to spread, it just might spread.

The million dollar question? How could Cadbury have made their online gorilla viral campaign a VIRAL MARKETING campaign?

That’s the subject of another post. Stay tuned.

12 Responses

  1. Great post Ben. I think your distinction between ‘viral’ and ‘viral marketing’ is a useful one.

    Viral marketing is not just about spreading from person to person, but delivering real business outcomes. In the rush to achieve marketing’s new holy grail, too many marketers lose sight of this purpose, and just come up with something quirky, amusing or outrageous that is also quite useless.

    I like your example of Movember. It’s amusing, fun and the viral message is inherently linked to the event. Plus, it’s not just ‘word of mouth’ but ‘sight of mo’ … i.e. every participant becomes a walking billboard for the event, which prompts others to ask about it (not just wait to be told what’s going on).

    Facebook is another interesting case. It’s got a strong network effect – the service is more useful to you the more other people are involved. This means you have a direct personal incentive to tell others.

    One last case to consider: I’ve read a few things recently about Quechup, a social network accused of spamming. I wonder if this is viral anti-marketing … word spreads quickly about your product, but the message is a warning to stay away!

  2. Xavier – I think the Quechup example is interesting.

    The benefit they received from spamming new customers has been far outweighed by the negative comments they have received by very influencial bloggers. I’ve seen 5-10 blogs that have advised not to sign up.

    It is indeed a good viral anti-marketing case study!

  3. […] Update: Ben Rowe gives an accurate reality check on this campaign and general viral marketing here. […]

  4. Interesting thoughts Ben.

    Although not sure if I agree with you with regards to the ‘Gorilla’ ad not selling chocolate bars. I suspect the brief to the creative agency was that the nation had fallen out of love with the brand (salmonella etc), so lets create a really entertaining piece of content that drives brand affinity. affinity drives consideration, which ultimately leads to sales.

    Of course, the more reference to the ad as close to point of purchase as possible will also convert consideration to purchase. This is just a TV ad. Goodness knows what wlese Cadbury’s had/have planned for this creative, below-the-line…

  5. I think you may be slightly off the mark with your sales projections – Cadbury have done quite well from this campaign…


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