Top of mind

Nothing deep, just things on movies, advertising, tech and games

When Internet Virals go astray and ways to avoid it.

Posted by topofmind on August 26, 2006

subway.jpgVirals are called Viral because they take a life of their own and either mutate into something cool or something really really nasty. Early in August I posted the misadventures of how agency.com’s Subway pitch Viral gone bad and how that it generated unwanted publicity for agency.com as well as the client Subway.

In an article posted on industry publication AdWeek it seems that agency.com is pulling out of the pitch for the Subway business, citing conflict of interest, although they would not name what that conflict of interest is. Whatever the real reason of the pullout, here are four very important things to remember about Virals – well, there are more, but if you know these basics, you are pretty well covered.

Virals cannot be made

Duh. One thing that advertisers and marketers, locked in their air-conditioned ivory towers with their Starbucks Fraps, seem to forget is that you cannot “make” a Viral. This is Web 2.0 in action, it is all about the Internet user deciding what is cool, or newsworthy or not, this is the mob in action baby. Ever heard of Digg.com, Deli.cio.us, Newsvine.com anyone?

If an in-experienced agency or client did a Viral and get it wrong, other than getting laughed at their efforts on-line, it wouldn’t be so bad. For a well known on-line agency to make that mistake – that would explain why they got mobbed in the blogosphear.

There is a conceit that agencies can indeed make real virals. Well, they can, but success stories are few and far between. In fact it was quite come up with good examples. But here is one from Budweiser, which I think is the original or the early Whassup that started it all – although the whole thing didn’t start out as a Viral until people picked it up and passed it around..

Virals mutate

Yes, that is why they are called Virals. Once released they take on a life of their own. You cannot control it, you can only do damage control – but then it would be too late.

If you want control, run a print ad or a TVC or print a leaflet and hand it out yourself. If you are running a Viral, be prepared to relinquish complete control.

Worse, you end up with are spoofs of your Viral by some wise-ass fifteen year old kid or rivals from another agency. Believe me, they will more than yank your chain.

Virals got to have some value

Virals become Viral because there is something worthwhile for the target audience to share. Even a good laugh is of value and most of the early Virals got spread this way. Star Wars Kids , Numa Numa guy anyone? Content is king here. If you have something of value to your target audience, and they do actually find it useful, then they will spread it… or not. But it is important to be relevant and of value to your target audience.

Not all exposure is good

There is a old belief that any and all exposure is good, it’s up to you how you spin it. Well I disagree, not all exposure is good. Perfect example comes from the music industry. Did your perception of Michael Jackson change before and after the scandal? This type of thing cannot be spinned any other way and on one will want to touch it with a 10 foot pole.

I came across this video from goviral.com that does a way better job of explaining how and what is necessary for a good viral campaign, from Cannes 2006. Check it out here.

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One Response to “When Internet Virals go astray and ways to avoid it.”

  1. nicmitham said

    Some really good points about virals. I think the term viral is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in todays marketing arena.
    You certainly can’t ‘make a viral’. It’s just not possible.
    Ideas/video clips/microsite etc that become popular on the underground and then mainstream when they have a concept that ‘at that moment in time’ have a value to the early adopters and advocates that send it to other people. On this point of sending it to other people (which is, by definition what a viral is), the first question is..’why should I send it?’.

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