Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
July 28, 2007 6:57 AM

Twist Image Viral Marketing Strategy - Guaranteed Success Or Your Money Back

Yeah, that does not exist.

And yet, not a day goes by, that I don't get a request by an existing or potential client to create a Viral Marketing campaign. The briefing usually starts or ends with them saying, "_ and we want you to make sure that it goes viral." Seeing as I am on a music industry kick lately, that's like asking a musician to write a one hit wonder.

We don't offer Viral Marketing as a service and I don't think anybody with a shred of professionalism in the Digital Marketing space should even promote the fact that they can_ because they can't. Viral Marketing is not a form of marketing, so we should stop calling it Viral Marketing. Viral is an effect. It's a strategic by-product of a successful campaign that resonated with a group of people. You can't create viral_ and those who say they can are simply collecting data of people who do tend to forward things on or Blog about them, as if "seeding" that group is viral success_ it is not. Going back to the same group with a similar message does not formulate the next Subservient Chicken.

I'm actually starting to feel like people (agency and client side) who ask for Viral Marketing are people of faith. They are people who really want to believe that the snake oil salesman actually does have the essential oil for longevity. In fact, this problem of people asking for a program that will go viral has led me to this, now infamous, monologue: "oh, they want it to be viral! Hold on, I put my viral marketing genie bottle right here under my desk. Let me go get it, rub it a few times and we should be ok."

Yes, there are components to every marketing campaign where you can facilitate people's ability to forward something by adding in tools and functionality that makes it easy for consumers to share your content_ but that doesn't make it viral. In fact, if you pin down some of the experts who talk about what truly makes something viral, you will get a unanimous opinion that any marketing initiative worth its snuff does not need those tools or functionality to make it viral because the actual execution and final product is so good that people won't need to be asked to forward it on, they'll do it because they want to.

Bottom line, let's put an end to selling Viral Marketing. It just doesn't work and It winds up cheapening what we, as Marketers, are ultimately trying to do - connect consumers with our brands. If we do our jobs, they'll do theirs by telling everyone they know about how great/cool/funny/crazy we are.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Michael Seaton
    Mitch Joel

    great post, so true. Asking for a viral campaign is a total lack of understanding.

    Now, onto the next agenda item. Can you please help design the next Pet Rock product for us? That should be an easier task

    Reply
  • You hit it exactly right:

    The product itself must be awesome in order to go viral.

    Now, some will point to Subservient Chicken or Mentos Intern and say, "But neither of those products are awesome."

    True. The underlying product - a sandwich or a minth - isn't particularly noteworthy.

    The campaign itself IS the product in those cases - which raises an interesting question:

    IF the campaign is the product, does the underlying brand sell more product (which is presumably the goal)?

    If I make a campaign that has a high probability of going viral (a la Made To Stick, which is as close as you can get to a manual of sorts) will people remember your product or my campaign? Will people buy your product or just hire me for their company?

    Reply
  • Posted by Michael Denton
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with most of what you said. "Viral" is not something you can create, however I feel there is something to be said for a solid seeding strategy and the right knowledge of the space. Do you not agree that there are some campaigns that need a little bit of exposure other than press releases and Word of Mouth to be discovered especially when the product or service is a relatively unknown brand.

    It was once explained to me by a very very intelligent man that viral is 95% the content and 5% the efforts of the people behind the campaign, and I feel that this is true. CONTENT IS KING!!!!

    That said, If a company asks for suggestions for a video that has potential to go "Viral". I would gladly take them on as a client and show them how to strategically upload the video to sites that are visited by "Influencers" as well as their demo. (with full disclosure obviously).

    Just some thoughts.

    - Keep up the great work Mitch. I love the blog and the Podcast.

    Reply
  • Posted by Andrew Goodman
    Mitch Joel

    Amen!

    P.S. I don't know what a Mentos Intern is, but it sounds hot.

    Reply
  • Posted by Douglas Walker
    Mitch Joel

    I agree and I can't stand the term viral marketing either, but what should replace it? When we use this term at least we all have a common reference point - even if many marketers think that an insipid TV ad can go viral just by posting it on YouTube.

    I talk a lot about Viral Marketing with clients and we need a common language to discuss this stuff. Like Web 2.0 and many other horrible buzzwords, we need a way to refer to it without having to go back to first principles all the time.

    The vehicle needs to be separate from the effect, so if we can the effect "viral" what do we call the message. :Memetic Marketing", may be more technically accurate, but by no means is it a household term and tends to drive discussions quickly into a semantic rat hole.

    Any ideas?

    Reply
  • Posted by Mario Parise
    Mitch Joel

    THANK YOU! I think I'm going to print this post out and keep a stack handy at all times to hand out to clients and coworkers when they say things like:

    - We need Widget X to make this viral
    - This is all part of our viral marketing
    - I want a viral campaign
    - We made this commercial that's just hilarious. Make it viral.
    - What do you mean viral marketing is nonsense? We should fire you for just saying that!

    I agree 100% that viral is an effect, not a strategy, tactic, philosophy or anything else. It's as if everyone thinks Viral Marketing is the new TV, just press a button and the minds of the masses shall be at your control!

    I think viral marketing has become so popular as an idea because it represents a new world hope (albeit a misplaced hope) for old world values. Viral marketing tells us we don;t need to create value, we don't need to connect with people, we don't need to produce high quality products or services. We just need a gimmick. I think people desperately want to buy into a gimmick as their solution, their new messiah.

    (I think that's the longest rant I've ever written in comment form.)

    Reply
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