Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 13, 2006 6:56 AM

Why Viral Marketing Is The Online Equivalent Of The One Hit Wonder

My career actually started out in 1989 when I first interviewed Tommy Lee. At that point, Lee and his cohorts, Motley Crue, were about to release Dr. Feelgood. I got my head soaked in the online world in the early nineties when I had one of the first publications ever to go online.

Being a part of both the music and the digital industry has given me lots of perspective on what consumers like and don't like. But, more importantly, it's given me tremendous insights into what works beyond that first engagement. What keeps people engaged? What gets people to love something so much that the brand becomes much more than the experience of using it? How does a brand transcend the experience and get to the point where people happily tell others about how much joy it has brought them?

Huge questions, I know. The types of questions that people have written best-selling business and marketing books about. The types of questions I could never answer is a pithy Blog posting. But, here is something to suck on:

Viral marketing is not really word of mouth marketing.

Viral marketing is something that a person thinks is cute and passes on to someone they like in hopes that it makes the receiver smile and, at the same time, gives the sender an ego boost. But, most important, it's time sensitive. Word of mouth marketing can best be summed out by this statement: "man, you have got to use [insert a product or service here]. I swear by it... it will change your life."

At the end of the day, viral marketing is like a one hit wonder (think 'I'm Too Sexy' from Right Said Fred) and word of mouth marketing is a classic album (think Rubber Soul from The Beatles).

I was just reflecting on the campaigns behind promoting Snakes On A Plane. They were viral. Most of us have already forgotten about Snakes On A Plane and it premiered in mid-August... about a month ago. I haven't seen the movie, but I've been told that it's fairly mediocre. That's viral. Release it, let it spread like wild fire... watch it die quick.

On the other hand, I talk all of the time about my BlackBerry ... and I'm still thumb-texting on a BlackBerry 7290 (someone hook me up with an 8700 please). Whether I am prompted to be a BlackBerry Brand Ambassador or not (I am not), I find the device and all of the freedom it gives me a tremendous positive in my life... like the gift that keeps on giving. That is word of mouth marketing.

So when Marketers are asked to come up with a viral marketing campaign, let's stop for a second and try not to quickly create the next Subservient Chicken. Let's take that moment and ask ourselves if we would prefer to be Right Said Fred or The Beatles? And start from there.

By Mitch Joel


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