Dear social media gurus, advertising agencies and PR flacks: You need to read this post.
I got three email pitches yesterday about new viral marketing campaigns. One was from an agency that said it “provides complete viral services”. Another was for “a brand new IBM (Lotus Foundations) viral video campaign” that will launch on Monday. (Hint: a campaign that has not launched yet is not viral.) And the third was from a friend, who saw something she thought I’d love and forwarded me a link.
Guess which one was actually a viral? Apparently most agencies can’t.
First let’s define viral marketing:
content passed from one person to another, including images, videos, links, applications, games, stories, emails, documents or virtually any other type of digital content that one person passes to another via email, IM, text messaging, or social network like Twitter, Friend Feed, etc or content sharing sites such as StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.
What doesn’t make a campaign go viral:
o sending out a press release about your latest viral
o an email that says “this is a viral campaign”.
What kind of creative is likely to go viral?
o Knockout creative that’s funny, shocking, intriguing or surprising
o An idea customers can relate to and care about
o A clearcut message so people are able to pass it on with one sentence
o An easy way to pass it on – a link, embedding code, “share this” button, email to a friend, etc.
o A concept that builds relationships with customers by getting them to interact with others
o Measurable outcomes – as in: what is this campaign hoping to accomplish and how will be measure it.
What can help spread the word?
o Blog advertising with the right creative can be remarkably cost-effective and high-yield.
o Blogger outreach (which can backfire if pitches are lame.)
o A seeding plan to get the campaign started.:
JibJab, for example, emails to tens of thousands of people who’ve asked to be notified of their latest efforts. One of the all-time most successful virals, created in 2006, is ElfYourself, which OfficeMax created with Toy and EVB. But his year, OfficeMax has partnered with JibJab, who has made the interface better than ever.
It’s great because it’s about us, not a blatant sales effort. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s easy to use, and it’s easy to send.
In 2007, ElfYourself.com was the No. 1 holiday e-greeting website, surpassing AmericanGreetings.com and Hallmark.com, and secured more traffic than Facebook.com, according to OfficeMax. In 2007, in six weeks, it attracted 193 million visits with users spending 2,600 years collectively on the site. In fact, one in ten Americans “elfed themselves” in 2007.
ElfYourself is back and – aside from taking what feels like forever to upload your photos – it’s even better in 2008 with several new dances and features including:
o Facebook application enables users to place elf videos on profile pages and invite friends to do the same;
o “Quick Post’ options to place ElfYourself videos on MySpace, Friendster, BeBo, Live Journal, iGoogle, etc.
o Create print greeting cards featuring custom elves;
o Customize photo gift items – snowflake ornaments, mouse pads, coffee mugs or playing cards;
o Download elf videos to desktop;
o Create user profiles to save elves and videos for future “elfing.”
Remember, social media gurus, advertising agencies and PR flacks:
It ain’t viral til it is
. So please please don’t send me another pitch that includes the words “new viral” in the subject line.
Update: J.C. Penny’s Doghouse campaign has gone viral over the weekend
– How to make a video contest succeed or suck
– The Formula for Successful Viral Campaigns. Not!
– Social Media Marketing: Who’s Full of Hot Air? Who’s The Real Deal?
– 10 Tips on How to Make a Video Go Viral
Posted by B.L. Ochman
I get that Elf Yourself was a viral success generating tons of traffic. However, I’ve read that it did zero for their overall business with same store sales falling.
If a tactic, viral or not, is not measurable in a business sense, is it successful?
If my subscription to AdAge hadn’t run out last week, I’m guessing I’d probably see another article devoted to ElfYourself. Hard to believe nobody’s beat it yet.
This is such good insight. The term viral marketing has become so diluted with hype and misinformation, you hit the nail on the head! :-)
Billy – would like to know your source. ElfYourself creates buzz and a warm, fuzzy feeling about OfficeMax. You can’t blame falling sales on the Elf campaign. Not many same store sales are up in this economy.
Kelly – since I cross post to AdAge Digital Next, you can read this post online in a couple of days. THey don’t move terribly fast over there.
just because something hasn’t gone viral it doesn’t mean you can’t describe it as designed to be viral….mad contradiction in this post.
Your post is s must-read for anyone who thinks they can make a viral video. Thanks so much for dispelling the myth. At the end of the day, content is king (or queen) and if the creative isn’t compelling and engaging it won’t spread no matter how hard you try.
I watched the latest version of ElfYourself the other day. A friend unfamiliar with the original campaign thought she was sending me something brand new. I was amazed the 2008 version was able to keep things fresh and had me smiling as much as the original.
Dave – yes it does.
an agency that “provides complete viral services.”
shouldn’t the CDC be informed of their activities?
Great post and totally spot on.
I have often spoken on this subject and it still amazes me that people think they can ‘create a viral’.
Viral is an EFFECT. You cannot design IT. You can ASSIST it but you simply cannot BUILD IT.
Sure – create the platforms and facility for people to spread word but never for one moment think you can launch a ‘viral’.
BL – you acknowledge specifications for virals in your post which make it perfectly legitimate to describe something as designed to be an internet ‘viral’ as much as it is to say something is designed to be a TV spot. The platform does have spec necessities which sway it away from just being down to a sharing phenomenon.
Dave – please read the post again to see what i actually said.
It’s a no brainer to me. Your friend sent you the virus. The others showed you samples of their bacteria.
Ari – that’s a great analogy!
B. L., I couldn’t agree more but please note that the above mentioned IBM Lotus Foundations video “Asteroid hits office building” actually went as high as YouTube’s 4th most viewed video of the day under comedy, 24th most discussed of the day (comedy), 34th most viewed (all categories) reaching over 25,000 views in just the first 24 hours and is now the 36th most viewed video of the week (comedy) on YouTube with over 48,000 views.
I suspect that marketers are starting to use the term “viral” as an expectation and a definition of a type of effort/strategy/campaign rather than an outcome and should just be VERY careful that their clients understand that, because as you aptly stated “it ain’t viral till it is.”
Thanks for the great post and here’s the updated link:
Happy, and surprised, to hear the IBM video actually was that popular. The whole way it was presented reeked. Embargo, etc. much ado about nothing. Why NOT give top bloggers’ audiences a sneak peek? If the content is good, we’d fuel it.
B.L., Good point. Why not? Next time for sure!