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By B.L. Ochman
Hugh_product_sucks.pngThis post first ran in What’s Next Blog in 2010, but an email received this morning about a newly launched “viral” made me want to run it again, lightly updated.

If I hear one more client ask for “a viral” or one more agency promise one, I’ll scream.

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’s (embargoed) new 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 I clicked on.

First let’s define viral marketing:

I define viral marketing as 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, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, etc.

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 clear cut message so people are able to pass it on with one descriptive 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.

Top two reasons you can’t force marketing to go viral:
1- It’s not viral because you say it is.
Viral is what happens when something people see delights, intrigues, informs, or teaches people something they find interesting or amusing enough to want to send it to their friends.
2- Viral is a reward, not an intent.

What doesn’t (ever) make a campaign go viral:
o sending out an advance press release about your “latest viral”
o an email that says “we’re launching this viral campaign tomorrow”.