A Look at Viral Marketing

Viral marketing has always fascinated me. When executed effectively, viral marketing generates positive word-of-mouth about an upcoming product and can make ultimately purchasing the product, whether it be a film or a pair of sneakers, that much more exciting.

Curtis Silver’s article Organized Chaos: Viral Marketing, Meet Social Media begins by citing the success of cult show Mystery Science Theater 3000 and BMW’s The Hire – a collection of short films featuring Clive Owen driving awesomely in a BMW – as an example of pre-YouTube viral marketing, but there are plenty of other great examples of viral marketing campaigns. Take for instance Microsoft’s search engine Bing’s campaign to promote rapper Jay Z’s upcoming autobiography, Decoded. Check out this cool video detailing their approach to the project.

Clearly, this was an ambitious project, but telling by the end of the video, both Jay Z and Bing benefited greatly from this endeavor. This viral marketing campaign got fans and others excited about a product that normally a movie trailer or a billboard ad just couldn’t do. Allowing the audience to become involved with your product creates the feeling that they are a part of something in history, that they are connected to this one moment in time with others all around the world. That’s an incredible emotion to invoke in a person, and for Jay Z and Bing, it paid off. Oh, and just keep in mind what this huge project spanning multiple continents and potentially costing a hefty wad of dough to pull off was all for: A BOOK! Wow, I didn’t even know people read anymore…

So we’ve established that viral marketing can be a grossly beneficial tool to create buzz about a product, but just like other forms of advertising, like the online crowd-funding site Kickstarter, it is not for everyone. Just because it worked for one person does not mean it will work for you. Take, for example, the recently released video game Hitman: Absolution. Absolution is the latest installment in the long-running Hitman franchise in which you play an assassin-for-hire, and publisher Square Enix wanted to capitalize on its release by, wait for it, creating an app that lets you place death threats on your Facebook friends! Yes, that’s exactly what I just wrote. Let it sink in. Video game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun was able to document the horribly insulting site before it was quickly taken down by the publishers. In the app, you can create a contract in which the game’s protagonist will seek out your friend, based on bullying remarks like “her small tits”, and kill them. Then, the app creates a video and sends it to your friend!

This is not what I wanted to wake up to!
This is not what I wanted to wake up to!

A great viral marketing campaign can create an event that gets people out of their chairs and creates positive promotion for a product, but a horrible campaign can put a black eye on its reputation just as quickly, even if the product is of high quality. This becomes even more evident with the advent of social media such as YouTube and Twitter. With the touch of a button, one little message, one little app about killing your friends, can be sent across the globe, through a number of channels, instantly.

Viral marketing is a scary and risky proposition: letting your baby that you’ve worked so hard on into the wild and watch how the masses react. It’s risky because at some point, it’s in the peoples’ hands, and all you can do is sit back and watch. But it can also be incredibly effective in the end, creating anticipation for something hopefully worthy of the hype.


2 thoughts on “A Look at Viral Marketing

  1. The funny thing is about all this viral marketing is how “connected” you have to be into the whole thing in the first place. I have never heard about any of these viral videos you spoke of, and had no idea Jay-Z had a biography out. This is definitely an effect of how I use these devices, I have not been on twitter until this class and only use facebook for messaging friends/collaborators, but I have a feeling there are a lot more people like me, especially amongst the older generations. That doesn’t mean that these tactics are ineffective, obviously it worked wonderfully for Jay-Z, but like you mentioned that was the probably the most expensive viral campaign ever devised, and as much as those numbers sounded nice I wonder how worse off they’d be without the campaign.

    My biggest problem with this sort of advertising is sometimes the people who make them get too caught up in pushing the edge of this technology, as opposed to doing what might by more easily accessible. I remember when I first started seeing the smart barcode appropriated in different ways, and I was never able to view these things because I didn’t have a smart phone. This sort of advertising creates a division between the people who can afford smart phones and are tech savvy, and those who can’t afford or don’t want one.

    A last thought would be that I think viral techniques can work on a mass scale, but the hyperactive ADD attitude of the internet and those that use it can make these effort pass by undetected or misinterpreted. In my opinion this sort of technique works better in smaller settings, such as a small town or film festivals where one wants to disperse an image of themselves throughout the community.

  2. I think web 2.0 and social media sites have more or less simply brought out the fan in all of us. I definitely agree that new technology and media have revolutionized fandom but I don’t think it saved fandom. Fandom existed for a very long time, and it wasn’t dying out. A great example is E3 the video game expo.

    It started off with a group of people just talking and discussing games they like and trading games between each other. It lived in obscurity like that for years, until only a few years ago it started getting attention. I can’t say how much the Internet or new technology and media had in making it into what it is today, which is a full blowout that most gamers mark there calendar for, but I can say that as a fandom it was existing without any help from social media or anything else

    The key to fandom is community and obsession. A community can be as big as a nation or as small as two to three people. Obsession doesn’t actually require anything but something to obsess about and a person to like that something enough to do that. Now what web 2.0 does and social media sites do is it gives any user those two things in abundance. You can find whatever you’re interested in online, and if you can find that you can probably find a community for it. With it being so overwhelmingly easy to become a fan and at least find a community, web 2.0 and social media have simply n=made the barrier to entry for fandom almost none existent and so there for it draws out the fandom in every one.

    E3 was a small fandom community. A fandom community may thrive better if it’s bigger, at least it will draw more people into it much easier if nothing else, but in the end a fandom community is a fandom community. It’s just a person craving to share and discuss something that they really like with someone else. Everyone has that, and now everyone can.

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