More or less, it’s a buzz word that refers to marketing techniques that utilize social networks to increase brand awareness through self-replicating viral processes, whether it be “word-of-mouth” or via shared content on Web-based networking sites. Some examples of viral marketing include video clips, flash games, images, software and text messages.
It’s a common and somewhat accepted understanding that viral marketing is not considered a sustainable marketing practice. The goal is to identify individuals with high Social Networking Potential (SNP) and create viral messages that appeal to this particular segment and have a high probability of being passed along. Most viral marketing is planned as a sort of “underground advertising” campaign, to give the impression of spontaneous word-of-mouth enthusiasm rather than an obvious marketing program.
In 2002, BMW was one of the first major businesses to devote a large portion of their budget to a viral marketing campaign. BMW Films launched a series of video clips that featured Hollywood star Clive Owen, each roughly 10 minutes long and packed with plot, engaging dialogue and plenty of action. Their efforts in this particular campaign attracted nearly 55 million viewers to the BMW Web site.
Other successes in viral marketing include Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, one of the few viral marketing campaigns to actually have some sustainability (running from 2004 – 2007), and the more recent Blendtec(R) “Will it Blend” series, which has viewers returning to the Web site time and again to watch as Tom Dickson, the founder of Blendtec(R), blends various items (golf balls, iPods, glow sticks – just to name a few) in a Blendtec(R) blender.
There was also a recent viral marketing campaign for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), and its online viral campaign aimed at drawing people to its Get a Free Night web site. The campaign was centered on creating the “biggest bed jump in history.” They erected the world’s four biggest beds – 45 ft long, 35 ft wide and 10 ft high – in four different time zones in the cities of Shanghai, London, Paris and New York. The beds had a surface area of 100 standard double beds and trampolines were built into each mattress. Champion trampoline artists from each country started the “bed jump” before the public got their chance to take part.
The results? Over 20,000 people jumped on four giant beds for over a 16-hour time span to “celebrate” the five million free room nights up for grabs and set the record for the world’s biggest bed jump. The actual event was supported by YouTube video feeds, live Twitter updates, and a running link to a Flickr photo stream where participants could take photos and upload them to the IHG micro Web site that was set up to support the event. The viral marketing push also generated a tremendous amount of broadcast and online media coverage.
There are plenty of other viral marketing campaigns going on right now, so be on the lookout for them. We’ll be checking back in from time to time reporting on some of the latest and more successful campaigns out there.