If there is anything tha t can be said to be iconic of the dawn of social media and Web 2.0 applications, it is viral marketing. The rise of viral campaigns has had marketers scrambling to reassess their strategies and try to take advantage of new media that allow low-cost campaigns to reach millions of people worldwide. Viral marketing campaigns have been used effectively for consumer electronic brands (Blendtec), movies (The Dark Night) and political figures (Obama 2008). As they continue to steal headlines across the world, local marketers must ask if a viral marketing campaign is an option for pushing brands.
More and more Ghanaians and Africans at large are going online and getting involved in social media. This makes social media another forum by which marketers can reach their intended audience. So, what are some of the key indicators a marketer should consider, when deciding how to pursue a viral marketing campaign?
For Profit or Not-for-Profit?
This is a contentious point but most experts have agreed that non-profits have been better able to take advantage of the viral marketing phenomenon. This is because non-profits are able to leverage the emotional appeal of their causes to drive interest and drive action on the part of the public. Non-profit campaigns also do not suffer from the usual skepticism businesses would suffer from consumers unwilling to drive a ‘money making’ campaign. However, there are many businesses which have run successful viral marketing campaigns. These campaigns are usually based on humor with little of a direct selling aspect. An excellent example would be the ‘Old Spice Guy’ adverts by Old Spice in the US that went viral due to its random and humorous nature.
Social Media Understanding
The rise of viral marketing is directly linked to the rise of social media and Web 2.0 services such as YouTube. Any organization wishing to engage in viral marketing will need to have a strong understanding of the social media sphere and its rules of engagement. One cannot simply post a video on YouTube or make a post on Twitter and expect it to spread magically. Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have millions of status updates, tweets and videos uploaded every minute. It will take a definite strategy to make sure you reach your audience amid all the noise and ensure they are touched enough to spread the message. The Kony2012 campaign, for example, initially spread word by sending messages to the most popular celebrities on Twitter, asking them to watch and show support by ‘retweeting’ the video to their millions of followers. This proved extremely effective and garnered 70 million views of their video on YouTube in just 3 days.
Understand the Rules
There are many rules and caveats surrounding viral marketing that organizations should be aware of when planning any such campaign. Messages are received by people in different ways and a seemingly innocent viral campaign may receive much of the wrong kind of attention and end up seriously damaging your brand.
One of the first rules is to ensure that a viral campaign is spread voluntarily. This means that organizations should not spam their consumers or the public to spread the word about their campaign. Such spamming is almost always unwelcome and often backfires on the organization. Twitter, for example, does allow organizations to purchase time as promoted ‘Twitter Trends’ (which are clearly marked as such) but it would be much more preferable to gain such a status naturally because of a public conversation around your campaign.
Organizations should also ensure that any campaign is well thought out and unlikely to offend large groups of people. The massive backlash against theKony2012 campaign, for example, is due to its perception by many Africans as misrepresenting Africa and the true situation on the ground in Uganda. As well, seemingly well-thought out campaigns can still fail spectacularly due to simple misunderstanding. The 2007 Boston Bomb Scare was the result of the police and some members of the public mistaking promotional LED placards for a cartoon show, as bombs. The fear and panic that resulted effectively destroyed that particular viral campaign.
The spread of the ‘Azonto’ phenomenon around the world via social media is an example of the power of social media and viral marketing. Though started unintentionally, on YouTube you can now find people in places as far away as Norway, London, and New York recording videos of Azonto dances in public. Marketers can take note of this to realize that we can take advantage of social media to create cheap campaigns that can spread around the world and raise brand awareness. With the correct care taken a viral campaign may be your brand’s path to success and fame.
What viral marketing campaign have you seen that impressed you? Do you think a local organization could achieve the same? Let us know in the comments below:
Executive, Product Marketing and Media Relations