Category Archives: Viral marketing

What Drives Word of Mouth? Interesting Content

Compelling content will drive word of mouth for your brand, even if that content is irreverant and in the form of *gasp* a 30-second spot on broadcast TV. Exhibit A: McDonald’s talking fish. 

YouTube views of most popular posting of the spot: 246,757 <warning: this tune will stick in your head like spackling paste>

Google blog search results for “McDonald’s talking fish”: 29,921

Members of McDonald’s Filet O Fish Commercial fan club on Facebook: 289 

The spot’s been running for two weeks.

The Snuggie Phenomenon

In this age of the enlightened and empowered consumer, let us never underestimate the power of pure kitsch as a marketing tool. Witness the Snuggie, the goofy blanket/robe hybrid with the goofier direct-response TV ads, which has been flying off the shelves. From Ad Age:

The quirky little blanket with sleeves has become the raiment of the zeitgeist, with more than 4 million units sold in just over three months and more than 200 parody videos on YouTube. Fox News honed in on a woman wearing a Snuggie as she braved the cold attending Barack Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, five days after Ellen DeGeneres donned one on her daytime talk show.

4 million units! In case you’ve somehow missed the ad:

Marketers Sick of Web 2.0? Not So Fast

Survey results released this week from the Marketing Executives Networking Group and Anderson Analytics are getting a lot of play in the blogosphere, particularly this nugget from the press release:

Twice as many marketers are “sick” of hearing about Web 2.0 and related buzzwords such as “blogs” and “social networking” compared to last year’s survey; however, marketers still admit they don’t know enough about it.  This was evident in the results of a social media study MENG released on November 6, 2008 showing 67% of executive marketers consider themselves beginners when it comes to using social media for marketing purposes.

A couple of points here. First, only 19.4% of the 643 respondents said they were tired of hearing the term “Web 2.0” (up from 9.1% a year ago), 12.2 % said the same about “social networking”, and 11.3% cited “social media” as a term they had tired of. Not exactly overwhelming condemnation of the concepts. And it’s no surprise that the year-over-year numbers would go up, considering those terms generate an endless drumbeat of media coverage. Hell, I’m sick of hearing about/reading about/saying them myself.

What the press release and subsequent coverage of the survey overlook is that when the respondents were asked what they considered to be the most important marketing concepts, the percentages citing “word of mouth,” “social network sites,” “viral marketing,” “Web 2.0,” and “consumer generated media” all rose year-to-year. Granted, these categories did not crack the respondents’ top 10 priorities (word of mouth was #11), but it’s clear that these concepts are rising in importance, even as the buzzwords themselves are becoming cliche.

The greater concern should be whether marketers will be able to sustain any progress they’ve made with their social media marketing programs. With more than half the respondents noting that their ’09 budgets have been reduced, the tendency will be to fall back on more traditional investments like sales promotions, which are viewed as safer bets than the experimentation that goes into identifying social media strategies that really work. The sales folks will be happy, but innovation will take a hit. So even though 79% of the execs in the MENG survey said that customer satisfaction was their top priority, customers can expect to be subjected to the same hard-sell tactics that have become so annoying (and so easy to ignore). Talk about tired.

Proof that the Mass Market Is Not Dead, Just … Different

The backlash against Johnson & Johnson over its ill-conceived Motrin ad proves that the mass market is alive and well, with one major shift: It’s now controlled by the consumer. Consider the irony: An ad that had been living innocuously for more than a month on a Motrin website and in a few print mags was Twittered into a national story by a small but vocal group of moms. This tells me that even the most targeted Web advertising – in the hands of the right viral (pick one) advocates/mob – has more potential reach than TV advertising in the pre-cable days. Not only that, but thanks to YouTube and the search engines, the campaign will endure in all of its infamy well into the future.

Embrace the Swarm

Best presentation I’ve seen on social networking came from Chuck Brymer at the ANA’s annual conference in Phoenix on Friday. Brymer, president and CEO of DDB Worldwide, spoke of online communities as digital swarms, formed through a combination of technological advances and a growing distrust in institutions.

“People used to put a lot of trust in institutions,” he told about 1,200 attendees of the conference, held at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. “We believed what the government said, what the news media said, and even what advertisers said. It’s not like that today. As a society, we are more cynical and less believing. … We no longer just accept what we’re told by people in high places. Instead, we trust those who are close to us. Those with similar experiences. When you put the expanding digital swarm together with the simultaneous rise in trust in friends and family, you have a very powerful combination.”

This power, he added, “irrevocably changes” the roles of marketers. He compared the herd mentality of traditional marketing and advertising programs – communicating to people who passively sit in front of TVs and radios and read newspapers and magazines – to today’s far more active digital swarms: “The herd is passive. It lacks active intelligence. The swarm on the other hand is about actively sharing intelligence, and that is a huge distinction. While you can lead a herd, you cannot lead a swarm. You cannot issue instructions to a swarm. A swarm is not an audience in the traditional sense and it’s not looking to [marketers] for guidance.”

The implications of peer communication and localized information are significant, Brymer said. “Forget the idea that digital is the new media. The real new media is you and me.” As an example, he referenced, a site devoted to people “telling each other about the stuff they’re buying, eating, drinking, watching.”

How can marketers enter the swarm? One word: influence. “While you cannot lead a swarm, you can influence it,” Brymer explained. “Influence is one of the most valuable assets a brand can have in a networked world.” Influence, he said, should be measured in the same way we measure share of voice or share of market. “Brands that have influence command attention.”

In a swarm, he explained, success is determined by whether communities are attracted to your brand or run away from it. “Do people see you as a predator or a peer? If you are a peer, you have credibility and influence. As the word spreads throughout the swarm, people begin to flock to you. You gain greater influence and more people seek you out.”

This requires a level of authenticity that many advertisers may not be accustomed to. “Every touch point, every interaction influences whether your brand is accepted or rejected by the swarm,” Brymer said. “Every day, you are being appraised. The swarm is like a modern day Big Brother – it’s watching you, taking your measure, and evaluating your intentions.”

He suggested three ways marketers can influence the swarm:

  • Conviction: Brands that are influential, he explained, all start in the same place: with the personal vision and convictions of the marketers behind them. Brands that stand for something – he offered Harley Davidson, Apple and Volkswagen as prime examples – attract followers. “What makes these brands influential is not their size,” he said. “It’s that each believes in something and has built brand communities of influence among its members, who in turn influence others.”

  • Collaboration: Swarms want a say in how your products and services look, what they do, and what they should do better. Two examples: Lego, which offers downloadable software from its website that lets kids design their own creations>. Another is Philips, which lets consumers track their individual contributions to protecting the environment by switching to energy-saving light bulbs.

  • Creativity: As you would expect from the head of an ad agency, Brymer touted creativity as “the one element that can influence a swarm more than anything.” Creativity is universal, regardless of the media in which it exists, because it allows marketers to connect with people at an emotional level. “Interesting ideas and provocative thinking influences swarms.” The power of the digital swarm is its ability to pass these ideas on virally. One example: an ad from a Dutch insurance company called Centraal Beheer that has close to 1 million views on YouTube:

Brymer closed with a (slightly paraphrased) quote from former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shineski: “You may not like change, but you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

‘Simpsonize Me’ Site – D’oh!

Burger King and its agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky figured out the whole Internet viral marketing thing a long time ago, first with the Subservient Chicken and since with a steady stream of innovative programs for engaging online surfers and gamers. Their latest brainchild is the Simpsonize Me site, part of BK’s extensive tie-in with The Simpsons Movie, which debuts tomorrow. BK has had loads of traffic and plenty of positive buzz since last week’s launch of the Simpsonize Me site, which is supposed to enable visitors to upload a photo and some personal info to have themselves rendered as a Simpsons character. From the Miami Herald:

In the first three days of’s launch, the site received more than 16 million hits, and more than 700,000 photos were ”Simpsonized,” according to Burger King spokeswoman Robin Chung. Visitors were uploading an average of three photos each and spending about 12 minutes on the site.

”We provide a forum where they can be entertained and have fun, and that’s the most effective way to get people engaged with our brand,” said Tiana Lang, media and interactive manager for Burger King.

The site is so popular, in fact, that it’s now disabled. D’oh! I thought we were past the days of overloaded web servers caused by an unexpected traffic surge. But how could this have been unexpected? No excuse for a marketer launching a promotion without coordinating with the techies to anticipate and plan for heavy traffic. Being told to come back later is probably not the type of engagement Lang was referring to.


The Digital Shift

The new advertising campaign that Microsoft launched this week for its Office 2007 software suite is tilted heavily toward digital media. Rachel Bondi, senior advertising and brand director for Microsoft’s information worker product marketing group, said 60% of the campaign spend is being invested in the digital space – nearly double the slice devoted to digital for the Office 2003 launch campaign three and a half years ago. “Print and out-of-home advertising are still important for driving awareness [of the new release],” Bondi told me (I interviewed her for an upcoming article in 1to1 Magazine). Digital, on the other hand, is being used to drive the user experience – in other words, getting prospects to visit the new Office 2007 website to view demos or download a trial version of the software. A series of short films on the site form the beginning of a viral campaign that Bondi said will feature shorter, 15-second clips on YouTube and other video portals.

Red Auerbach and Word-of-Mouth Marketing

One interesting anecdote among the many tributes to the Boston Celtics’ legendary Red Auerbach, who passed away on Saturday: In the early days of the NBA, when attendance was sparse and media coverage was nonexistent, Auerbach and his players would barnstorm across the U.S. with a basket on the back of a truck and do free clinics and demonstrations. “That’s how fans got the message that these were extraordinary athletes,” he said in one interview. Another tactic was getting professional players from baseball and football – two far more popular sports at the time – to talk about what great athletes basketball players were. “That sold the game more than anything,” Auerbach said. A good lesson on the value of word-of-mouth marketing from a basketball pioneer.

The Power – and Peril – of Letting Go

By now you’ve probably read about or heard P&G Chairman AG Lafley’s pronouncement that marketers must “let go” of their brands. At the Association of National Advertisers’ annual confab earlier this month, Lafley stressed that the more marketers try to control their brands, the more out of touch they become with consumers. Richard Pinder, president of Leo Burnett’s Europe/Middle East/Africa business, believes the brand horse has already left the barn. “Ten years ago, marketers were in charge of the brand,” Pinder told me in a recent interview. “Now the consumer is in charge of the brand.”

Nielsen BuzzMetrics’ Pete Blackshaw provides a great followup here, saying companies must go a step further and actually start listening to what their customers are saying. He calls for a third “moment of truth”:

” … that powerful inflection point where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand. By opening up that pipeline, we not only absorb insight and deeper consumer understanding but also nurture empowerment and advocacy.”

I’ll believe it when I see it. There’s a Snake River Canyon-sized chasm between acknowledging that the consumer is in control and building (and selling) a strategy that embraces the shift. Are chief marketing officers willing to risk telling their CEO, “Hey boss, we’ve lost control of our brand”? Their job tenures are short enough as it is.  

Driving Me to Distraction

I’m already tired of Nissan’s “7 Days in a Sentra” campaign – and we’re not even past the first day yet. The seemingly endless prime time loop of the Day 1 spot is not exactly edge-of-your seat viewing. As in, who cares why some dude decided to live in his car for a week? Did he lose a bet? Is he mocking homeless people? Did Nissan pay him gobs of money?

Give Nissan credit for a well thought out integrated campaign featuring TV ads, a Webisode and a blog. But maybe that’s the problem. The promotion feels contrived, manufactured – the antithesis of the free-spiritedness Nissan is so obviously trying to capture. The blog’s not much more than a placeholder for the commercials and raises important existential questions like, why do the blog entries for days 2-7 have the same posting date?