Thursday, August 17, 2006


Build a better mousetrap and the world would beat a path to your door... Viral marketing has done just that, and is the newest rage in global marketing strategies!

A women scorned by her husband seems to have caught the attention of New Yorkers and Los Angelinos alike. It’s a woman named Emily, who discovered that her husband “Steven” has been cheating on her. She decided to get even with Steven by placing a large billboard near his office, with a message on it for him. The message went like this: “Hi Steven, Do I have your attention now? I know all about her, you dirty, sneaky, immoral, unfaithful, poorly-endowed slime ball. Everything caught on tape...

Your (soon-to-be-ex) wife, Emily

P.S. I paid for this billboard from OUR joint bank account.”

The billboard did get a lot of people talking. To top it all, Emily happened to have a blog of her own, where she wowed to go on a rampage for 14 days. Emily kept everyone guessing about her identity. People were confused. They wondered what was happening. Nevertheless, everyone wanted to keep themselves updated on the latest between Emily and Steven. The net was rife with speculation. People discussed whether it was an ad. Who was this mystery woman? People everywhere were talking about it. Radio shows were receiving calls from people who wanted to discuss the billboards. Guess who was having a field day? The ad agency who created this advertisement!

They had managed to do what every advertiser dreams about and looks for – that is, creating a buzz. In technical terms, one would call it “Viral Advertising.” Just as a viral infection spreads from one person to the other, similarly ‘viral’ ads spread from one person to others as people discuss about them or forward them to other people via SMS messages or e-mails.

Today, marketers are accepting the fact there’s too much advertising and there are too many media channels. Consequently, people are tuning out the regular advertisements. According to a study, television viewing actually took a dip this year for the first time in history. The study found that people under the age of 25 spend more time on the Internet than on television. The internet is the largest playground for this new form of communication tool called ‘viral marketing’.

The most powerful selling of products and ideas takes place not from marketers to consumers, but from consumers to consumers. It’s an old theory of the word-of-mouth being the best advertisement of a product or a brand. Viral advertising or viral marketing are its 21st century avatars! It is this viral marketing, which is largely responsible for the success of Hotmail. All Microsoft did was put a small line promoting Hotmail in every outbound message sent by a Hotmail user. “Get your private free e-mail at The virus spread faster than the Avian flu and within 18 months, Hotmails subscriber base grew from nil to 12 million users. In the history of the world, no company had ever attained such a phenomenal success in such a short span. What’s amazing is the fact that all this happened on a shoe-string budget of $50,000. While its competitor, Juno, spent $20 million on traditional marketing during that time, it failed to create any impact. In countries like India, where Hotmail had done no marketing, it got the largest clients. That’s the magic of the viral.

The “CLICK” and “SEND” form of marketing

Today, it’s ‘online’ that clients are making a beeline for. Viral marketing is much cheaper than traditional methods. It’s more believable than a regular advertisement. It’s more interactive and interesting than the mundane marketing gimmicks. So when Axe wanted to popularise its brand, it took recourses to the net. It created a video showing a news reporter talking about how Axe deodorant was sprayed on the town of Ravenstroke from an aeroplane; and how, consequently, hundreds of beautiful women raided the town. The video was a big hit with youngsters who forwarded the same to many more.

On the same lines, HLL too initiated an online campaign for its Sunsilk Shampoo. HLL no more convinces girls to use their shampoo, rather encourages them to visit It’s trying to build India’s first online all-girl community. Rohan Sippy too created a viral campaign to promote his movie Bluffmaster. Users could play on a slot machine; and on pulling the lever thrice, they were informed that they had won $500,000. Later, they received an e-mail informing them that this was a bluff. If they wanted to find out who had bluffed them, they could follow the link. The link took them to the Bluffmaster movie’s webpage. If they wanted to bluff their friends, they could forward the game to them too! They managed to bluff about 1 lakh people with panache!

Mazda Motors of UK came up with a unique idea of not just entertaining net users, but providing tangible brand benefits with the help of its online viral marketing campaign. One of the movie clips posted went like this – “All I can say is clever, very clever. Now let’s see her get out.” It was commenting on the car parking capabilities of a man versus a female. The campaign struck a chord with the viewers. Soon, everyone was talking about it. Mazda’s “parking campaign” almost sparked off a global debate! Blogs soon popped up and within a month, almost one million people had viewed the video clip. It’s a kind of concentrated viewing that would be desired by any ad man for his ad. The video gave such high brand exposure that it increased the brand recall tremendously. Even though Mazda’s products were not extraordinary, its sales vis-à-vis its competitors started to increase.

On the web, word spreads faster than fire; and if your content is good, its popularity grows exponentially. After all, all you’ve got to do is click on ‘forward’, then add the ten addresses of your close circle of friends, and press ‘send’. It’s done!

It’s the “word-of-mouse” which works

If there are two things that string the youth of the world together, then they would be music and the World Wide Web. No wonder, big ad spenders have combined both to create a heady mixture. Bacardi is spending $40 million to fund an online radio station called ‘Bacardi B Live Radio’. It would primarily play dance music with exclusive mixes provided by popular DJs. Not to be left behind in delighting its customers, Coca Cola has launched a website called Here visitors can enjoy exclusive live performances, behind-the-scenes footage and personal interviews of their favorite artists. They can download all contents for free – with compliments from Coca Cola! After all, if you drink Coke, you deserve to live the “Coke side of life!”

These sites don’t just entertain, but help build a “feel good” factor around the brand. They are ways of connecting with the young consumers, who don’t waste a second in forwarding contents that they like to tens of other friends! The net is where young people interact with each other. If you can catch their fancy, they become the best promoters of your product or brand. They spread the message with dedication and do all the awareness building for you. And now, advertisers are specifically allocating budgets for viral advertising campaigns. Volkswagen, for example, decided to release some of its advertisements exclusively on the web.

MakeMyTrip has its USP in that it offers the lowest airfare. They claim to foot the difference in fares in case the customer can find someone offering fare lower than their’s. They decided to use the net to spearhead their promotion strategy. The agency Webchutney was roped in to create a viral campaign for The ads were fun to watch and were forwarded to fellow friends at an astonishing speed. After all, the best way to judge the success or failure of an viral ad campaign is the number of times it is forwarded. On that ground, MakeMyTrip came out a winner (The ads were based on various themes picked up from Ramayana and in fact worked really well in India).

Weeks before Britney Spears launched her perfume named ‘Curious’, a banner ad was released on the web with a photo of Britney. The ad asked girls to type their cell phone digits & zip codes. More than 30,000 girls typed in their numbers to receive a 45 second recorded message from Britney, where she told them how she was working on a fragrance and was really excited. Later they received a text message from Britney telling them about the launch & where the perfume was available. In all, the campaign succeeded in reaching out to a sizable number of 300,000 girls!

When Burger King wanted to promote its chicken sandwiches, it used ingenuity to promote its product. They used a man dressed in a chicken outfit and made a video, which was released exclusively on the net video. One could make the chicken do anything. All one had to do was type a command and the chicken would obey. It could dance to push-ups; or even watch TV! This “Subservient Chicken” was an instant hit on the net. One million hits were recorded in one day. Burger King had proved its point – you can have a chicken any way you like! It did it without spending money on traditional forms of advertising.

Back in India, brands like Itchguard & L.I.C are going in for viral ads – and winning awards too! With times changing and with technical innovations, it’s the ‘word-of-mouse’ that is responsible for creating the longest hype and the biggest buzz around a product. No wonder, products as diverse as Vanilla Coke, or Kingfisher F1 club or Standard Chartered Bank or even the Yash Raj film ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ have all incorporated viral ads in their strategies.

What makes a good viral campaign

It should have the “Wow!” factor: A dash of humour, or an unexpected ending always helps in increasing the attention span of the viewer. If he/she has enjoyed it, he is bound to forward it to other friends. Also, chances of other media picking it up (and hence giving free publicity to the brand) are very high. Ford, with its Sportka Evil Twins “Pigeon” online viral campaign, did just that. It showed a pigeon being knocked out (or possibly killed) by the car. There was a huge uproar from pigeon lovers across the country. People debated and discussed the rights and wrongs of the campaign. BBC ran a 10 minute slot in its most watched programme ‘Top Gear’, where they showed the Sportka racing against a pigeon for over 100 miles (Of course, the pigeon won!). So while the world debated, Ford sat back and enjoyed all the limelight and editorial coverage. To top it all – it hardly cost them anything

It should provide value to the customer: There should be some benefit coming the users way. You could either offer a monetary incentive, or an intangible benefit. So Crest toothpaste has come out with a quiz, where you can check your irresistibility score! The Crest Irresistibility iQ Quiz helps you compare your score with other celebrities, and also gives you tips on increasing your score! Including freebies & sweepstakes also work as incentives. But don’t overdo it – it won’t work.

It should be easy to track: It’s always a good idea to be able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. This is one medium where, with the help of technology, you can find out the exact timber of people who visited your site & saw your ad!

Clearly, nothing works better than a positive review from a fellow human being. It is more powerful than the largest of advertising budgets. Viral marketing does just that. You frame your contents in such a way that users are tempted to forward them to others. It is a rat race for market shares and you need to have the strongest “mouse”. As your customers network with each other on the world wide web, don’t go looking elsewhere, but plan right now, how to catch them all. Go ahead! Build your best mousetrap!

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