Saturday, February 28, 2009

Viral with Value

Today, any client asking for an integrated marketing campaign is going to say, "Where's the viral element? We're gonna need that... because well, that's what's done right now, right?" And they have a point, especially considering the great success that some agencies have had, eg. Crispin Porter + Bogusky with their Burger King work. But, at the same time viral can just as often be done very badly.

For any agency/ company a flopped viral video is embarrassing. Especially when it's not only ignored, but the butt of jokes (and not the "ha ha this is ironically lame, therefore cool" type of jokes). I'm not sure all press is good press despite the axiom, because a flopped viral campaign simply screams “we’re out of touch!” And that’s not good, ever.

For a successful viral campaign I think that at least two conditions need to be met. First, similar to a good book or screenplay, a viral video needs to be honest to get our attention. When Wendy’s “Crazy Lettuce” came out they pretended it wasn’t corporate. And, when it finally came out that Wendy’s was behind it, the video lost all credibility and was hailed as a lame attempt to co-opt our virtual attention. Whereas Burger King (most of the time) slapped the BK logo on everything so we never felt like we were being tricked into consuming the content – we wanted to watch the King! (though, don’t get me wrong I’m not saying you always have to show your hand, more on that below).

Second, they should be entertaining: interesting or fun. Even with TV spots there is an exchange that’s going on: you entertain me and I’ll give you my attention. This is multiplied by a factor of ten online. If a video isn’t fresh or quirky or engaging it’s just not going to make the cut in viral land. For Crispin, BK’s viral videos and promotions were clever, weird and new – they were sought out and passed it on. Win. I still find the idea of meat-scented cologne hilarious.

There are more conditions I’m sure, and those I just ran through can of course be broken – and probably should be if you want to be innovative. But viral land shouldn’t be considered one big question mark. There are recipes for success.

Here are some great viral videos/campaigns imho.
- an alternate reality experience and viral marketing campaign to hype the release of Halo 2, this website brought elements of the Halo universe to life. Different hints linked to the this site, that at first appeared to be dedicated to honey sales and beekeeping, to Halo 2. Upon visiting the homepage visitors found the site "was covered in confusing random characters and sentence fragments. Dana, the ostensible webmaster of the ilovebees site, created a stating that something had gone wrong with her website, and the site itself had been hacked. Suspecting that this was a mystery that could be unraveled, Halo and ARG (augmented reality game) fans spread the link and began to work on figuring out what was going on," (Wikipedia).

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog - not actually a viral campaign at all, but a real production, Dr. Horrible spread quickly when it came out. "A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few," it had the force of well a known director, Joss Whedon, and a talented cast. With some integrated ads and songs that keep getting stuck in my head it continues to get a good number of hits from me and many others. Marketers could learn from the success of this fun, honest mini-movie musical (an obviously niche idea that "somehow" has rave reviews and wide appeal).

The Ramp - a fake documentary by BMW about a small, economically destitute town in Bavaria that builds a giant ramp with the intention of jumping a 1-Series BMW from Germany to America as part of a PR stunt to bring tourists to the town. Long, but very well done, it feels like a real movie and left me feeling a little sad. The message in the end seems to be that substance trumps hype - but, there's a lot more there as well. Its success should be no surprise as BMW has been doing this type of marketing, and doing it well from the start - they get it.

PS. 3/1: Came across this post only after I wrote this. Some great thoughts on the framework of viral marketing.