The Art of Viral

7 05 2010

Word of mouth. Viral video. Buzz. Marketing colloquialisms today sound like a chronic illness. Fact is, average marketers don’t seem to get the art of online marketing. Most seem to think that good e-marketing is putting an ad online for people to print, or texting a coupon to someone’s smart phone. By extension, an online video is just a 10 second snippet of a TV commercial.  The problem with this perspective is it’s audience-negligent. No one wants to watch a TV commercial online, especially if they’re just going to TIVO right past it…no matter how funny it might be. No, online videos are a creation unto themselves. They’re somewhere between TV show and advertisement. In fact, a good online video differentiates itself from an advertisement based on 4 key features:

1. It’s narrative. This isn’t rocket science: People like stories. People who like stories like to forward stories. People who receive forwarded stories in turn forward the stories. And so on.

2. It’s different and edgy. A viral video is a unique media creation, something that you wouldn’t see on TV. It’s humor, presentation, and delivery are unexpected and even edgy. Unfortunately, many marketers translate this into a liberal presentation of questionable content that can’t be shown on television. This perspective misses the mark, and, frankly, it’s overdone. A viral video is uniquely interesting, in the same way The Office was uniquely funny when it first aired on NBC. It redefines what entertainment is and can be.

3. It’s time-sensitive. Many people say that a viral video should be 30 seconds to a minute. But I say, “It depends”. Generally, if you can get a good entertaining story in 30 seconds or less, then do it. The point: be concise. Don’t go over, don’t go under.

4. It’s cultural. I don’t mean that a viral video should be a Discovery-channel exposition of the mores of a society. No, a viral video is culturally relevant, pointing out or even poking fun at the underlying standard operating procedures that often go unnoticed or under-recognized in society. In this way, viral videos may even be irreverent. To this point, one may say that a viral video is satirical, and I completely agree. Think David Letterman and Rupert Jee.  Heck, think Mark Twain. He would be the virtual Bull in a China Shop if he lived a century and a half later.

Here’s a video that hits all 4 principles of a good viral video:


Advertising, Duped?

13 04 2010

10 years ago, Al Ries declared that Advertising was dead (and that by extension, PR was “alive”). 10 years later, although he may have been right about PR, I think he was a little off about advertising…it’s not dead, it’s just been duped.

Over the last 50 years, we’ve had so many different ways to prove that advertising works:

  • The 4Ps (or 6, or however many are floating around today–I’ve even heard of the 4 Cs!)
  • The Image continuum: Any number of concepts labeled as branding, brand imagery, even positioning. Throw differentiation in there, and you’ve got 4-5 different concepts that so similar that they have been used interchangeably.
  • Reputation/Social Marketing: This one is my favorite. The idea is that if you do well (contribute to a charity, rebuild a park, etc.), consumers will buy more from you.

Here’s the kicker:Each one of these concepts are designed to be the “fill-in-the-blank” answer for the following statement:

If I ______, more people will buy my product.

Problem is, you could put any one of the above-mentioned marketing concepts into that statement, but it won’t make it more true than if you filled in the blank with “dance around in a top hat and a cane”. Ok, I exaggerate. But the principle remains:

Just because you have a recognizable logo, just because the advertising is consistent, HECK just because you helped TY Pennington BUILD A HOUSE…none of it is going to ensure a purchase.

No, advertising is not dead, it’s just been duped all these years. All this time forking out loads of money to sponsor television ads for “the big game” (seriously, when is the NFL going to wake up and un-copyright the title of their championship game?!), or to sponsor three people with little actual musical talent to tell up and coming singers that they’re not the next Idol, doesn’t mean I’m going to buy the product. And you know what, I don’t think I’m alone. Just because the ad is catchy, high-profile, or any other current social qualifier that labels it good, doesn’t mean it’s going to get someone to buy. But may I speak for the rest of America and say, “Thank you for the funny ads!”

The irony: Advertising has been drinking the Kool-Aid all these years, and sure, sales may go up (or go down), but do you know who really benefits? The consumer. Thanks to advertising shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars, I get to watch my favorite shows for free.

Now:  do you know what does work? It’s ironic. Find what people want and actually give it to them. Case in point: Denny’s. Remember this?

Color Me Facebook

8 01 2010

Have you been seeing colors on Facebook? Chances are, in the last few days, you’ve seen a female friend post a status change with a single word: white, tan, pink, bright blue! Chances are, some of these posts have been unnerving, as you probably feel left out of the loop on this enigmatic code of colors  (if you’re male, that’s the point).

I’ll put you out of your misery: The Facebook color posts are part of an intriguing campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer. Women post the color of the most relevant undergarment to breast cancer currently “on their person”.

Though the origins of the campaign may be unkown, one thing is certain: within days, it has spread like wild firewalls around the virtual Facebook world, evidenced by a recent post that appeared on my Facebook page:

Buddy the Elf: Black with Gold Mickey Mouse Heads.

Critics claim this crisis of color does nothing to create awareness for breast cancer, but only drives people who aren’t in on it crazy (read: guys). But I think it works on three levels

1. Backdoor Awareness: The color campaign works because it feeds into that inner monster, curiosity. It’s genius because it effectively captures our curiosity by teasing us to search for something that we might not have otherwise: breast cancer awareness. Let’s face it, though it may be one of the most serious and critical issues in our society, most people aren’t going to go online today and type in the search term breast cancer unless they’ve experienced a recent, intimate encounter with its effects. But people are more likely to be so unnerved about being out of the loop that they’ll go online and search “facebook color  posts”. This alternative entrance into the topic of breast cancer, then, serves as a backdoor to the issue for people who would otherwise not have given it much thought…and isn’t that the audience that breast cancer advocates are most interested in reaching?

2. Creating an In-Crowd Community. Let’s state the obvious for a minute: this color thing has spread like wildfire in only a matter of days (can you think of any offline campaign that has been able to do that?).  Why? Because it joined people into a “secret” (at least it’s supposed to be) club where they felt special to be a part of something “cool”. Sure, it’s high school, but it works. Little by little, facebookers who read the posts wonder what it is, want to be involved, and join the club by doing one simple thing: posting a representative color of a particularly relevant undergarment they’re currently wearing. Which leads me to the third level…

3. Pure Ease. What’s the easiest and most efficient way to get people thinking and talking about breast cancer? Hold a fund raiser where to be involved individuals have to donate money? How about a walk-a-thon, or some other athletic event that requires people to put miles into their commitment to the cause, literally? Or…how about encouraging people to post a color on their facebook page, which requires 1. no time and 2. no effort? Bingo. Color posting is a sickeningly easy way to get involved. In fact, you don’t even have to talk about your feelings, emotions, and tragedies that might be associated with breast cancer. You just have to post a color.

So…the facebook color post phenomenon raising breast cancer awareness is ingenius, and I laud its ability to get people involved in such an important cause in such an easy way…

That is…until my mom posts a color.

An Experiment in Twitter-Ology

1 12 2009

I’m teaching a digital  PR and Advertising class this semester, and recently I conducted a few experiments in Tweeting. Trying to capitalize on some of the most recent and relevant developments on Twitter, I went right for the big guns, and did a quick search on:

New Moon.

Now, if you are not familiar with the Twilight saga, or the current fascination with model-like Vampires and rugged Werewolves, which seems to have an amazing effect on girls between the ages of 10 and 50, causing them lose all reason and surrender complete mental capacity, then find any girl and ask them this question: Edward or Jacob?

At any rate, during a class on Twitter, we decided to explore the wiles of Twtter users (or Twits, as one satirical site called them) by searching the trending topic “New Moon” ON the day the movie was released.

The results were intriguing. Most of the posts included something to the effect of “Can’t wait to see New Moon” and included some other pedestrian anecdote. For example: “Took a nap, woke up, ready to see New Moon!” “Sitting in class, thinking about seeing New Moon! Jacob’s hot!” and “Brushing my teeth, can’t wait for New Moon tonight!” Of course, there were the obligatory: “New Moon Sucks” posts and the “Check this new trailer out for New Moon” posts.

Perhaps what was most staggering about these posts…new posts on New Moon were coming in at 30 per minute, or, to paint the picture: We conducted an in class search, and by the time the results posted, we read the first one or two and I asked for any comments, 30 more posts appeared. I decided to leave the page on as we discussed Twitter, and in the space of my 1 hour and 30 minute class, we saw 9,000 posts about New Moon come up.

We surmised 3 things from this VERY informal research

1. People use Twitter to associate themselves with a fad, theme, or event as a way to label themselves. In this case, Tweets about New Moon labeled individuals as “fans” and, perhaps, part of the “real fandom” of Twilight because they were seeing it on Day 1 of the movie release. This was similarly seen in blog posts and forum posts shortly after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book was released, as fans posted how quickly they finished the book (many posts simply read: Subject: Harry Potter 7. Message:  Done!)

2. People use Twitter to take sides on a current event or issue: There were probably just as many “New Moon Sucks” posts as there were “I love Edward Cullen” posts.

3. People use Twitter to connect with others who share their affinity or dislike for an event or issue or fad. Many of these posts were not rich in content, in fact, they were mostly simple accounts of intentions to view the movie. But in doing so, it appeared that New Moon Tweeters (uh…twits) were echoing the refrains of other fans, and, in doing so, building a community of fans who could share their excitement for viewing the film.

Now, these aren’t necessarily eye-popping results, but they are revealing in their own right. Twitter may be more than an “information engine”…it’s a community building engine. What’s even more astounding is that community building is taking place in 140 characters or less.

The real question is, who is harnessing this power for community engagement? And who is blowing it? …and that’s the subject of my next post.

Integrating Communication: Engaging Your Audience

6 10 2009

Too many people think that integrated marketing communications (IMC) is only about making all your messages match. At its most basic, some see IMC as branding: using the same logo, colors, and tagline in every communication piece. But in reality, IMC has little to do with making everything look the same, at least for successful IMC. No, IMC is about engaging individuals and groups across your stakeholder spectrum, through synergy and appealing to their hearts and minds.

For Example: Queensland, Australia’s “Best Job in the World” Campaign:

This campaign embodies IMC. It’s about building relationships and engaging stakeholders, through an innovative message that is carried and translated across multiple media channels.

oh…and in case you want to know which video application won?


A successful IMC campaign should have continuity, and a sense of permanence to it. Of course, this was fully built into the Queensland campaign:

Power to the Classroom?

27 09 2009

So, President Obama thinks kids need even MORE time in the classroom? Typical.

I think we’re all missing the point. Kids need more time with parents who are willing to teach their kids. If Obama wants to fix America’s problems, he’ll write legislation that requires parents to show their kids an iota of attention, and build a society centered on the family.

A wise man once said: No success outside the home can compensate for failure inside the home.

Know your Target Audience OR In which the President Didn’t know His

9 09 2009

My kids asked me if they could listen to Obama’s speech about education. I had nothing wrong with it, remembering the classic speech from Ronald Reagan to the nation’s children after the Challenger blew up.

After the fact, though, it turns out that this was nothing like “The Great Communicator’s” speech, as complaints labeling it “propaganda” and “brainwashing” seem to be the common reaction.

My complaints don’t necessarily fall on political lines, however. No. My biggest problem with Obama’s speech is that he missed his target:

He gave a “don’t quit school” speech to kids who aren’t old enough to realize that quitting is an option.

I’m not worried about my kids, they’ve got two teachers as parents…but we should probably be worried how horribly off the mark Obama was in this regard.

From a communication perspective, it shows that 1) to make a great speech, you have to know your audience and 2) Even the president can get so wrapped up in good intentions, that he can fail rule number 1 in public speaking.

Compare Obama’s speech to Reagans, and I think the picture becomes clearer: