Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Caught a nasty viral

Adrants has been ranting about viral marketing. While there's much to agree with, I have to disagree with the final paragraph:

There's not much a marketer can lose using the viral medium. The stakes are low. The potential return, very high. The worst thing that can happen is no one will see it. No problem. Try again. It's cheap.

The worst thing that can happen is not that no one will see it. That's pretty bad, as it's hard to get clients to invest in viral campaigns and a failed campaign doesn't make it any easier to secure budget for next time. Fine if you're in traditional advertising and the viral is an add-on, not so fine if you specialise in digital.

Worse is that in the attempt to be edgy you misjudge the content and create a consumer backlash against the brand that makes all the wrong headlines. Those kind of mistakes are expensive. Just ask Ford about their headless cat (they say it was not a sanctioned release). Some argue that the controversy made it successful, but the tone of their 'wasn't us' denials suggest those at HQ wouldn't agree.

Successful virals are a delicate balance between the 'underground' nature of the Internet and branding requirements and the two are not a natural fit. That's why all virals need the moment of genius that Adrants' rant alludes to. Get it right and achieve the kind of reach per cost that only the Internet can provide. Push it too far and, sometimes, it's better that no one sees it.

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