I was in a pitch meeting recently with a local Polish creative agency. As part of their impressive creds, they showed a viral campaign they had developed about a year ago. It was a subversive and quirky idea in a category untouched by usual viral work - pharma.
Clearly the client was impressed with the idea and, rather predictably, was even more impressed when the agency proudly annouced that there had been zero media spend behind it - it just happened.
This irritated me slightly as it showed a lack of ambition and knowledge on how to really use the media - beyond the most important aspect - having a great idea.
Yes of course viral often means 'free'. There are 1000s of now globally famous virals that have just 'happened', they caught the public imagination, were shared and spread before they are consigned to the library of 'remember that one with the fat kid / kid cute / sexy girl / exploding coke bottle / guy falling off the tread mill ....'
However the vast majority of these are classic UGC that did not have the brief to sell / build awareness / create Excitment in a brand. They were simply a fun way to spend 10 secs to 3 mins.
When you are a brand in this space, it seems to me you have to follow a few rules. Here are some rules from some guys who do know what they are talking about in the viral space -- The Viral Factory. I found their words of wisdom in the BA Business Life magazine March 2010 edition and thought they were worth sharing, I have paraphrased a little bit so forgive me:
Rule 1: Respect the audience
If traditional advertising has been occasionally guilty of treating people like idiots - avoid this tendency line. People can and will talk back to you and about you - through blogs, comments etc.
And while the size of potential Internet audience has us delirious with excitement, bare in mind that if you get it wrong - it can go really really wrong.
Rule 2: Audience 1st, Marketing 2nd
When you buy a 30 sec TV spot - you want to Squeeze every last penny of value from the investment. And why not, its yours and you control it in an environment of apparent focused attention (the commercial break - however we've been talking about Ad Advoiders for 15 years)
With viral you have to earn the audience attention by giving them something they want to watch. So start with that and then figure out how to get key marketing messages across without ruining the idea you thought was so good in the first place.
What do people like? Well Hollywood has a pretty good grasp on this: people like to laugh, they like romance, they like watching people in jeopardy, they like sex, heros, cute things, and they like things that make you go WOW!
Rule 3: Get rid of barriers
If you want people to share what you've created, then make it easy and fun for them to do so. Use content-sharing tools and platforms like You Tube, Flickr, Facebook, Blogger. These are freely available and people are comfortable using them. Of course you can make you're own but that is an additional expense, when money spent (beyond creating the idea) should be focused on....
Rule 4: Promoting your viral
This should be done shamelessly and relentlessly especially in the 1st 2 weeks after realease. By getting into the 'top 100' of viral, work does disproportionately better as more people see and share.
You can focus on getting influencial people - journalists, commentators, well-followed bloggers etc - to spread your message.
However, a greater chance of success sits with having a viral promotional plan and budget in place. We use people like Go Viral to seed brand content- via social networks, content placements, SEO with behavourial targeting. There are 2 main approaches; "pull" seeding - one to many, or "push" content placement in high volume/traffic spaces.
Both are essentially charged on a pay per view model which adds some accoutability to this area and shows that great viral marketing campaigns don't just happen and they like any great marketing campaign, they need focus and investment.
The difference being, if you get it right in viral the idea will fly and your ROI is almost unimaginable - a was in the case of Evian's Rollerskating babies - which was 'planned' to get 2millions view and is currently on 58 million.