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Viral Marketing - Another Set of New Clothes for the Emperor? 41

Posted by Cliff
from the new-ways-of-stealing-mindshare dept.
fingal asks: "I've recently started working for a company who has decided that viral marketing is The Way Forwards. I've got mixed feelings about this. As the sysadmin who has to deal with the aftermath of hosting our own stuff and dealing with the inevitable congestion associated with the (rapidly increasing) size of attachments that are routinely moved about, it just winds me up. On the other hand - I very much enjoy checking out what people are up to (except when they email it to me and I'm on a dial-up...), but I don't think that I've ever actually bought anything as a result. What does everyone think about about this (either from the viewpoint of a consumer, provider or infrastructure engineer)?" Here is a better definition of the term "viral marketing". What are your thoughts on this subject?
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Viral Marketing - Another Set of New Clothes for the Emperor?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @03:14PM (#4909194)
    Here is a better definition of the term "viral marketing". What are your thoughts on this subject?

    Er, you just pointed to the everything2.com homepage. And while that is an example of HOW viral marketing is carried out, I think your primary intent was to point to the everything2 definition, which is here:

    http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=605630 [everything2.com]
  • It has nothing to do with big email attachments or recipe sites.
  • Correct link for E2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by cromano (162540)
    The right link is http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=605630 [everything2.com].

    In short, it's the practice of having people post "reviews" or "opinions" into usenet/forums/irc, that are actually paid adverts by the company.

    From that page: This isn't like traditional spam, as it's not repetitive or obvious. Some attempts are made to make the posts appear 'genuine'.

    Cheers,
    Your Friendly Karma Whore.

    • by DeadSea (69598) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @03:44PM (#4909473) Homepage Journal
      In short, it's the practice of having people post "reviews" or "opinions" into usenet/forums/irc, that are actually paid adverts by the company.
      This is very different than what I have known as viral marketing. ICQ did a great job of viral marketing to get their chat client to be the most popular. They did this by having the chat client prompt you to tell all of your friends about it.

      Viral marketing is having your product communicate with each of your customers contacts. The viral part of it is that it has exponential growth. As the number of customers grow, the number of messages sent will grow.

      This really makes sense for some products such as chat clients that are meant for communication. If you made a fridge that said "Hi, check me out!" whenever somebody new walked into the kitchen, you would have made a fridge with viral marketing. I don't know how much sense that would make given that fridges don't usually communicate and adding viral marketing might increase the costs significantly.

    • by fingal (49160)
      Or from the same page [everything2.com]:-
      Gimmick Promotions
      These centre around some kind of novelty, such as an email attachment game, interactive section to the website, 'special offer' requiring you to 'recommend' the email addresses of friends in order to get a discount. In terms of generating traffic these can be the most productive tactics. Many variations on this exist, and chances are you've received or seen some form of it at some time, athough you may not be aware of it.

      This is closer to what I was referring to when I posted the original story. Or to put it another way [channel4.com]:-

      Eventually the attachments got to some exec in advertising who, instead of worrying about their copyright being ripped off, realised that if they could get people to forward their adverts to each other they could save a hell of a lot on airtime and look cool in the bargain without worrying about the censors. Bingo.

      My understanding was that once a sucessful viral campaign was under way, it would become self-sustaining thereby opening up the possibility of exposure to a load more eyeballs...

      • I have no problem with this at all. Every once in a while my brother will email me a .MOV file that turns out to be a very funny TV ad. So what? I can always delete it. Now and then someone sends me a cute game that incorporates or ends with a corporate logo. If it's entertaining and the sponsorship isn't in-your-face, I don't mind, and I may pass it on myself.

        I remember years ago Buick had a driving simulator that, naturally, had you driving various Buicks. You could also get more info about specific models (mostly lists of standard features, etc.). In its day it was very leading-edge, and I passed it around freely. The U.S. Army has released a free wargames sim [americasarmy.com] as a recruiting tool, and it's very good. I'm going to burn it onto some CDs and stuff them into stockings in the hope of enlisting a squad among my family for some serious time-wasting.

        If that's what you mean by "viral" ads, go for it, and don't feel bad about it. Just be sure it's quality stuff, because the quality will reflect directly on the sponsor. One issue you should worry about is bandwidth. If these ads are large, consider a format where people can email links to their friends rather than the ads themselves.

        And if your company plans on spamming them to the world, or participating in the "astroturfing" mentioned elsewhere, then I wish your company horrible flaming death :-)

        • Finally a post which actually addresses the points that I was actually hoping to have a discussion about...

          If that's what you mean by "viral" ads, go for it, and don't feel bad about it. Just be sure it's quality stuff, because the quality will reflect directly on the sponsor. One issue you should worry about is bandwidth. If these ads are large, consider a format where people can email links to their friends rather than the ads themselves.

          This is the key. By definition, once a viral campaign gets going, you have no control at all over who looks at your gimmick or even how many people look at it. If folk are emailing it to each other then this is not your concern because there is no direct cost to yourself or the client. However, if the cost of participating in the gimmick is carried by yourself (because you are hosting the data), then hundred's of thousands of unsuitable eyes looking at your ad suddenly becomes a problem.

          Most advertising mediums have a modicum of targetting. You decide roughly speaking where and how you are going to release the advertisments in the hope of targetting a specific audience which is hopefully relevant to the product. However, once a viral campaign is under way then you have no control at all. You have no idea what sort of people are going to participating or whether it is sucessful...

          So what I am interested in is if there is any research done on the demographic spread of viral style ads as defined by the previous poster and whether or not they have been effective in terms of a return on the investment. (Maybe it's time to try and hack webalizer into one of the graphical traceroute functions to try and plot the spread of a site...)

          • So what I am interested in is if there is any research done on the demographic spread of viral style ads as defined by the previous poster and whether or not they have been effective in terms of a return on the investment.

            Your marketing people should have some demographic data on the spread of viral campaigns. There was alot of research into this in 1998-2000 during the dotcom boom. Of course, most of those businesses went out of business. If your marketters don't have this data, they aren't doing their job. And the good studies probably aren't free either.

            As for ROI, it sounds like your marketters want to violate one of the fundamental rules of viral marketing: Keep it scalable. The main point behind viral marketing is that it's supposed to be cheap.

            Forwarding an email newsletter where the graphic elements refer to your website is usually cheap, because the newsletters are usually lightweight, and the elements don't require alot of dynamic or DB-driven content (Which simplifies the scalability issues).

            Forwarding a movie file (Like the channel 4 stuff [channel4.com]) is also cheap (for you), because the processing all happens on someone elses mail system (But it probably sucks for those ISPs).

            But it sounds like your marketters want to combine the two: Use a "forwarded email"-type of marketing, but where the big elements reside on your servers in your office. That is not cheap.
            • But it sounds like your marketters want to combine the two: Use a "forwarded email"-type of marketing, but where the big elements reside on your servers in your office. That is not cheap.

              Totally agree. Only reasons for taking this course of action might be:-

              • If the technology being used necessitates a server driven solution
              • If the filesizes involved are unpractical to transfer over email channels
              • If the tracking information from the usage logs of the server (especially in interactive applications) is worth more in itself to the company than the cost of hosting it.
              • If the ROI turns out to be high enough (although this is a big IF)
              • If the coverage is sufficiently higher - admins block large attachments and people are starting to think about what they send to other folk after being battered by so many emails, but people will generally forward URL's to each other without a thought.
    • In short, it's the practice of having people post "reviews" or "opinions" into usenet/forums/irc, that are actually paid adverts by the company.

      I thought that was called 'astroturfing'. The viral part I guess is in the "pass it on!" aspect of it?

      --Joe
  • Not anymore... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 0x0d0a (568518) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @03:28PM (#4909359) Journal
    "I've recently started working for a company who has decided that viral marketing is The Way Forwards. I've got mixed feelings about this...

    You *may* have just started, but after posting material criticizing your company to Slashdot, I'm dubious that you're going to keep your employment long...
    • No, he's just using slashdot as a part of the viral marketing paradigm...

      We could start a meta-discussion about whether its right to use a forum discussing viral marketing for viral marketing....
  • Can we get a 'duh'? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Violet Null (452694) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @03:29PM (#4909375)
    Viral marketing is deceptive. It may be effective, but hell, so is just lying.

    I mean, you pay people to astroturf your product. To state their "opinion" about it without adding on "Oh, and I work for XYZ corporation," or, "XYZ corporation paid me $10 to post this." Why do they not say these things? Because they know that if they did, no one would take their opinion seriously. Well, if no one would take you seriously, perhaps your message is lacking.

    Which seems to usually be the case. Companies that already get good word of mouth don't need to astroturf.
  • by stefanlasiewski (63134) <slashdot&stefanco,com> on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @03:35PM (#4909396) Homepage Journal
    Huh? You need to clarify the definition.

    In my mind, "Viral Marketing" is similar to "word-of-mouth" marketing. It's one of the oldest marketing schemes around.

    You promote products to your customers, and then your customers promote the product to their friends via email ("Hey Barbara, I get this newsletter from xxx.com, and I think you'll find it useful), over coffee ("Oh, I found this great new website...", whatever.

    It has very little to do with large email attachments. It's all about focusing on a small, tight-knit community who communicates alot, and then exploiting those communication channels. Word of mouth.

    My former employeer (A large new-parent oriented website with millions of unique visitors a month) was the queen of viral marketting. They probably had the best word-of-mouth promotion of any site on the planet. Why? Because new parents communicate alot. They NEED information, and want to help out the other new parents as much as possible, and end up promoting the website just like they say "Have you checked out Penelope Leach's new baby book?". Big bang for the marketing buck.

    So, in this case, viral marketing was working pretty good, but not good enough, because some of us got laid off a few months ago.
    • Ah, and sometimes bribes are involved, such as the following email that I just got from my sister-in-law.

      They paid her to promote the product. She even appologizes for sending the email, but now I know about Snapfish, the online photo company, and that if I want to go look at photo's of my 2-year-old newphew, I need to go to Snapfish.

      Still, this reeks of a dotcom money making strategy:

      Sorry I get up to 50 free photos if you guys register with Snapfish and thought you should know that new photos will be over here at Snapfish So if want to see 's growing obsession with horses: Check out Snapfish! They'll develop your film and send you a full set of prints on Kodak paper, starting at just $2.99 a roll. You can also upload photos from your digital camera and order film-quality prints for as low as $0.25 each. As a special introduction, your first roll will be developed for FREE and your first 10 digital camera prints are FREE! Plus, I'll get 5 free prints for referring you.

      https://www.someurlhere.com/blah/blah
    • It has very little to do with large email attachments. It's all about focusing on a small, tight-knit community who communicates alot, and then exploiting those communication channels. Word of mouth.

      I would totally agree with you except in cases when the the incentive to forward the email on to another load of people is the payload of the email (rather than some direct transaction with the company (as you mentioned elsewhere [slashdot.org] with bribes). If an email forwarded item is going to become self-sustaining then it either has to forward itself (in the case of a software virus) or it has to provide the host with an excuse to pass it on to new folk. The more folk that it can interest, the greater the chances of actually reaching the coverage that it desires. If it "dies" (ie is not forwarded on to anyone else) as soon as it arrives at a person who is not directly interested in the product then it will by definition be less sucessful. Therefore an email that carries an attachment that is entertaining in it's own right will, by definition, provide better dispersion than an item that directly narrows down the target audience to the product.

      Now, what I was trying to ask when I posted the story was (and judging from the general posts so far I failed miserably to get my point across) was: Is the creation of marketing material that is so far removed from the target product to become an interesting thing in its own right a valid model for doing business?

      • > Is the creation of marketing material that is so
        > far removed from the target product to become an
        > interesting thing in its own right a valid model
        > for doing business?

        If by 'valid' you mean 'effective', yes. So are many other forms of fraud and deception.
        • If by 'valid' you mean 'effective', yes. So are many other forms of fraud and deception.

          This is where I am confused. Yes, there are situations when folk "in the name of Viral Marketing" masquerade as someone who they are not. Yes, this is fraud and deception and you tend to end up looking really stupid (as microsoft's switch campaign showed). But unless I'm being really obtuse, then this isn't what I'm talking about. How is a company hiring a designer or an artist to create a work that they feel is interesting and innovative which is branded by the sponsor that created it in the hope that the members of the public promote it themselves fraudulent or deceptive? If we take this into account, then is your answer to my question still yes and if so then what are your reasons for this?

        • If by 'valid' you mean 'effective', yes. So are many other forms of fraud and deception.

          Sorry, you're wrong. Viral marketing is often quite entertaining and rarely pushy. The true point of viral marketing is to make something that people WANT to to show their friends.

          Here's an example: John West Salmon [pocketmovies.net]

          That ad is perhaps the best example of viral marketing I've seen. I've seen it on TV three different times, not as a commercial, but as 'content'. Month after month this thing turned up in my user's mailboxes. Even now there are a ton of sites that you can download it from. I just got over 100 hits for it on Kazaa. John West isn't buying airtime to show the ad, it's got a life of it's own. It't viral.

          No need for fraud or deception. Just killer content. Look at BMW Films [bmwfilms.com] for another example.

  • by bscott (460706)
    Yeah, I know about "viral marketing" - it's like when you get a post onto the homepage of Slashdot, advertising^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H containing interesting links to various other sites (isn't Everything2 affiliated with OSDN...?), thus generating positive discussions and a sort of underground 'buzz' about something...

    Only you forgot to tell us what the product is - but I've figured it out! It's gotta be MY VIRAL MARKETING COMPANY, which I've just started and which is poised to take over the world within hours! Tell your friends, they'll like you even better.

    I need to go back to bed now.

  • No, www.everything2.com/index.pl is not a better definition of viral marketing, since there's nothing on that page that even mentions the phrase. (Was it supposed to be a better example of viral marketing? I'm guessing, since I still don't know what the fuck viral marketing is, but that site didn't define a thing.

    The page linked to by the submitter talks about viewing the latest "viral films" and discussing them, but still doesn't tell me what it is we're all talking about.

  • --it's really lame, it's just trolling taken to a paid level, or conversely to push a potentially dangerous political agenda, perhaps by offical government employees [proparanoid.com].

    I don't mind someone doing a post and if their own work/business is relevant to the discussion, swell, add in a link to the product or service, but to do it sneakily is just... wrong.

  • What the Fuck? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bellings (137948) on Tuesday December 17, 2002 @05:00PM (#4910124)
    I'm assuming this entire incoherent article is just an attempt at a viral advertisement for your website.

    Did you get paid to submit it to Slashdot every day until some editor came back from lunch stoned and accepted it, or did your company's marketing department just give up and slip Cliff $100 worth of ditch weed and tijuana hookers to post this trite?
  • is still Spam

    Just as Multi-Level Marketers try to hide behind other names (Network Marketing, etc), viral marketing is just another name for Spam.

  • book by Seth Gordon
    Highly recommended. You can download the entire book for free from his website; http://www.ideavirus.com/ [ideavirus.com]

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