Saturday, June 30, 2007

What is viral?

Theatre is one part of my life.

Movies and television another.

And then there's this thing called advertising which pays bills.

It kind of uses mutated forms of the first three elements to interest people into thinking about products and services differently than they did before. And, lately, it's been leaning ever more heavily on those things than before becasue of this little thing called Viral marketing.

However, the definition of what viral marketing is seems to vary widely.

Hell, even the definition of viral varies depending on who you talk to.

Oh, the big, broad, basic definition is the same - something that gets passed around a lot - but as the video spoof above suggests, what leads to "pass around" is something to be debated.

What leads to useful or good "pass around" is even more debatable.

The video below is a case in point. Created by Chuck McBride and company in San Francisco, it's for Ray Ban. There are clues to this within the video (they're wearing the damn glasses, throwing the damn glasses in every frame and, finally, the Ray Ban tagline is written in the dust of a dirty car window), but most people I know - outside of the advertising industry - don't or haven't picked up on these clues.

To them it's just an entertaining video. And it is.

Then there's Mascot Roommate from the Coffee Bean.

Apparently, the marketing folks at the Coffee Bean asked a couple of guys to make some viral videos that used their mascot. Somehow they bought a bunch of comic videos in which a lot of fun is made of the Coffee Been employee who has to stand around in a big Frostee Mascot suit.

It's long, but funny. But once I know that it's sponsored by the Coffee Bean, I'm not sure I think it's all that cool.

However, it got a lot of attention. As you can see from the clip below, CNN - among others - bought the trick hook line and sinker.

Again, however, branding is incidental, rather than stamped at the end with a card a la a TV commercial.

Which is not to say that TV spots can't be viral. Certainly if a spot is funny or interesting enough it will garner attention. The VW spot below has something like 3 million hits. (I count for at least a hundred of them).

Anyway, lately, my clients have been asking for viral ideas.

What many don't seem to understand is this: in viral the emphasis is on entertainment, not product (per se). So the idea behind anything "viral" needs to be easy to understand and grasp, hard to misinterpret (which by the way, seems to me like a very good summation of the much bandied-about but not-often-defined phrase "Big Idea") and the schtick must be interesting enough for people to WANT to watch it.

This doesn't mean you can't talk about yourself. You just can't be talking to yourself.

Ie, you need to have a lot of confidence in your brand, so much so that you're not afraid to make a little fun of yourself. More importantly you need to have a strong understanding of your brand so that no matter what you say, to whoever you're saying it, you are second-nature re-inforcing your brand.

That is to say, your brand must be more than a few words on a piece of paper. It has to be an actual culture, with real values that live in the organization. No, actually must be the organizing principles around which a company has grown.

Perhaps you can fake some of that, I don't know. But I do know that it'll be easier for you to get a successful viral compaign if these kinds of things are already in place throughout.

Every Apple message is simple - simple to look at visually, simple verbally to understand. EVERY ONE.
Every Apple message has an understated ease about it. EVERY ONE.
Every Apple message has a charming and not-over-the-top sense of humor (even when it's schticky like the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" campaign). EVERY ONE.

Is it any surprise that one compoonent of iPhone viral marketing looks like this?

Note that these video don't demonstrate anything about the new iPhone except that it will make old phones seem obsolete. The demonstrations are left for the sales floor.

So, what's the best viral campaign I've ever seen?

Probably one of the first. In fact, I think it's the model for all the best that's come after. It has a site that houses the overall idea and where it can all be viewed at once. As you can see below, the videos are also episodic but self-contained, they are all availabe on YOUTUBE and they are all funny enough to want to see more than once. Finally, they are structured around the product in a way that's emphasizes what's great about the product - ie, they're neither pointlessly entertaining nor are they so self-effacing about the product that you have to wonder if the damn thing is any good (a question that I have about the Coffee Bean after watching Mascot Roommate).

Which is to say, someone might actually want to buy Chad's Monkey Ball game after they watch it.

For more on viral, check out: Feed Company.


Dave Tutin said...

The problem with "viral": If you don't know what's being advertised how does it contribute to a brand's success? And if you do know it just becomes advertising - the very thing it's trying not to be.

Desperation is all it is. Marketers simply not knowing how to address 'empowered' customers.

Malachy Walsh said...

Yep. Which is my problem with the Ray Ban stuff. (I have a problem with Mascot Roommate for a different reason - it makes me think people who work at the Coffee Bean are losers becasue they work at the Coffee Bean.)

But it is all advertising.

Seems to me that clients who want to talk to customers have to figure out ways to do it by speaking their customers language, their way.

Then they can put their logo anywhere they want.

Permission is granted by the fun that's been created.

The emphasis is on relevant entertainment, however, not irrelevant client speak.

The Valkwagon ads are viral.

Chad is viral.

But no doubt about it, they're also ads.

Chad, of course, is even more than that, since he's a continuing story that doesn't have to fit into 30 second hole.

Which makes me think we could be headed back to a 50s style era of sponsor created entertainments. (As opposed to entertainments interrupted by sponsors.)

Dave Tutin said...

You're not alone in thinking that sponsorship is going to get bigger. Look at what Coke and Ford were able to do with their sponsorships of American Idol. Ford did it best.

And the next step after sponsorship is truly back to the period (which lasted into the 70s) where ad agencies came up with program ideas, and even made programs.

I am constantly amazed by the ad industry. By consciously getting rid of 'gray hair' and relying on cheaper, younger creative people solely, it's as if the industry has no memory. Problems constantly arise that the kids are seeing for the first time but which, in fact, are nothing new! And the only older people are those running the agencies - who are too bothered with politicial in-fighting and with keeping their jobs to actually bother about clients.

Malachy Walsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Malachy Walsh said...

A lot of companies are re-thinking the wisdom of the microsite, but our discussion above makes me rethink the wisdom of corporate sites that are all business.

Or consumer brands that only want to be all business. After all, who really wants to engage with someome who just talks about better faster cheaper 24/7?

Even if you're a better faster cheaper kind of person, you're still a person.