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You see, you share. They gain. Welcome to the world of Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is the latest marketing tactic being used by brands the world over. It is a form of unpaid marketing. Can it be intentionally created? Does the buzz last? Can it actually translate to sales?

You see, you share. They gain. Welcome to the world of Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is the latest marketing tactic being used by brands the world over. It is a form of unpaid marketing. Can it be intentionally created? Does the buzz last? Can it actually translate to sales?

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | December 11, 2013


You see a video on YouTube. As you watch it, you start to realise how much you can relate to it. You are moved by it enough to want to tell your friends. You decide it's a good enough video to share on your Facebook wall. Maybe, you tag a few of your friends. The next day when you switch on your computer you realise everyone – or mostly everyone – has already seen the video and are talking about it. Congratulations! You have just been a part of a crowd which helps make videos go 'viral'.

According to Wikipedia, a viral video is one 'that becomes popular through the process of (most often) internet sharing, typically through video sharing websites, social media and email'. For those who haven't heard of it before, maybe the name of Psy's Gangnam Style would ring a bell? If not that, then maybe, the latest ad showing Jean-Claude Van Damme doing an epic split atop two Volvos as they move along side by side? These videos garnered enough hits in a single day to make anyone's head spin. From cute cat videos, or that of two kids fighting, the viral video genre has moved to flash mobs and surprise proposals. And if a video can actually catch so many eyeballs, why shouldn't it be done to create a name for a brand?

Harish Bijoor Harish Bijoor

"Viral marketing is a form of unpaid marketing. This is all about one consumer spreading the message to another through the use of social media and word-of-mouth. It is essentially a consumer buzz created by excited consumers themselves," explained Harish Bijoor, Brand Expert and Chief Executive Officer of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

In recent times, viral videos have been used as a marketing tool by brands worldwide. Be it TicTacs' Fresh breath campaign or Burger King's subservient chicken campaign, big brands have used the power of social media in the hope that followers will become sharers which in turn will lead to users.

India woke up to viral videos comparatively recently, with South India's superstar Dhanush singing 'Kolaveri di'. While no one could fathom the reason behind the overnight sensation, it did launch Dhanush in the Hindi film industry – getting him plump roles in movies and brand endorsements alike. Are viral videos really a matter of luck? Are these unprecedented success stories which launch someone out of the blue? What makes them tick?

Swapan Seth Swapan Seth

"The spread of a viral video is enabled by others and not the marketer. While we can look at different factors that make or break an ad, likeability and empathy must be there for a video to become viral," said Swapan Seth, Chairman of the Board, Equus.

Seth added, “While a viral ad is free, more significantly, it is spread amongst like thinking people which makes it a focussed fed.”

According to a recent study done by Prof Thales Teixeira, published in the Harvard Business Review, a video will have the potential to go viral if the viewer thinks it will benefit the sender as much as it helps the advertiser.

Mahesh Murthy Mahesh Murthy

Mahesh Murthy, Founder and CEO, Pinstorm, explained this further. He said, "We, as people, are extremely reluctant to share something online. This is especially true for an advertising message, fearing that it is will hamper our social and online image and reputation. However, in case we think that the video is so cool and amazing that our friends would love to see it, then the video can actually go viral."

Then, is the cool-ness quotient the be-all and end-all of viral marketing? Most experts seem to think that viral videos must be entertaining first of all. It must also offer something new, something unthinkable. A viral marketing video must offer a product that is so unique that everyone will talk about it. This is what happened in the case of 'Hotmail' which sent out invites under each email. The product itself was new, with internet catching on.

However, if the product itself is not that great, it must be communicated in a way that is creative and fun and engaging so that the video has the capacity to go viral. Think the Avian Baby commercial. The commercial which shows a bunch of diaper-wearing toddlers skating and dancing to hip-hop music, has no relation with the actual product. However, it has a high entertainment value which worked for the brand. Only after creativity and novelty come other factors like relatability and informativeness.

If all this is already known, can't every brand create a viral marketing advertisement? That is not possible, say the experts.

"Viral marketing is something you can plan, but a viral video you cannot. We can't, therefore, make viral videos. We can just hope that something we make will go viral," said Murthy.

Laura Jordan Bambach Laura Jordan Bambach

"It is the quality of the idea which is more important and then you have to have a proper strategy as well. They can be terrific, funny, cute or something. But it has to be entertaining since informative campaigns are not shared as much," said Laura Jordan Bambach, Co-founder of SheSays and Cannt Festival, Vice-President of D&AD and Creative Director at Dare. Bambach was the creative brain behind internet viral sensations, BeSpoke Ballads, which made funny two-minute ballads about words that users would tweet or about current events. Though not directly related, it brought Barclays Cards to the forefront and took up its brand value. "A viral ad can only work when you tell stories that people want to hear, not the ones that you want to talk about."

However, the same qualities that worked for one brand may not work for another. Or even worse, not even for the same brand in two different campaigns. The International Old Spice advertisement featuring actor Isaiah Mustafa went viral instantly on the web. But when India did a remake of the same with our homegrown pin-up boy, Milind Soman, it did not create even half the frenzy of the original. As Seth said, “It was a rather silly piece of communication. So I am not even remotely surprised that it did not do well.”

According to some, this was because it lacked the freshness – copying merely something which has been done abroad. Some others felt that India isn't ready for the Old Spice brand of cheeky humour yet. So understanding what psychologically works for one set of viewers and what doesn't is essential in viral marketing.

Ask this to the guys at Ogilvy & Mather. Abhijit Avasthi, National Creative Director, O&M, is the man behind the recent viral sensation created by the Google search ad. He had also created the Bourneville campaign which was disguised as a viral video showing a failed proposal attempt in a mall.

Abhijit Avasthi Abhijit Avasthi

"We must understand human psychology. Everyone loves to see someone's misery. When we created the Bourneville ad, we made it look like a sweet proposal attempt which totally backfires. People loved this as they were probably bored of all the successful videos being posted online. Another thing that worked for us in this case is that we didn't brand it overtly. Though Bourneville's 'Not too sweet' motto was reflected in the ad, we used the brand just once and in passing. Which made people believe for many days that it is a genuine video shot in a mall somewhere," pointed out Awasthi.

The brand name then is not the most important thing in a viral campaign. The brand name comes up just accidentally in such cases. The hero of the new Volvo ad is not the Volvo itself but Van Damme. Similarly, Tanishq's remarriage ad was shared aggressively not because of the jewellery it showcased but because the idea showed some changes that society was ready for.

Viral marketing, then, because of its awe or shock value, might be useful mainly for awareness about the brand. It may or may not lead to actual increase in sales. But it is a very useful tool of communication.

"While different types of marketing exist, this is the sort that can be described as C-to-C, or consumer to consumer. It is not mass communication but 1-to-1 communication. Since it is not for the masses, marketers should not try to do forced marketing. Viral marketing should, and must, be accidental. It is most effective when it is not leveraged or engineered," pointed out Bijoor.

He further said that while it is a numbers game where you count the eyeballs, it is imperative to keep a measure of the repeat eyeballs. The people who watch a campaign again and again are more likely to be actual users or buyers of a brand. While the width of impact, according to Bijoor, is the gross number of eyeballs, the ‘depth of impact’ can only be measured by the returning viewers. These are the people who create interest and in turn lead to actual purchases.

Should a brand use viral marketing then just to create brand awareness? What other advantages can it offer?

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

Lloyd Mathias, Director, Green Bean Ventures, commented, “Viral marketing is a digital aid we could not afford till now. It is in principle word-of-mouth communication in the digital age. Therefore, it is a powerful tool implying some degree of engagement and brands today are using it very effectively."

Mathias explains further that viral marketing's most clear advantage is cost effectiveness. “It is also a creative way to get the message across. And it lends enhanced credibility to the product or brand since the person sharing it in most cases is a friend or someone we trust. But all this can only work when the campaign is either interesting or exciting or something which brings a smile to your face or adds something new to the brand's image,” he said. Viral marketing, then, is the definition of today's evolved consumer, where the consumer is also the publisher of information. It gives voice to the consumer's view.

On top of that, in this information age, consumers have the ability to skip through everything they do not like. Even as more people move from reading newspapers to watching TV, youngsters generally skip the ad breaks. To capture their attention, one must make something so amazing that they are glued to it, are compelled to show their friends the same, and share that experience.

How can a brand then hope to make use of these advantages, especially since such a 'viral quality’ cannot be created artificially? Brands try with different tactics. Sometimes they release teaser videos of a campaign to build up hype. Like Frooti did almost a decade back when they released audio and video clips of a character called ‘Digen Verma’, or how Jassi's character was hyped up by not showing her before the launch of the show 'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi'. Some brand experts also feel that releasing a video on the internet before it hits the television screens also has an advantage. This way, users feel that they are privy to some special information. Additionally, this lead time works positively for the brand.

With so many brands taking the viral route, can India survive the marketing push? Mathias said, "India was always ready. We were behind because of our internet penetration. As 150 million users start using the internet, it will only grow as a marketing tool. People can access the web on their mobile devices, people are connected to the world, they know about trends like flash mobs etc. This is here to stay and grow."

Some of the viral ads: Idea Honey Bunny: [youtube][/youtube] Google search reunion: [youtube][/youtube] Tanishq remarriage: [youtube][/youtube] Old Spice: [youtube][/youtube]

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