In the November 2007 issue of CRM magazine I recently read an article titled ‘Have You Caught It?’  The premise of this article was that Viral Marketing is striking out…but viral isn’t to blame.

The article starts out like this.  “Disappointing numbers have convinced many marketers to decrease their viral marketing (spend) by 55% next year, but viral isn’t to blame.  Viral marketing is exciting, and understandably so-it’s a marketer’s dream that by simply planting a video, consumers will not only find it, but also spread it far and wide.”

The reality is that what I quote above isn’t happening.  According to the article and the underlying research conducted by JupiterResearch, only 15% of viral marketers succeeded in getting consumers to promote their message.  Why is this?

Ready-Fire-Aim.  I have begun to call this phenomenon ‘The You Tube Methodology’.  Now there is nothing wrong with You Tube.  On the contrary, it is a powerful and very engaging tool, when used appropriately (and there are a lot of ways to use it).  I instead refer to using the venue, which is a tactical tool as a strategy and avoiding a process altogether.  Bad idea.

So why do certain viral videos work?  Two reasons really; they resonate with their audience because they are made expressly for their audience (and many times members of the audience have a say in it or come up with the idea for the video themselves) or they are so far off the mark they are embarrassingly bad.

The first example is like throwing the impossible pass to win the Super Bowl with one second left on the clock.  Your team’s fans go, “Wow, did you see that?!”  They get the video snippit off You Tube and pass it around for days.  They talk about it for days and share it with people just like them.  I got a video from a friend of mine which illustrates this point.  See the video here.

Different sport but same idea.  Actually, it is the third time I had seen it in as many weeks.  As a competitive cyclist, I belong to a community of riders just like me, as well as a sub set of that community that are fans of single speed mountain bikes.  A very passionate group who talks about and recommends everything from nutritional aids to vacations to restaurants to you name it.  This social network is spread across the country and is made up of CEO’s, attorneys, doctors, airline pilots, graduate students, plumbers and even a state senator.  Last week, one member of the group made a recommendation that resulted in another choosing to fly to Europe to take possession of a new Audi sports car, along with an included trip to the factory, a short vacation and a chance to drive his car on Audi’s test track.  Purchase value?  $46,000.00.  What had he had originally planned to do?  Buy a used one locally.  Big difference and talk about influence.  How this video is spread is viral and it works.  Although it is not a product focused video, it easily could be and it resonates with a specific group (are you listening Giro Helmets?).

The second example is the train wreck that doesn’t resonate with anybody but it is so bad that people feel the need to share it in order to make fun of it.  Any publicity is not always good publicity.  There are lots of examples of these ‘corporate videos’ that well, just plain suck.  So why do they, um, suck?  Most of all, they totally miss their demographic mark and there is no call to action for feedback, voting or to get involved.  There are other reasons but these two are enough for now.

So what’s the purpose of this post?  To compel my fellow marketers to have a reason for doing something.  Take a page from Seinfeld.  The show about nothing.  The reason it was so funny was that it resonated with people for a specific reason (we all saw part of our lives there and could relate to it), plus it was scripted!  Planned out!  There was a reason for a joke.  It was tried out in advance!

Keep using viral tools but dump the You Tube Methodology.  You’ll be a lot better of and a heck of a lot more successful (and popular with your customer base).

Steve Hershberger

Steve Hershberger