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Viral Marketing ... the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Viral Marketing ... the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

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Mention the term “viral marketing” and you are sure to get an assortment of reactions, assumptions, opinions and what-not, from both ends of the spectrum. However, viral marketing can be an extremely effective marketing tool, especially in today’s environment where social networks are becoming so predominant.
Mention the term “viral marketing” and you are sure to get an assortment of reactions, assumptions, opinions and what-not, from both ends of the spectrum. However, viral marketing can be an extremely effective marketing tool, especially in today’s environment where social networks are becoming so predominant.

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Published by: Joshua G Giordimaina on Mar 02, 2010
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05/12/2014

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Viral Marketing ...

the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
by Joshua G Giordimaina DipM MCIM Chartered Marketer
First published in Technology on Sunday, supplement of The Sunday Times of Malta, on February 28th, 2010.

Mention the term “viral marketing” and you are sure to get an assortment of reactions, viral marketing in the evening news does nothing to help its already tainted reputation.

assumptions, opinions and what-not, from both ends of the spectrum. The truth of the However, viral marketing can be an extremely effective marketing tool, especially in today’s environment where social networks are becoming so predominant. So, what is exactly viral marketing? Viral marketing (sometimes referred to as viral advertising or simply ‘buzz marketing’) matter is that a lot of confusion surrounds viral marketing; and the odd scam reported as

networks.

pass along – and by default endorsing -- a marketing message to the contacts in their

replicating viral process of a pathological virus, hence the term viral marketing. In other words, marketers get their audiences to do their work for them, by encouraging people to

of a message (which can range from a simple SMS to a highly creative interactive community-based online video game) through a network of people resembles the self-

with the aim of exploiting the links within the network in order to propgate a message and achieve a pre-set marketing objective, such as increased brand awareness, etc. The spread

refers to the deployment of marketing tactics through already established social networks

The GOOD of viral marketing

A number of brands have successfully deployed various viral marketing tactics, with some of them owing most of their growth to this simple yet elusive technique. A pre-eminent example is Hotmail. Hotmail is probably the most widely cited successful

example of viral marketing. they are today.

Once upon a time (1996 that is), free web-based email services were not as ubiquitous as

see a message from Hotmail at the bottom of the email “Get your free email at Hotmail”
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Hotmail users would send regular email messages to their recipients. The recipient would

with a hyperlink. The recipient would click on the link, land on the registration page with all the benefits listed, and within a few minutes, is set up with his Hotmail account. And the process repeats itself over and over. Was it successful? Very much so. Marketing legends (yes, even marketers have their a marketing investment of USD500,000 in 2 years. can spread like wildfire like never before. the propagation of online social networking sites have created a platform where messages stories and myths!) describe how Hotmail managed to achieve 12 million subscribers with

Whilst the current climate would make it difficult to see a repeat of the success of Hotmail, Just like a biological virus needs a ‘friendly’ host organism in which it can spread, social determined communities –are the perfect host and have the potential of adding a huge ‘kick’ to any viral campaign, since a high pass-along rate is essential for such a campaign to succeed. The BAD and UGLY of viral marketing sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - with their millions of users and large pre-

Whilst the number of people that can be potentially reached through standard advertising which should be looked out for.

pales in comparison to the potential of a good viral campaign, there are various pitfalls First of all, unlike other marketing techniques, viral marketing requires a special kind of messages take on a life of their own. If your organisation does not have the courage and option for you. marketer and brand; viral marketing requires the confidence of loosing control of the message by setting it adrift. Unlike an advertising campaign which can be recalled, viral culture where loosing control is acceptable, then maybe viral marketing should not be Marketing literature is full of good examples of successful viral campaigns. Whilst the creativity and implementation details vary, they all have one thing in common: a good the value that Hotmail gave to its users – it had an excellent product that people wanted. product! Just like with any other marketing technique, a good viral campaign should not be an excuse for a bad product. One of the main success factors of the Hotmail example is

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On a final note, viral promotions tend to be sometimes negatively associated with Pyramid investment schemes (sometimes also referred to as Ponzi schemes). These were probably the perception of viral marketing. In each round, investors are paid interest from the our and the scheme collapses.

commercial messages can very easily damage an otherwise strong brand reputation.

into an undesirable and unmanageable issue of junk-mail and spam. Unsolicited

Another area of concern is spam. If done poorly, a viral campaign can very quickly turn

the first examples of viral marketing, and the repercussion has had a direct influence on their friends resulting in exponential growth, until the pool of available investors is tapped claims. It is not worth damaging a solid brand for one single viral campaign.

principal deposits of later investors. Early investors are so enthusiastic that they recruit So ensure that the content of your viral campaign is as interesting and appealing as possible for your audience. Ensure that your message is entertaining but also truthful in its

About the Author: Mr Joshua G Giordimaina is a graduate and member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), a Chartered Marketer, and lectures for the Institute on a regular basis. He has contributed to and authored a number of thought leadership articles and papers, and regularly provides strategic and tactical marketing insights to various industries and market segments. He can be contacted on JoshuaGiordimaina@hotmail.com. For more from this author please visit www.scribd.com/joshuagiordimaina.

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