I've written quite a few articles about building and launching a viral marketing campaign over the past couple of years. In general, I write about the brainstorming process or how to put your pitches together. In this new series, I'll be looking at the six key components that make people remember a message and therefore, make it more likely they'll pass it on.

(I've pulled these six components from Chip and Dan Heath's Made to Stick and put my own spin on them.)

Part One: The Need for Simplicity

If there's one thing people are used to doing today, it's ignoring advertising messages. We switch the radio station when songs give way to commercials, we TIVO our favorite shows and play them back later without the commercials. We surf the web with "banner blindness" and we flip past the first twenty pages of a thick magazine because we know it's all ads.

This is exactly why viral marketing has snagged so much attention lately. Companies are getting tired of spending tons of money on advertising that will simply be ignored by consumers. These same companies realize that viral messages are inherently stronger because the ad message has the added boost of a friend's backing.

One of the best ways to catch their eye is to do something they aren't expecting.

Deliver the Unexpected

The challenge to catching someone's eye is to deliver a message in a way they aren't expecting, but in a way that makes perfect sense. If your unexpected delivery is perplexing, it's unlikely to work. Instead, your message needs to surprise them, but leaving them thinking "oh...yeah...that's right."

One of the best examples I've seen of this in the last few years is the Volkswagon "Safe Happens" campaign. The ads did something auto ads simply don't do. They showed people getting in heart-stopping accidents in the commercials. It was shocking and unexpected because we're conditioned to think any car commercial involving a car accident will include crash test dummies.

The first time I saw one of these commercials I jumped. It genuinely shocked me. It also stuck with me. I remember having conversation about these commercials. Some people loved them, some people hated them, but pretty much everyone was impacted by them.

But here's why the message worked...

Surprise Them, but Support Your Core Message

The message didn't deliver a surprise or a shock simply to get our attention, it did it to make a point. Everyone knew Volkswagens were the car trendy, successful GenXers drove...but not everyone thought of them as safe. GenXers were now growing up and thinking about issues like safety when they considered which cars to buy. After all, they were no longer twenty-somethings who were invincible. They now had spouses and children and people they cared about. That means safety was an issue to be considered when it came to buying their next car.

The Safe Happens ads got this point across brilliantly and did it in a way that supported their core message. The ads still played to the same audience of GenExers as the previous VW ads, it just delivered a new message. Simply surprising someone without connecting that surprise to interest in what you have to say won't work. The two have to be intricately tied together for this tactic to work.

In part three, I'll explore the need to be concrete in your message.

October 27, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Viral Marketing is a great way to increase traffic and interest in your website, company or product.

Its something that every company, no matter how big or small, should look into as part of a new marketing campaign.

When its done correctly, like the VW "Safe Happens" adverts in this case, it spreads like wildfire as people start to talk about it.

EA Sports did a good viral for the Tiger Woods golf video games.

A post on YouTube from a fan of the game showed off a glitch where you could play a shot with Tiger Woods standing on the surface of the water. EA Sports saw this and before the release of the newest installment of the franchise released a viral video of Tiger Woods hitting his ball into the water coming to rest on a lilly-pad and then proceeding to walk on the water, to the ball, hitting it onto the green and into the hole. The tagline was "It's not a glitch, he's just THAT good".

Yes. That's a indeed most effective and free way to get traffic to sites/blogs. People like new things to see or hear. Whenever they hear/see something interesting they spread the word. There are many sharing tools available in market now, which makes word more viral. Installing some good web applications like http://tellafriend.socialtwist.com/index.jsp will help you to get more traffic through word of mouth.

I also loved these "Safe Happens" ads...as a marketer, i talked about them to anyone and everyone, and as a consumer...I wanted a Jetta!!

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Keys to a Viral Message that Sticks - Part Two: Deliver the Unexpected