Anyone who knows anything about viral marketing knows one of the primary reasons it's so effective is because the message carries the credibility of those who share it. While we may not be willing to listen to a message from an advertiser, we're nearly always willing to listen to a message from friends and family. Of course there's a challenge in getting your viral campaign to pick up the credibility that comes with being passed from one person to another. You have to get that first person to pass it along.

If that first person has received the message directly from the advertiser, where does the credibility come from? Ideally, from the very message itself. In part four of my series on creating a viral message that sticks, we're going to look at the idea of embedded credibility as a way to make your campaigns more likely to go viral.

(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
Part Two: Deliver the Unexpected
Part Three: Be Concrete

duracellFor this post, we're going to take a look at how Duracell has used the credibility card to create a highly effective series of commercials. After all, batteries aren't exactly a sexy product that's fun to sell. They're simply one of those things we pick up on our way through the checkout line because we remember our camera or remote control has stopped working or because we picked up some new blinky, buzzy gadget for our kids.

The Challenge of Credibility

Unless you happen to be first to market with some fascinating new invention, chances are high you have competition. There are other companies out there who sell almost the exact same thing you do. Your challenge is to convince people to buy your product instead of that other guy's. To do this, you need to demonstrate why your company offers the best solution.


If you are Duracell, you might decide to differentiate yourself by offering up some type of chart touting your extra long battery life. You could throw out facts, figures and the latest research and prove your credibility to your audience by showing you have the best product.

The problem with this approach is no matter how accurate your data is, you are still a company delivering a sales pitch. Sure your research may show you have the longest battery life, but why should they even believe your data in the first place?

The Hurdle of Skepticism

As the Heath brothers point out in "Made to Stick:"

A citizen of the modern world, constantly inundated with messages, learns to develop skepticism about the sources of those messages. Who's behind these messages? Should I trust them? What do they have to gain if I believe them?"

That's a big hurdle to overcome if you're trying to convince with simple facts and figures. In fact, this is the very reason viral marketing itself is so effective. If a toothpaste commercial claims to make your teeth whiter, you won't think much of it. If you see your brother or sister over the holidays with a dazzling white smile and they tell you they've switched toothpaste, you'll likely pay attention.

minivan.jpgThat means the credibility you imbed within your message has to stand on its own. The Heath brothers suggest a focus on "vivid details to boost credibility." Studies have shown that vivid details, even ones that don't change the core message, have a dramatic and positive impact on how information is digested.

Apply that line of thinking to the "longer battery life" sales pitch and you can see a dramatic difference. Consider these two possible ad lines:

Fact based: "Duracell batteries last fifteen percent longer."

Vivid detail based: "Using Duracell batteries in your portable DVD player will give you an extra hour and a half of play time. On the long drive to grandma's this Christmas, that means an extra hour and a half of peace and quiet in your car."

Tap Third Parties for Credibility

We've all seen the auto commercials that end with a tag line touting the "JD Power Car of the Year" award and we've all watched celebrities like Ed McMahon, Michael Jordan and William Shatner lend their names (and their credibility) to various products over the years. While consumers may not always trust a company, they do tend to trust third parties, even if those parties have been paid for their endorsements.

Duracell looked to this very idea when creating their latest round of TV commercials. Rather than focus on how long their batteries lasted or create some memorable character to act as a mascot, Duracell decided to tout the many companies that trust Duracell as a way of proving their credibility to consumers. My favorite "Trusted Everywhere" commercials is the "Zoll Defibrillator" spot:

The spots work so well because of the juxtaposition of an every day activity (taking pictures) with something of the utmost importance (using a defibrillator.) After all, if Duracell batteries can be trusted to work when someone's life depends on it, surely they can be trusted to work when you want to take a picture at your son's basketball game.

Duracell borrows and displays credibility to pointing to the people who trust their brand. The credibility of the product is at the very heart of the message. It's this credibility that catches people's eyes and it's the power of the message that makes them consider passing it on.

Coming up

In part five of this series, I'll take a look at the idea of tapping into emotions to give your viral message traction and help it spread.

(Minivan image courtesy of Creative Common license from Flickr user Lee Brimelow.)

December 1, 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.


Hi Jennifer,
I am reading the Heath brothers' book now. I am really enjoying it and in fact i am writing an article on it for my job. The ideas although not new are sticky. If more people stuck to these ideas when they did presentations the world would be a much better place. :)

I enjoyed reading this one, you made me realize that we really need to come up with something that can make us stand out above the rest..

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Six Keys to a Viral Message that Sticks - Part Four: Carry Credibility