Everyone wants to celebrate a viral success at some point in their marketing life. After all, who wouldn't be thrilled to have their message take off like a streak around the web? The problem comes when you get so focused on the spreadability of an idea you miss the marketing ability of an idea.

In this four part series I'll dig beyond the hype of Viral Marketing and look at four key lessons companies need to learn before diving into this style of outreach. Part one covered the need to know your customer and to speak to their desires. Part two talked about the need to be remarkable in either your business or your marketing. Part three took a look at the hardest commandment to follow; the need to try, try again. Today, I'll wrap things up by pointing out the three levels of viral impact and which level you should aim for.

Viral marketing campaigns tend to fall into three distinct categories when it comes to generating marketing or branding impact. They can get attention, they can build your brand and/or they can sell your product. In an ideal world, you'd find a way to make all three happen. In a realistic world, you may need to ask yourself which of these goals matter most to you.

Do You Want to Get Attention?

When most people think viral, they think of the campaigns that hit and hit big. Subservient Chicken, the Diet Coke and Mentos fountain, JibJab's "This Land is Your Land" and some of the other viral greatest mega hits all have one thing in common. They're entertaining enough people feel like they're spreading joy rather than a marketing message.

But there are some pitfalls to the "get attention" approach as well. With that in mind, let's take a look at the Elf Yourself campaign from the last two years. Elf Yourself allowed you to upload a photo of yourself or a friend and generate a video of a dancing elf with your face to send off to anyone and everyone. It was such a hit, it spread beyond the web and ended up being featured on tons of nightly news and morning shows.

But take a close look at the video snippet of Elf Yourself on Good Morning America:

Did you notice anything there?

Did you ever hear mention of which company Elf Yourself was promoting? Nope. In fact, ask yourself right now...what company put Elf Yourself out there as a viral effort? Do you know? (I'll bet roughly 20% of you do and most of you know only because you've heard or read the case study so many times.)

Now, go ask someone else you know...what company was Elf Yourself promoting?

The answer is Office Max, but only a small portion of the people I've ever asked can answer that question. Why? Because the Office Max brand isn't integrated into the ad. Office Max did something fun and sent it out. Sure, it went big, but what benefit did they really reap from it?

You have to ask yourself if that's the kind of viral attention you want to score for your company.

Do You Want to Build Your Brand?

A better option than focusing on simply creating something likely to go viral is creating something viral that builds your brand. This is really only a slight departure from the "seeking attention" plan, but it's an important departure. The idea here is to carefully integrate your company name or product name into the viral effort so there's no question what's being promoted.

A great example of this style of viral marketing is the McDonald's Chicken McNugget Rap commercial. McDonald's spotted the user generated rap on YouTube a little over a year ago and recognized the opportunity. They purchased the rights to the video, spliced in a commercial message and ran it both on YouTube and as as a prime time commercial. The video does a good job of retaining it's catchy "non-corporate" viral feel, but there's simply no question what it's promoting.

The original video has logged more than 1.7 million views on YouTube alone and the subsequent commercial has logged nearly half a million. While the video never went as viral as some of the examples I mentioned in the first category, there's no question what they were promoting. McDonald's enjoyed a slightly smaller reach, but benefited from a much larger impact thanks to the integrated branding.

But there's still an even better way to build your viral message for maximum impact.

Do You Want to Sell Your Products?

My favorite form of viral marketing is the type that promotes both your brand and your product. The ones that give people a reason to want what you have while still entertaining, educating and encouraging pass alongs. These types of campaigns are hard to come by, but there are several great examples out there.

The best one I've seen has to be Blendtec's "Will it Blend?" campaign.

Created on a shoe-string budget, the campaign brilliantly accomplishes several things.

1.) It's entertaining enough people will want to pass it along.

2.) It clearly and definitively explains the value of a Blendtec blender. (The blender may cost $400, but it will blend anything you could ever dream of putting in it without breaking.)

3.) It's ongoing. There are literally dozens of Will it Blend videos on YouTube with new ones added regularly. The old ones still play, but the new ones capture attention and give people a reason to go back and view the old ones as well.

4.) It plays off reader feedback. Will it Blend regularly blends popular new products based on reader requests, essentially turning "being blended" into a pop culture status symbol.

The results have been stunning. Both awareness and sales of Blendtec's home blender line went through the roof. Blendtec captured that rare combination of entertainment, education and persuasion. In an ideal world, it's what your company would go after as well.

Put it All Together

You can create a successful viral campaign following any one of the four commandments. You can create an excellent viral campaign by following two or three of them. You can create a Will it Blend? style campaign by carefully following all four and adding in a hefty dose of timing and luck.

August 29, 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.


Good article Jenn! A combination of those techniques mentioned would normally create success. I really like the ELF YOURSELF commercial though. It really aroused attention and generate lot of buzz. But what is lacking there was the fact that they forgot to lead their customer to a path that would tell if they really are hitting their main target. A path that would create conversion.

This kind of publicity is completely unacceptable. It is one thing to simply lie about the truth of certain events, but to actually create websites and other sources that attempt to verify the lie should be illegal. How is anyone supposed to be able to conduct legitimate research when corporations can go around creating fake medical journal websites? Here is Universal Studios phone number - please call and complain about this blatant public manipulation: 818-777-1000

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > The Fourth Commandment of Viral Marketing - Thou Shalt Tie in Your Message