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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Viral Marketing Offers Risks, Rewards

Viral marketing campaigns can be great fun for the consumer and deliver an excellent return for the company. But they can also backfire, sometimes in unforeseen ways. It never hurts to go over the possibilities one more time.

Burger King’s Subservient Chicken web site is still around. It was one of the first to combine advertising with user interaction in a way that was uniquely Web 2.0. It wasn’t the last. While many have been successful, many others have failed – in some cases spectacularly.

That’s one of the hazards of a viral marketing campaign. You’re setting it out in the wilds of the web, to be played with and judged by the people you’re trying to reach. You can do all the market research you want, and try to think of everything, but you’re still giving up a certain degree of control. If you want to test the viral waters, you not only have to be prepared for this; you must embrace it if you wish to be successful.

What brought all this to mind was a recent piece written by Karl Greenberg for Online Media Daily. Titled “A Cautionary Tale For Viral Wannabes,” it’s the first time I’ve heard of a buzz campaign being killed before it even had a chance to start. It’s also the first time I’d ever heard of a buzz campaign being killed in quite this way. Maybe that shows my inexperience in the field, but I thought it was interesting enough to share – and certainly anyone could have a marketing campaign go bad for them in exactly this manner, especially if they forget the old slogan “Loose lips sink ships.”

Most of the time, when you’re doing marketing, advertising, or public relations, you want to be in touch with the press. There’s a reason those things are called “press releases” after all. Speaking as someone who has read innumerable press releases (and even written one or two), they’re certainly appreciated, even if we have to wade through a huge assortment of superlatives to get to the meat of the matter. But sometimes you need to think carefully about those reporters, what they’re going to do with what you tell them, and where things will go from there.

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