Creating something artificial doesn’t always backfire. An Adweek story from June 2005 talks about a viral marketing campaign created for Volvo to promote the S60 in Europe. The campaign featured two web sites. One site showed a pseudo-documentary about a small town in Sweden where 32 people purchased the same car in one day. A second site, supposedly made by the director, disputed whether the documentary on the first site was authentic. Are you confused yet?
Confusing or not, the campaign, dubbed “The Mystery of Dalaro,” was a success. According to Tim Ellis, global advertising director for Volvo, the car “broke every sales record.” But it was a risky campaign, and Ellis admits it was hard to convince Volvo to go for the idea.
Wal-Mart learned just how risky viral marketing campaigns can be in late 2006. That’s when not just one but several blogs that showed the super discount retailer in a positive light were revealed to be fake, created by public relations firm Edelman for Wal-Mart. The one most people heard about, “Wal-Marting Across America,” supposedly featured a family traveling across America in an RV and staying in Wal-Mart parking lots; it spoke positively of the store and its employees. Another fake blog, Paid Critics, was devoted to “exposing” links between unions and other vested interests said to be “smearing Wal-Mart” through the media. Once the blogs were found out to be fake, Wal-Mart and Edelman received a tremendous amount of bad publicity.
Sony didn’t get it right either. About a month and a half after the Wal-Mart revelations, their attempt at a viral marketing campaign was revealed as fake. You may have seen the blog site and the YouTube videos with the theme “all I want for Xmas is a PSP.” Well, it surprised almost no one that these were made by a marketing company (Zipatron by name); for one thing, a number of bloggers remarked that the males featured in the videos looked too old to be trying to convince their parents to get them a PSP.
That doesn’t mean that these kinds of sites never work, you just need to get a handle on how to do it right. Take Norelco, for instance. Do I really need to mention ShaveAnywhere.com, the site for the Philips Bodygroom? The somewhat racy site (which might not be safe for work depending on where you work) racked up hundreds of thousands of visits for the company, surprising and delighting many with its humorous approach to hirsute hygiene. Alas, I don’t have any sales figures for the Bodygroom, but I would be very surprised if the campaign did not encourage sales.