We’ve all heard about it. But what exactly is it? How does it work? Why is it useful?
According to Marketing Terms, Viral Marketing is a marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message. Viral marketing relies on a high pass-along rate, or generating a buzz, with the target market. Other terms used to describe this phenomenon include “buzz marketing,” “word-of-mouth marketing,” “word-of mouse marketing,” and “stealth marketing.” Viral marketing is basically a modern equivalent of WOM (word-of-mouth) marketing, and it can easily fizzle out if momentum is not adequate.
The strengths of viral marketing include a much-reduced cost compared to the use of traditional marketing outlets, such as television spots, print ads, etc. The cost of forwarding the branding message falls on the communicator rather than the company. Another major strength of this type of marketing is that it is highly targeted. Jodi Lisa Smith goes into more detail about this aspect of viral marketing with discussions on the Diffusion of Innovations Theory. Messages are typically moved from one person to others within their network. Therefore, the inherent design of viral marketing tends to be self-targeted.
Some weaknesses of this type of marketing include that there is very little measurability and lack of control. We all know how important the mighty ROI is, and it is difficult to prove the worthiness of a viral campaign. It can be to a company’s detriment to lose control over the message being sent. If anybody remembers the childhood game of telephone, you can understand how messages can be misconstrued through the chain of communication. There is also some controvery about the ethicality of this type of marketing. Ralph Nader has argued that, "stealth marketing is an act of desperation on the part of the advertising industry."
A notable example of successful viral marketing includes the campaign for The Dark Knight. This has been one of the most extensive viral marketing campaigns that I have ever witnessed. Techniques under this campaign included mass gatherings of Joker fans, scavenger hunts around world, websites that let fans participate in "voting" for political offices in Gotham City, and even a Gotham News Network (The Gotham Times and The HaHaHa Times). Joker fans would visit Why So Serious, to become recruited members of the Joker’s army. The website listed a number of addresses and visitors were told to go there and give the name “Robin Banks.” Each location was a bakery, participants were given a cake with a phone number in icing on it. When the participant called the number, a cellphone that was baked inside the cake began to ring with a message from the Joker himself along with his calling card. Talk about creative.