Monday, March 26, 2007

Viral Marketing Campaigns: They won't all work

After watching five very different viral campaigns, I realize it takes more than the ability to launch a few videos on the Web to make a campaign successful. Two of the five videos we saw in class were 1984, a spin off of an old Apple Computer commercial and a video about

In my opinion, these two campaigns couldn't be more different. The 1984 video superimposed Hillary Clinton's voice and image into an old commercial. It shows drab workers trudging along in a row while Hillary's voice and image appear in a line of TV's. There is also a woman runner with a sledge hammer who ends up throwing the hammer at the large screen with Hillary talking on it, and thus ending the oppression of the workers. No matter who the viewer plans to vote for, this is a very compelling video to watch and does an excellent job branding the opposition as an enemy. Watching the video,the viewer feels alarmed and scared of the talking head. It isn't so much that Obama is branded as the best candidate, but that Hillary is branded as the worst.

In the video, Bill Cosby is essentially soliciting money from every single person who has the ability to use YouTube. He is sitting in the chair, asking for eight dollars from every person to benefit an excellent cause -- a new museum of slavery -- as the background changes periodically. People can download Cosby behind a green screen and put their own backgrounds in. The organization is hoping people will want to share their new creations and thus spread the word about donating to the cause. I do not believe this video is so much about branding as it is about spreading the actual message. The 1984 video is more about a feeling. The creator wanted to spread around a very certain feeling about Hillary Clinton. The Cosby video is an actual call to action. They want everyone to hear their request for $8 and then to actually send in $8.

1. What makes a successful viral video? How should success be measured?
This is a very tricky question. A successful viral video must be compelling. People have to want to pay attention to both its visual and audio elements. It's not enough to create a cute cartoon character, but what is actually going on in the video. It has to be so compelling that the viewer thinks, "Oh, I have to send this to so-and-so" and then actually forward the message or send the link to someone else. It is not enough to just make someone laugh, but to change his or her opinion or feeling about the company.

I think many people will look at the number of YouTube hits a certain viral campaign will have and try to gage its success from that number. This is an extremely superficial measuring method. Although it is important for some viral campaigns to spread quickly and to as many people as possible, viral campaigns are not popularity contests. We have to create a video that will reinforce a brand or establish a new brand. The only way to accurately measure the success of a viral campaign is to hold focus groups and survey people on their feelings about the company before and after the campaign. Another way to really measure success is to look if there was a boost in sales from the target public of the viral campaign. Although we cannot prove the viral campaign scientifically caused the boost in sales, we can say there was a correlation.

I don't know if viral videos with a call to action will be successful as those that reinforce or create a brand image. To me, any sort of a message with a call to action is a commercial. It's obvious the company wants something from me. I think this may turn many people away from the viral campaign. I don't think I'd pass something on that seemed like a commercial, unless it was really compelling and a very prestigious, much wanted product. I would think viral campaigns that serve as entertainment to the viewer and quietly reinforce a brand would be the most successful.

2. What works or does not work about your viral video?
I think the 1984 viral campaign is very influential because it leaves people with a feeling of doubt about Hillary Clinton's leadership. It could perhaps give someone a bad taste in their mouths about this candidate, or at least research the competition against her. It most certainly reinforces the beliefs of anti-Hillary voters. The video is very compelling. I was hooked in the first few seconds because I wanted to figure out what was going on, and I was left still pondering it at the end of the video. Many other people also felt compelled to watch the video, and major media outlets reported on the massive amount of interest. As of 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, March 28, the video had 525,111 views. As a PR practitioner on Obama's side, this video could be a dream come true. Political campaigning is a very expensive venture. The fact that over 500,000 viewers actively sought out the video is a feat in itself. But the media coverage of the video was priceless. This coverage brought awareness to the video to many other people who may not use YouTube. I wouldn't consider it a success, though, until the votes come in and Obama wins. I find it very important for PR practitioners to not get caught up in the media popularity, but look beyond the media and to the people. Convincing the media to cover a story is only half the battle.

The video, in my opinion, if basically a misplaced advertisement. There is no way I would spend my time creating a background for something like this. If I had those skills, I would use them to create my own video, not enhance someone else's. Plus, the video is asking me to do something. I think the cause is great and everyone should mail in eight dollars to the museum, but to me, this seems like a message for a mass e-mail, not a viral campaign.

3. Would you pass any of these on to a friend? Why? Why not?
I would definitely pass the Hillary Clinton video on to my friends, and I'm a huge Hillary supporter! I think it is that bizarre. I'd want my other politically-conscious friends to watch it and talk it over with me. And I know plenty of anti-Hillary voters who would also like to pass this viral video on.

4. How prominent is the brand placement in your videos? Would you change the strategy to make it more or less identifiable?
Though I generally find the 1984 video to be a good example of viral campaigns, there is one huge potential problem: Every one's talking about Hillary. Even if it did present a negative image of Hillary, the video is still about her and not Obama. The only time Obama's name is even mentioned is at the very end for just a few seconds. I think for ordinary viral marketing, it's good to keep the brand placement as minimal as possible, like the Mountain Dew viral marketing campaigns with the old woman who takes a quick sip of the soda before beginning her show. I wonder if political viral marketing could be different. Maybe it should have been Obama who threw the ax at the television with Clinton on it.

For, the entire commercial (let's be honest, that's what it is) is a brand placement. I think this may the ultimate downfall of the campaign. Instead of drawing attention to something really funny or interesting, with the brand placement at the end or in the background, the entire time is spent talking about the brand. I really don't think it works for them. I don't think I would have done a viral campaign at all for this topic, instead sticking to more conventional methods of public relations and advertising.

5. I found one campaign that took a different route than YouTube. Proctor and Gamble created videos shot as a documentary about a new disorder: Men with Cramps. To gain interest, they paid for advertising in newspapers asking if men had cramps, and then showing their Web site. This started the buzz. From there, the videos were passed virally. The videos were done to promote their product, called ThermaCare, heating pads that help with menstrual cramps in women. Their hilarious videos helped spread the awareness and 'cool factor' of ThermaCare, which was mentioned on the bottom of the page. The brand was also mentioned on another page viewers can click on called Discover the Cure. The cures include darkness, spooning, and of course, ThermaCare. Check the videos out for yourself:

Men With Cramps