curing ‘viral’

This ‘viral’ parody from Mini effectively demonstrates the brand’s irreverent personality.

However, its mockery of ‘viral’ pleases me even more.

Because ‘viral’ and ‘word-of-mouth’ are not channels; they’re results.

Unless we do something subversive, we can’t force people to behave as we want.

We can’t force people to buy the products we advertise (unless we use hypnosis); we can only hope to persuade them.

Similarly, we can’t force people to share our communications (unless we harness computer viruses).

Instead, we need to focus on creating communications that are so relevant to our audiences (by being interesting or entertaining) that they will choose to share them.

So, don’t tell me we’re going to “do a viral”.

Rather, explain to me how we’re going to inspire people to share our communications.

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8 Responses to “curing ‘viral’”


  1. 1 Ulrik March 31, 2009 at 21:55

    utterly brilliant!

  2. 2 phil April 1, 2009 at 23:03

    totally agree – and yet we still try to measure the “GRP equivalent” of “word of mouth”… and how it effectively “increases” the “reach” and “ots” of a certain campaign. there has got to be a better way, eskimon.

  3. 3 Rashmi June 19, 2009 at 15:55

    I am of little different opinion about that….Viral can act as a channel depending on the objective of the campaign…my personal experience is of a chewing gum campaign which was initiated through a viral and then it was directing the audience to a landing page to take up a contest. It was successful in terms of getting audience attention (young working executives) which otherwise is tuf to get in today’s fragmented media………

  4. 4 eskimon June 19, 2009 at 16:11

    Thanks Rashmi! I fully support your comments on the power of word of mouth; but word of mouth happens for a reason – it doesn’t just occur spontaneously out of nowhere.

    How did you come to know about the campaign you mention? And did you choose to share it with other people?

    Was it because it was funny? Did it feature an amazing act? Was it highly informative content?

    There are many reasons people choose to share things – but all of them relate to a benefit within the communication itself. It’s what I call the ‘communications proposition’ (more here: http://eskimon.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/the-communications-proposition/).

    So… Instead of telling me we’ll ‘do a viral’, tell me what benefit the audience are seeking; then we can focus on identifying the kind of content that can deliver that benefit, and make it easier for our audience to share the message with others.

  5. 5 Rashmi June 19, 2009 at 16:42

    Yes…the viral was funny..it was a spoof on one of the biggest bollywood block busters. It wasnt really informative …how much information can be put for a chewing product (it could have been boring). the main objective was brand awareness & engagement.

    And regarding the benefits. Again the benefits could be of various kinds –here the audience were getting EMOTIONAL benefits!!!

  6. 6 Mike Davison June 19, 2009 at 19:41

    Although I’d agree WOM is an outcome, it’s also fair to say certain initiatives can be built around inspiring sustained conversation, rather than traffic, clickthroughs, voucher redemption etc. At this point most channels are flirting with WOM as an objective but it often sits at odds with the other metrics / aims. Driving traffic and creating conversation can work against each other for example.

    There’s a need for clearer definitions of what we all mean by WOM and what kind of conversations each channel can support. This helps better define who does what with the channel mix. “Buzz” and transient sparks of interest are not the same as sustained / evolving 1 to 1 dialogue. Both require separate channel focus and expertise to propagate and both are necessary. One is a breadth metric, the other a depth metric (loosely speaking). I’d argue that the depth part requires seeing conversation at the epicentre and that requires a new kind of channel mentality – and (dare we say it) a new kind of channel…

    It’s an interesting debate…

  7. 7 eskimon June 19, 2009 at 21:20

    Great stuff Mike – thanks for sharing.

    Your distinction between conversations and “transient sparks of interest” is hugely important.

    Conversations make it easier for us to evaluate whether we’re establishing a shared understanding – in other words, whether we’re communicating successfully.

    Thinking beyond the conventions of traditional ‘media’ and the approach they have engendered is a critical step towards creating communications that share rather than shout.

    Your comments about definitions are spot on too. People seem to throw terms like ‘WOM’ and ‘viral’ into pitches whenever they can, but all too often the content they’re referring to is just a TVC on YouTube.

    It feels ‘viral’ has become synonymous with reducing media budgets, rather than finding ways to inspire meaningful conversations between audience members.

    Traditional TVCs on YouTube may still have value, but they’re certainly not the only option. Perhaps, if we spent more time thinking about what we really hope people will do, and about the perspectives that we need to share with people in order for that behaviour to occur, we’d find better ways to initiate those conversations.


  1. 1 propagandata « eskimon Trackback on July 20, 2009 at 17:14

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