The Problem with Viral Advertising

June 20, 2007 at 9:11 pm 1 comment

With all the web2.0 hype, many brands want viral advertising for their products and brands. To me, the word “viral advertising” they way it is praticed by marketers and agencies is an oxymoron. Sure, a great viral video can do a lot for a brand (both positively and negatively), but mostly when it comes from users themselves. While there are notable exceptions where brand marketers have shown guts to risk things with the help of creative agencies, to ask for a viral concept from an agency usually doesn’t work. You end up with longer cut TV commercial posted on youtube, or microsite concepts where the original idea has been eviscerated and censored down by corporate communications and lawyers to the point of irrelevance. It’s often canned, not participatory. So what are the factors?

  1. “Prosumers”: In a world where consumers have become producers of the content they consume, the content produced by other people “like me” is more credible, authentic and often even funnier than by a company that wants to sell me stuff.
  2. The catechism of the corporate identity: CD/CI guidelines that need to be followed encumber the creative and production process, and if they are adhered to, the production often looks too polished and not as authentic.
  3. “The Suits”: Legal issues and marketing guidelines constrain the creative process.
  4. “Mandatories”: Sometimes, marketing decision-makers will require the product communication mandatories to be forced onto a viral concept, and therefore diluting the directness of the message.
  5. Lack of channel and context adequacy: Often good ATL ideas with potential for online viral effects are shifted too literally to the web. The result is a complete lack of context-sensitivity and relevance in the eye of the user.

A recent random example: In Germany, the Drama Series “24” has been parodized by dubbing the voice of the 24 characters in Swabian dialect (a regional vernacular). This is extremly funny to most people here. (the video is posted below for all the Swabians here). Whether or not it helps the “brand” of 24 remains to be discussed, but let’s just say it is.

Question 1: Would certain creative agencies have been able to come up with that? I think so.

Question 2: Would they even gotten a brief in which to propose such a concept? Maybe.

Question 3: If they had received a brief to come up with a concept like this, would the client sign-off on it? Most likely no, only the wild and daring ones.
What is the consequence of this?

Because brands and even (inofficial, user-generated) brand communications are influenced more and more by the content producing consumer (prosumer), brands that are not innovative in their marketing communication processes and refuse to accept the consumers own role in brand communications will not just miss out on producing content that is relevant for the consumer, but also fail to actively build their brand in the digital space.

What can you do?

1) Accept the consumers new role and believe that the like your brand

2) Let him/her participate in brand communications development through more qualititative research and lead user workshop. Most people would even give their time for free, the reward of participating in your brand makes them feel special. Don’t stick them into a segment with millions of others.

3) Come up with governance and brand strategies and account for points 1+2 while securing legal issues and brand consistency.

The video:


Entry filed under: advertising, agencies, business, companies, Consumer, Creative, duh 2.0, Experience, Insight, marketers, Strategy, theory, video, Web.

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