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Viral marketing: does it really work?

June 2, 2011

Viral Marketing is the new Aspirine?

Viral marketing is gaining attention – at least  judging from the time spent in the meetings talking about it during the past, let’s say, six months.
Web marketing, viral marketing, womma  and other alternative marketing tools are raising interest and clients always more often ask how to be present in the social network or  how to grow the (fan) base.

May be the recession, may be the lastest trend, the fact is that the attention dedicated to viral marketing is definitely high and rising. So I decided to test it myself, trying to discover the perfect paradigm, just to find out that it doesn’t exist.

What actually exists, is a bunch of false miths about viral marketing.

The greatest lie: viral marketing is free. NOT! Viral marketing IS NOT free!
Oh, it is way cheaper than other traditional marketing activities, but it’s not free.
Unfortunately the greatest lie about viral marketing creates false expectations – clients are always on the prowl for free promotional tools.

What is viral maerketing?
Is a group of marketing activities related to word of mouth. Some distinguished marketing expert would say that viral marketing is the most effective and powerful communication tool and at the same time the most unknown – please do note: effective, powerful and unknown, they hadn’t said “free”.

The greatest lie
The greatest lie about viral marketing, as I wrote few paragraphs above, is to think of it as free tool and as the cure for everything – a sort of Aspirine!
A viral communication strategy is definitely less expensive than any other communication strategy but results and time frame are uneasy to predict.

When VM works
I dare to say often especiall when the strategy is built upon a solid idea that:

  • creates a unique/personal experience
  •  innovates, or at least approaches the marketplace in an innovative way
  • is controversial
  • is provocative
  • connects with the consumer base
  • is interactive
  • offers special/customizable/exclusive contents

Obviously some products are better when it comes to word of mouth – for instance hi-tec, automotive, entertainment, fashion – and others are lame.
THIS should be the real criterium to formulate a strategy comprising also viral activities: IS THE PRODUCT RIGHT TO BE TREATED VIRAL?

Let’s make it clear: it is hard to create unique expereiences with products that offer a very low emotional commitment and some times it is wiser to understand that viral is not the way to go.
Another wise thing to do, if you decide for a VM strategy, is to hire professionals – simple rule of thumb.


  • increases brand awareness
  • amplify brand loyalty
  • contributes to turn simple consumers into brand advocatres – people love this, it makes them feel important!

Avoid the mistake to replace a traditional communication campaign with a viral campaign – this is my personal advice, but I franklly believe that VM helps you to increase awareness and to build stronger relationships with your customer base but if it is the only activity it could turn out to be quite uneffective.
I see  VM integrated with the rest of the marketing tools of a brand.
Viral or traditional the rules are the same:

  • consistency of messages
  • consistency of values
  • consistency of languages

There is one thing VM does it in a great way: spoil your chances, if you do it wrong or random!

Other link to VM:
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