Viral Advertising is A Response, Not A Strategy

Writing on an Adrants forum, Kevin Glennon brings a contrarian but common sense point of view to the practice of viral advertising. Glennon claims viral is not intended. He says it can't be planned and is a response, not an intent, to a piece of work that happens to be worthy of passing along. He claims there's no difference between a viral campaign and a successful campaign, writing, "You do not create viral campaigns or efforts. You try to create them. Just like you do not create successful ones. You try to. You can launch something funny that gets 20 hits, and it's not viral. Launch something that explodes into 200,000 hits overnight, and yes, it's viral. It's not viral until it's successful. Anybody who tells you otherwise is robbing you blind."

While Glennon's point of view is certainly true in many respects, the notion of viral marketers as enablers of viral activity - those that implement tactics to increase the likelihood an execution will spread - can't be completely dismissed. It's true that the best viral activity is organic but many creative pieces do find their way around simply due to a little "push" from these enabling companies. They may not go far after the initial push unless they are well received, thus successful in Glennon's words, but they wouldn't go anywhere at all without the push in the first place. It's an intriguing catch-22.

by Steve Hall    Jul-15-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Viral   

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Steve do you have any idea what components make up successful viral ads? I know the ones that I like and would be willing to pass to others incorporate humor and or sex. They are not chalked full of advertising messages, they are engaging, and most importantly simple.

Posted by: Merrel Ligons on July 15, 2005 11:13 AM

Well since -enablers- have been brought up-- The idea that one can create viral by adding a -Send this to a friend- box is mistaken. Viral is viral because it is worthy of being shared, it is rewarding for the original discoverer of the campaign to pass it on, It makes them want to be enablers.

Phenomena do not have to happen by accident, they can be created. Make something authentic (like Numa Numa) and it will be loved, but if you fake it, you will fail.

Posted by: Evan on July 15, 2005 12:15 PM


Viral is a tactic, just like any other tactic. Sometimes tactics work, sometimes they don't. For all the reasons already discussed.

If you're truly caught up in what, or even whether, it is - based on an absolute definition of its name - call it something else. Debating a definition won't move the client's message through the system - however you've chosen to attempt to do that.

Posted by: ernie mosteller [TypeKey Profile Page] on July 15, 2005 12:29 PM

Agree with author. Agree that it can be an intended tactic rather than a happy byproduct, but that only steers it towards certain kinds of solutions and delivery vehicles, not success. If something is so interesting as to engender a pass-along value, it can always be repurposed to the proper medium - sometimes even by the general public.

Working corporate side in 2000 I remember my VP of Comms coming to me and asking me to have our people 'create something viral'.

Duh. OK.

Posted by: Stevie on July 15, 2005 2:38 PM

I say that this man has it so right. There is no such thing as a viral advert, I have said it a million times there is only good advertising, that people will chose to share because they now can.

We are in a consumer controlled media environment and in it people will choose to tune out bad ads and share good ones, the question is why will they choose to share your ad and how do you get it to them.

He is also right in saying that you can only try to make something go viral, but with practice you can get it right more and more, there is a formula a science if you like.

The problem is the current popularised viral formula does not match the needs of all brands, but people like me are trying to change this, by taking viral advertising opportunities into online communities that match our clients target demographic.

We are trying to seed ads that donít have to be shocking or even funny; we are developing the ideas of creating viral ads (that means ads written for viral distribution) that are based on usefulness and relevancy to a target market.

The other way of seeding campaigns has no science to it to be taken seriously and blogs are only a small part of the equation, an important one if your selling something to people that use and visit blogs like us lot, but what about people that just visit fishing web sites and have no idea about blogs Ė surprisingly they do still exist J. Iím rambling off subject, here, but what I wanted to say was that this guy is bang on, we must all try to make viral ads, as we are in a viral environment Ė also it makes my job of getting ads out and to go viral a much easier one selfish I know but itís true.

I really hate the days when I get calls from advertising agencies asking me to make a TV commercial Go Viral, I hate turning business away, but often itís a pointless exercise unless the agency has at least tried to write it as a viral ad in the first place.

Best to you Steve, hope your well.

Asa Bailey
The Viral Advertising Association
Asa Bailey Viral Advertising

Posted by: Asa Bailey on July 15, 2005 4:47 PM

I think I agree with Ernie. To equate "viral" with "successful viral" just muddies up the situation. It's like saying an ad campaign isn't an ad campaign if it isn't successful.

Biological viruses can have varying degrees of contagiousness, just as different viral executions can have varying degrees of success. A virus is just a biological mechanism for the transportation of genetic material; one that has self-propagaing features.

For an ad campaign to be viral, it only needs to be similarly self-propagating. Sorry to get all Bill Nye on you guys, but it is what it is :)

Posted by: Bob on July 15, 2005 5:05 PM

There seems to be considerably more latitude in B2B media for including advertising messages, if your planned viral has something of value or speaks to the target audience. There are viral calculators, humorous PDF posters for printing, and arcane games that carry obvious ad messages but have won over notoriously difficult-to-advertise to segments like scientists and engineers. There is a quid pro quo factor involved in that if these groups appreciate what you're doing, tacking on the ad message is OK, to a point.

Posted by: RichW on July 15, 2005 5:45 PM

What was the point of this again? Where was the insight?
State the obvious, why don't we, a thousand more times.
Adverteasers, it seems, will chase the viral chalice
right over the edge of their flat earth.
Make good ads for a change, why don't they ?!

Posted by: KRank on July 16, 2005 1:17 PM

Twisting words like hot summer taffy, Kevin never fails to make me smile. More comments here then most posts garner so, on a viral scale I give it a big achooo. peep and for a third dimension and a back beat.

Posted by: arthur on July 16, 2005 2:00 PM

Sorry, Bob's got it wrong.
If viral means self-propagating as he says, then an ad which does not self-propagate is not viral. But by definition an ad that does not propagate is not successful. In other words, propagation = success.
The problem of course is that the viral anaology is lame.

Asa Bailey, get a proofreader.

Posted by: Bill Nye on August 2, 2005 3:03 PM