Is viral marketing mainly a waste of time? #IWE

Short answer- most of the time yes

These thoughts occur to me at the Internet week Europe conference looking for insights…a few nuggets

What works in viral video?

We learn tt has to be one of three things




Which seemed like a good checklist. I would add to this that sometimes a beautifully told story does the trick and the past masters of doing this in a compressed form are still the ad agencies. See my earlier post on this picking out John Lewis and VW

The long shot problem

Another “fact” that popped out was that only one in two thousand videos that is intended to go viral does so. Now this is no way to plan for a serious brand. It makes marketing a long shot. People start quoting William Goldman on filmmaking-who famously said ” Nobody knows anything”. Not an enticing prospect if you are marketing director Imagine that conversation with your MD

You-“We are going to make a great viral?”

MD-“how successful will it be?”

You-“Dunno. It is a long shot. As William Goldman said…etc etc”

MD-“Um I think you need to find something a bit more substantial. What about a TV ad?”

And before your lip curls at antediluvian attitudes of the boss it is worth remembering that the TV as is alive and well and has not been killed. For all its viral properties The Old spice campaign was also first a TV ad. It kicks things off before becoming a) interactive and b) episodic (which are two further tips on how to have a success in online video.) But the big problem with the Old Spice campaign-for all its cleverness and creativity- is really that it’s the rare exception.It is the 1 in 2000 shot that you only bet on if you are also spending budget on other things

So what did happen to the TV ad, then?

About 10 years ago doomsayers started to predict the demise of the TV ad-a combination of the internet then the broadband internet then PVRs ( like Sky+) and later Video on Demand (VOD) would mean audience fragmention, ad skipping and time shifting- a killer combination. So the doomsayers said. Now it hasn’t quite worked out like-much of the initial research with early adopters was not a good predictor of future mass behaviour. Yet most of the trend presentations that marketing people were seeing told them that they needed to prepare for the demise of their favourite and most expensive marketing tool- The TV commercial- and at the very least test alternative approaches. It was an important stimulus to innovation. As Doctor Johnston once said – The prospect of being hanged concentrates the mind wonderfully.

So where are we now ten years on

Thinkbox has led an effective fightback and on behalf of the channels and the TV ad.

Try this little experiment.Turn to the back your newspaper.( the free one that you got on the way home) Notice something familiar that we were told would be gone by now? The TV schedules. Don’t they look comforting and familiar?-It is a little map of how i might spent my evening in the company of my wife and children. Sure, we will be fighting over the remote but we will be watching the box together.If you are in the business of predicting technology futures best to hang on to simple human desires-for habit, for company,for relaxation and letting your mind idle in neutral.That’s me anyway. I am getting on a bit though .But wait. This is not just because i am a dinosaur-and don’t you just love all those new program about dinos-the young love live TV too..

The Joy of live 

Turns out that the digital revolution threw in another curved ball. Watching live telly became a lot more fun as a result of mobiles and social networks. We can tweet and IM to our hearts content-sharing the experience not just with our families in the same room but also our wider networks of friends wherever they are. Who would have thought it-not the Doomsayers of 10 years ago


Published by joinedupthink

Strategist, writer and teacher. Ex Ogilvy and ex Google. I am currently working on a start up called Chimnie, which will revolutionise the property market

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