Sunday, August 24, 2008

Viral: be a host, not a parasite

Good story in this morning's JG about viral...a snippet:

[V]iral ads...have been around for years and routinely appear on YouTube and social-networking sites. Forrester Research estimates interactive advertising, which includes viral ads, was worth $20 billion in the U.S. this year – an amount expected to triple by 2012.

But the strategy could backfire, according to Allen Adamson, author of the recently published book “Brand Digital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World.”

“It could get people talking, but you also have to be careful – people may be too busy or don’t want to work that hard to figure out what the heck it’s about,” said Adamson, who is managing director at brand consulting firm Landor Associates. “With this, people may not connect the ad to the brand at all, and you may end up shooting yourself in the foot.”

Another problem with viral that the AP story above doesn't cover: you can't start your own virus--that's up to your audience. You can put something out there and promote it, but it only becomes truly "viral" at the whim of the audience. B.L. Ochman summed this up very nicely in a post last week:

You can't dictate what people will find funny by labeling it "hilarious". People have brains and are smart enough to figure out what they like without being hit over the head. Labels like "hilarious video" or "viral video" that are not created by viewers are bogus.

You don't tell us what's hilarious or viral. We tell you.

Today more than ever, you can't fake authenticity. You can't plan spontaneity. And you can't dictate the terms of the conversation. What can you do, then? Create things that are worth talking about. Easier said than done, but it's definitely worth the extra effort and expense.

Maybe the best way to think about viral, then, is to consider yourself the "host": you provide the environment for the virus to thrive, but it's up to others to spread it. By trying to force the conversation, conversely, you become a parasite, latching yourself onto your audience in hopes that you'll infect them. And we all know how well people respond to parasites.

Not the prettiest metaphor ever, but it seems to fit.

No comments: