Internet Viral Marketing

Internet viral marketing campaigns are fueled by the explosive power of online networks to connect people in ways that are instantaneous and unlimited. I have discussed the ingredients of online viral marketing campaigns as being networks, passability and remarkability and have highlighted why some famous viral marketing campaigns were so successful. In this article I want to look at the flipside which is big online viral campaigns that fizzled.

Internet Viral Marketing Example

In some cases, the Internet viral marketing campaigns below just did not take off but in other cases they backfired causing negative instead of positive publicity. Sometimes the culprit in an online marketing disaster is simply bad taste or a bad idea. In other cases, companies tried to be too clever or even downright deceptive and sought viral marketing stardom by ”flogging” - fake blogging – and other online “no nos”. In some cases, companies were simply ignorant of the undesirable and unforeseen consequences of their seemingly innocuous marketing activities.

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Internet Viral Marketing Flop #1: Starbucks

Here is a good example of what happens when a seemingly good idea does not scale to the exponential power of online word of mouse. When the Starbucks Coffee Company decided to release an online coupon to promote their line of iced beverages in the summer of 2006, they did not count on the message going viral. The coupon was intended for use by Starbucks employees in a select number of states but ended up being posted all over the web and e-mailed to countless others.

It is hard to estimate just how many people got a hold of the coupon but soon stores all over the world were receiving it and many had to stop honoring it which led to negative publicity. Losing money, Starbucks eventually had to end the offer prematurely, admitting that it had no idea that the coupon would get so out of hand and announcing it “has been redistributed beyond the original intent and modified beyond Starbucks’ control”.

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #2: Sony

Sony is on the list of some of the biggest companies in the world that tried to create online buzz through what many saw as outright trickery. Whether or not their motives were sincere or not, we may never know but in the months before Christmas of 2006 they hired a guerrilla marketing firm to create a fake blog to promote its Playstation Portable (PSP) game console. The “flog” was entitled “All I Want for Xmas is a PSP” and purported to chronicle the efforts of a couple of teenagers trying to convince their parents to buy them a PSP for Christmas that year.

Perhaps if they had let viewers know that it was a marketing gimmick things would have worked out, or at least not turned out so bad. Instead, the site posted fake comments by fictitious visitors and the marketing gurus also manufactured fake viral tie-ins to other websites and event a rap video by a fake “Cousin Pete”. It also tried so hard to be “trendy” by misusing teen coolspeak that the ploy became obvious. Savvy bloggers figured the ruse out and created a storm of controversy that generated a lot of bad publicity for the electronics giant.

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #3: Walmart

This viral marketing example brings up the question of whether some brands are just unmarketable online. As well, we have to consider the difference between viral marketing and the more commonplace online branding, both of which Walmart has tried and failed at in recent years. The company has suffered a number of prominent online viral marketing and social networking mishaps that would seem to indicate that, well, the brand is just not web-ready. Walmart has tried to build an online shopping presence for years but that has not worked either.

A public Facebook page Walmart put up in 2007 came to an early end when users began posting criticism and even vandalized the page. Walmart deserves credit for the interactive features of the page such as quizzes and tie-ins to products and services, but the company did not anticipate the backlash of the online community. The same happened in 2006 with a blog called “Walmarting Across America” about a couple traveling across the country in an RV and spending nights in Walmart parking lots. It backfired when it turned out that the couple were being paid by Walmart. Another case of flogging?

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #4: Chevrolet

Internet Viral Marketing Example

In 2006 as well, a Chevrolet experiment in croudsourcing became another case study in marketing mishaps... but was it really? The idea behind croudsourcing is to engage the online community to create content for you. It is a great concept when done right but the Chevrolet campaign created such mixed results that to this day it is hard to say whether or not it was a “success”. It may just have been a bad decision by giving a mouthpiece to the anti-SUV crowd just as the many opponents of Walmart's policies and practices have a forum online.

Chevy bought an entire episode of the hit TV show ”The Apprentice” in which Donald Trump's would-be apprentices sold car dealers on buying Tahoes. As an online tie-in, the company created a website that gave viewers video clips and the editing tools to create their own versions of ads. There were over 600,000 visitors to the site over 3 weeks with 30,000 ads created by users. While the vast majority of ads were well-meaning, a significant number of anti-SUV ads that subsequently went viral on sites like YouTube created a large amount of bad publicity for Chevy. Bad news? Maybe not when you consider Tahoe sales rose and the brand dominated its segment of the market that year.

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #5:
Aqua Teen Hunger Force

Internet Viral Marketing Example
I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had not heard of the ATHF cartoon show before this interesting case study came to my attention. In promoting a movie release back in 2007 the makers of the show hired a Guerrilla Marketing firm to put up mysterious electronic mini billboards featuring a character from the movie around several major U.S. cities. While it seems like a good idea, they triggered a bomb scare in the City of Boston which took the devices to be similar to improvised LEDs.

While this is not really a case of Internet viral marketing (which needs to be tied into an online presence), it does bear mentioning as a case where efforts to create a bang can be misconstrued or grossly overdone. Other notable examples include promoting a video game through a fake armed terrorist (UbiSoft's “Splinter Cell”) and a campaign to convince people they were being stalked that resulted in a high publicity lawsuit for Toyota.

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #5(b): Toyota

I cannot resist saying a few more words about the Toyota campaign which, apart from the gross misjudgment on the part of the marketing executives involved, is actually a pretty good example of Internet viral marketing. If you can swallow the horrible idea that making people think that they were being stalked is good promotion, you might admire the fact that Toyota's campaign contained a number of integrated as well as interactive components.

Firstly, the way the Toyota marketers figured they would trick people is by having friends sign them up to the joke unknowingly. This a great example of built in passability which is one of the ingredients of viral marketing. Online viral tie-ins like fake e-mails and MySpace pages were then supplemented by fake bills in the mail and other real life artifacts. If not for the lawsuit and awful publicity we might even think Toyota was on to something which they would have tried again!

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #6:
Snakes on a Plane

After discussing examples of successful movie viral campaigns it seems appropriate to mention one that failed which was the 2006 release of “Snakes on a Plane.” The movie is probably the best example of a viral marketing campaign that had all the right elements but failed to deliver in that most crucial of aspects which is delivering a quality product.

Why “Snakes on a Plane” generated such a sensation remains a bit of a mystery but it was picked up by bloggers and inspired everything from fansites to songs to parodies to trailers to art and more. An ingenious campaign by VariTalk to let fans send personalized phone messages to friends in lead actor Samuel L. Jackson's voice was used to send 1.5 million calls in one week. It seemed like everyone was talking about the film prior to its release but despite unprecedented online buzz that translated into tons of positive publicity, the film was not a hit at the box office.

Internet Viral Marketing Flop #6(b):

One of the spoofs that was created based on “Snakes on a Plane” is a comical video called “All Your Snakes Are Belong To Us” (which has received over 2 million hits on YouTube to date!). This oddly titled clip is based on an Internet meme - an idea that gains huge cultural significance as described in detail in Seth Godin's foundational e-book on Internet viral marketing - called “All your base are belong to us” (or “AYBABTU”). The phrase comes from a badly translated line from a Japanese video game became an Internet sensation because of its absurd hilarity.

The word “memes” was coined by famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his groundbreaking 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”. Like genes, memes are evolutionary “building blocks” but of of thoughts, ideas or concepts that are transmitted from person to person and down generations. Internet memes expand on this by using the exponential power of the worldwide web in connecting unlimited numbers of people instantaneously. Viral marketing in a sense is an effort to manufacture memes so that they become the medium through which a marketing messages are transmitted. Read the article about AYBABTU for examples of viral offshoots of this meme and to explore the concept some more.

Get help with Internet Viral Marketing ideas!

Viral Marketing SuccessesWhat is Viral Marketing?Applying Viral Marketing PrinciplesViral Marketing TipsSocial Media Marketing FundamentalsSocial Media Marketing PrinciplesSocial Media Marketing TipsTop Social Media Marketing BrandsSocial Media Marketing StrategiesInternet Viral Marketing Consultant

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Viral Marketing is Like Everything Else 
It is interesting to read about some of these viral marketing failures and I have seen other examples of sales and marketing ideas that were totally out …

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