It's tough coming up with a knock-out campaign in a format that's now 10 years old. (Kinda makes you feel sorry for TV advertisers with 50 years of creatives to beat...)
All too many of the campaigns we reviewed for this year's Viral Hall of Fame were, while ably conducted, fairly similar to campaigns we've seen before (and before, and before that as well.) However, 12 really were stand-outs.
We've explained why briefly below, and you can click for a details page including creative samples and results data on each.
Every type of marketer is included -- from AT&T to an art museum; from a travel agency in India to an entrepreneur in backwoods USA; from super niche business-to-business to a mass consumer campaign targeting "everyone."
The sheer range of these campaigns proves practically any marketer targeting any demographic online can use viral successfully. Viral is not limited to entertainment brands or to sex/games for young adult males. A few notes:
-> Micro-budgets still OK One of the most popular campaigns we picked was created on a $1000 budget. A few others were created by in-house shops or single-man operations. That's not to say you shouldn't hire an experienced viral agency to help (many of the best are represented here too.) But, if you can't afford it and you are a *very* clever and/or lucky marketer, viral can still be do-it-yourself tactic.
-> Track your results by *goal* not merely traffic Drove us nuts! Many of the larger brands nominated for this year's awards (in particular Hollywood and consumer packaged goods firms) had delicious creative we yearned to award, but they only measured traffic and basic site stats such as time-spent to "prove" success.
Thing is, their stated campaign goal wasn't traffic. No, it was to sell stuff and/or raise brand awareness. Both of these are measurable without rocket-science (surveys and/or e-coupons for a start.)
So why do some of the biggest marketers with exciting viral campaigns not bother with valid measurement? We suspect it's the pocket-lint factor. Viral, compared to other media buys, was so tiny that they didn't bother investing in measurement.
-> Blogs are now the seed campaign of choice Last year a few entries talked about seeding via blogs or measuring results via blog mentions, this year it was nearly everyone.
-> Optimized press releases come in second Yes, sending out an $80 press release about your viral microsite really, really works … as long as you plant optimized keywords in your headline, opening paragraph and hotlink wording.
-> Stop with the enforced email forwards already! Forcing or bribing people to forward your info to a friend in order to be rewarded or win looks skanky in today's ultra-permission-based world. Especially when you tell visitors nothing about their friend's privacy in the space directly next to the email form.
A true viral campaign gets forwarded because consumers are compelled to do so by the glory of the content, not because you bribed them with points. With that said, here are the 12 campaigns that won our hearts this year, and why: #1. Peerflix Paparazzi
MarketingSherpa Summary: A terrific example of cost-effectively tapping into the viral power of celebrities to build your own online buzz, traffic, and ultimately brand. Within 90 days after launch nearly two million unique visitors played the game more than two times each - plus 5% traveled onwards to visit the main brand's site. And that's the entire point after all.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/1.html#2. Beer.com's Virtual Bartender
MarketingSherpa Summary: It's pretty much a "duh". If your target is young adult males, sex really, really sells. That combined with the word "beer" explains why 10 million visitors hit the site. But, what if you're not marketing to young men, you can't use sex, and your brand isn't about liquor? Are there lessons to be learned? Yes! In fact we suspect some clever b-to-b marketer will come up with a "virtual CEO" soon, inspired by this campaign.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/2.html #3. New Rules of PR (PDF)
MarketingSherpa Summary: Business-to-business marketers who are dreaming that someday their white paper will go viral should check out this campaign. Per our Viral Marketing in 2006 Special Report (link below), newer seeding tactics such as blogging and press releases optimized for search engines can give a campaign that extra viral boost within a niche market (especially when you don’t have sex, celebrity, or games to drive traffic.)
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/3.html #4. Wadsworth Atheneum - Surrealist Exhibit
MarketingSherpa Summary: This campaign proves local "brick and mortar" marketers can use online viral campaigns to drive real-world foot traffic with measurable results. Although the campaign was for an arts organization, we hope traditional and multichannel retailers in particular will be inspired by it to launch viral tactics of their own. How about a dress-your-own celebrity model contest that leads generates in-store coupons for all players…. Ooh ooh, the ideas are endless!
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/4.html #5. The Quantum IT Challenge
MarketingSherpa Summary: Although this business-to-business lead generation campaign targeting IT professionals didn't go wildly viral (10% of game players referred a friend), marketer Kelsey Galarza who herself hails from a consumer marketing analytics background, did something almost no other online game we've heard of does: tracked each respondent by their game play.
Each player's success at a fairly tough game gave her the qualification data she needed to decide which leads should be followed up on by sales first, and which could wait a while or needed further qualification efforts. Bravo!
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/5.html #6. MakeMyTrip Viral Series (India)
MarketingSherpa Summary: Two useful lessons from this viral campaign promoting airline tickets to affluent consumers in India -- (1) Even in this era of globalization, a regional agency can increase viral responses in a regional market and (2) if one campaign works, turn it into a viral series for ongoing brand building. Included, useful response data on how different campaigns took off in different ways.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/6.html #7. Blog in Space
MarketingSherpa Summary: This campaign is proof that if you blatantly appeal to bloggers' egos and desire for more traffic/attention, they will in turn happily link to you. And if your offer is appealing enough, where a few influential bloggers go the rest will virally follow.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/7.html #8. Kreedo Brand Democracy
MarketingSherpa Summary: The big problem with viral marketing is figuring out ahead of time what creative your prospects will find so exciting that they virally spread the word. Often it feels like a crap shoot. This campaign by a market research firm in Portugal offers a solution -- why not launch with a microsite something that's "good enough" for some viral spread and then ask your visitors what else they'd like you to add to it? If you build what they *really* want, they will come.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/8.html #9. Monk-e-Mail
MarketingSherpa Summary: This campaign uses elements that we've seen before quite a few times in the overcrowded field of viral e-card campaigns. Consumers get to play with an interactive form (including adding their own audio) to send a silly, personalized e-card to friends. We've all been there, done that, got the t-shirt. So why did it make Sherpa's 2006 hall of fame?
Check out the landing page. It's the best we've ever seen for this type of campaign because everything's included above the fold on just one page. You don't have to click through a screen by screen process to send an e-card. And we bet that meant considerably higher response rates.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/9.html #10. mySBC eBill Service: Trees in the Forest of Change
MarketingSherpa Summary: This campaign proves it's entirely possible to invent a highly-compelling viral marketing site even when you're not marketing it as entertainment (no videos, no games), nor forcing respondents (who in this case were "green" consumers) to act as your viral agent to claim a reward. Almost half a million have converted so far … very impressive.
Yes, this campaign demonstrates that with thoughtful design and execution viral can work for almost every brand and demographic online.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/10.html #11. Belt Buckle Knife
MarketingSherpa Summary: This is one of those classic "whups-it-went-viral" campaigns. An earnest fellow puts up a Web site to promote his home-grown product, then suddenly the world starts talking about it. This kind of tactic is impossible to copy - it's gotta be real and it’s got to be luck.
So why does it make Sherpa's Hall of Fame? Measurement. Turns out the site owner measured the value of each type of viral traffic to see who would buy, and who was just wasting time entertaining themselves on his server. We really wish more viral marketers would measure traffic ROI like this.
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/11.html #12. The ERP of This Century
MarketingSherpa Summary: Brilliant! This viral campaign should inspire every marketer targeting huge organizations such as the Fortune 1000 and Global 1000. When your business prospect has tens of thousands of employees around the world, how can you get them all talking about how wonderful you are? How do you turn a handful of internal evangelists into thousands praising your name? Turns out rap music has all the answers…
Click to view campaign details: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/vas2006/12.htmlUseful links related to this article
Marketingsherpa's 2006 Viral Marketing Report: Benchmark Data, Practical Tips, & Biggest Change http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=3221
MarketingSherpa's 2005 Viral Marketing Report -- features still-useful practical tips for the top 5 viral tactics: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2957
MarketingSherpa's 2005 Viral Marketing Hall of Fame -- 12 real-life campaigns detailed http://www.marketingsherpa.com/sample.cfm?contentID=2964