Feb 23, 2001
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Joshua Schmidt Manager of Customer Activation for WizardWorld.com recently got the kind of lucky break every marketer dreams of. Schmidt's job is to draw avid collectors of comic books, action figures, and card games to WizardWorld.com where they can purchase, auction and track these collectibles. Schmidt realized viral marketing would be the killer app for this audience. He says, "The comic book fan base is very devoted. Word of mouth is very effective for them. So we knew viral was the key. We just had to find a way to get enthusiasts to talk to each other."
Just before Thanksgiving 2000 Schmidt's viral offer was handed to him on a silver platter. Turns out famous indie film director Kevin Smith was a fan of the site, and he voluntarily offered to give away a walk-on role in his next film shooting in LA as the prize for WizardWorld.com's January 2001 visitor contest. Only problem: Schmidt had less than five weeks during the holiday season to put the contest together.
Schmidt's first challenge was internal. The site's tech department had just completed a major redesign and they were still very busy dealing with loose ends and fall-out. Creating the backbone for a viral campaign in such a short time frame was simply out of the question. Again Schmidt got a lucky break. One of the speakers at an Internet marketing-related breakfast event Schmidt attended in early December was the CEO of eWomp, a company that specialized in viral marketing technology.
Schmidt says, "I called them right after the breakfast to set up a meeting. They were very, very happy that we had everything laid out -- all the specs. We needed someone to provide the tech to refer friends, send out HTML emails and track responses." eWomp put their tech together in a single week, and Schmidt says, "It was a very quick, very painless integration."
Next Schmidt put together a fast promotional campaign. First he replaced the art on all of the banners he already had running on a CPA basis on "a couple of hundred sites" matching his demographic, with art promoting the new offer. Recognizing the power of email newsletter sponsorships, Schmidt says, "We specified everywhere we advertised that we also wanted to go in the newsletter anywhere that was an option. Some would let us run text copy, others an ad banner."
Schmidt also planted articles on the contest on pertinent sites. He says, "We had 40 lines of text that basically said, 'Contest News Flash!' the tagline said, 'Who else won't have any lines in the new Kevin Smith movie?' playing off his Silent Bob character. From there we would say 'here's how the contest works, here's how you win, and tell all your friends. There's no limit to entries -- tell as many as you would like.'"
Along with several traditional press releases featuring the story from different angles, Schmidt's team also posted text messages to various comic book message boards and industry-related places. He says, "Some contest sites also allowed us to put stuff up for free." In addition, Schmidt placed several ads about the contest in print magazines that could take a last-minute ad. He says, "We kind of went all out."
Users who clicked through from any of these sources landed directly on a contest form that they could use to invite friends to the site. Schmidt explains, "For each person you refer who successfully registers, you get another entry into the contest." This focus dissuaded spam by encouraging contestants to hone their lists to only their friends most likely to register.
45% more new users registered as members of WizardWorld.com's site due to this viral contest than any other contest the site had held. The total traffic increase was 144%.
The average contest entrant referred five friends (note: two referrals per entry is considered successful for the average contest of this type.) 29% of referred friends registered for the site. Schmidt says, "Absolutely, some of them then went and referred other people!"
Schmidt says, "We did great. For the money we spent, we really outdid expectations." He adds, "We wouldn't have been able to do it if we hadn't had eWomp."