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Dec 03, 2003
Case Study

Viral Rich Media Email Campaign - 5 Practical Tips, Samples, and Useful Data

SUMMARY: When you consider this campaign included a voiceover from Britney Spears, it's no surprise it worked. What drew our attention were the five best practices the creative team used - that anyone emailing rich media (even sans Spears) can use for better results.

Includes samples, scripts, and there's a neat story too.

Chuck Armstrong CEO of J.A.M. Records is also on the
Board of Swaziland's Royal Initiative to Combat AIDs. Now that
more than 28.5 million people in southern Africa are HIV-AIDs
positive, Armstrong wanted to do something to help.

So late this summer, Armstrong began working his connections,
asking musicians to donate tracks for a new charity album, 'Songs
for Life.'

He was hugely successful. Britney Spears, Aretha Franklin,
Patti LaBelle, Paul Simon, Judy Collins, Carole King,
Destiny's Child and 10 others agreed to help out.

Plus, local radio stations across the US agreed to help promote
the album, and several retail outlets agreed to stock the album.
Now he just had to get the word out.

Naturally he focused on Public Service Announcements for radio,
because he could get donated space. Several of the stations also
volunteered their email house lists. Armstrong had to come up
with something to send to those names that would be as compelling
as an audio PSA.


Armstrong decided he would try a rich media campaign,
because, "When you are communicating with a permission-driven
database, in music and entertainment, only the right environment
can connect your product to the passion of the user. Rich email

Armstrong helped the creative team land more celebrity help for
the rich media. Britney Spears and Jeffrey Moore (an actor best-
known as the deliciously-voiced UnCola TV ad spokesman) both
agreed to participate. (Scripts and link to samples below.)

Here are five tips the creative team shared with us on putting
together a rich media campaign that works:

-> Tip #1. Create four different versions and send separately

On average, 40-50% of a consumer list can receive and play full
rich media with audio and video in their email inbox. (In the
corporate world, that percent can be even lower.)

This means the majority of recipients will have a lousy user
experience if you send them something that doesn't work. And
doing nothing more than sticking a standard "click here if the
email doesn't play" link at the top of the message is pretty
lame. Most people won't click; most people will think you are
annoying and stupid.

So for this campaign, the creative team put together four
different versions to be sent to various list segments based on
domain name, including: (Links to samples below.)

- A standard full audio/video version
- An alternate full version where the Flash is cloaked by
Javascript so Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink and other systems
that detect and stop Flash would let the email through
- An audio plus HTML (not no video) version
- An HTML-only version (with a text-only back-up)

-> Tip #2. Stick to tight headshots

When you are shooting video for email presentation, you need to
stick to as tight to a headshot of your spokesperson as possible.
Background, movements such as walking across a room, arms waving,
etc, makes the video harder to view for people with slow

Plus, let's face it, email is a personal medium. A headshot of
one spokesperson talking directly to you can be incredibly

-> Tip #3. Script more personally-voiced than TV

Even though they intellectually know that your message is being
broadcast to masses, people still think of their email box as
being a personal place. You should not script like TV or radio.

Instead, write in a personal tone, as though the speaker is
having a personal conversation with the recipient. For example,
use the word "you" liberally. Here are the scripts used for this

A. Script for rich media version with video:

"Hello, I'm Jeffrey Holder and I have something important to tell
you about a wonderful new album called Songs for Life.

"Songs for Life features artists who have donated their time and
their effort to help combat AIDS in Southern Africa. All of the
album's proceeds go to this incredible effort.

"By buying this album, Songs for Life, you'll be helping 40
million Africans and 12 million African children who have lost
their parents to AIDS. Through music, you can really make a

Different voice: "Send this email to five of your friends and
you'll be entered to win tickets to Saturday Night Live."

B. Script for audio-only version:

"Hi this is Britney Spears and I hope you support Songs for Life
and join us in this important fight to save millions of lives."

-> Tip #4. Be careful with the value of a viral offer

If you're hoping your campaign will get really viral - with
recipients forwarding to multiple friends - watch out because too
viral can be a problem.

If your offer is something too compelling, such as a high-value
sweeps, recipients may be tempted to conduct a junk mail campaign
to everyone in their address book. Your brand looks like a junk
mailer, plus the pass-along eyeballs are of much lower-value
because they weren't chosen with care.

To encourage viral sending for this campaign, the team chose to
offer tickets to Saturday Night Live. It's definitely a fun
offer, but not something that most people would push the
politeness or privacy envelope for. The creative specified that
recipients could tell up to five friends.

-> Tip #5. Assume you'll have to hand-hold outside list owners

Many list owners -- especially folks like local radio stations
who sent out this campaign -- are not hugely experienced in
sending rich media yet. And asking them to send four different
creatives to segments of their list based on recipient domain,
wasn't easy either.

So the team wrote carefully worded, step-by-step instructions
for list owners, and they also included a tech help phone number
to call which was staffed throughout the day. (You don't want
someone in the process of getting a campaign out to call for help
only to land in voicemail.)

The campaign launched in October with the goal to sell as many
albums as possible by AIDs day on December 1st.


Email literally saved the day when the brick and mortar
retail chains, that had promised to stock the album, had a series
of SNAFUs and weren't able to sell it. The radio PSAs were
yanked after a short run because no one could buy the album in
stores. But, people could buy it online, and that's something
that only people who got the email or somehow found the landing
page at knew to do.

More data:

- Roughly 75% of recipients were able to have the full rich media
experience. This is 50% above average and speaks to the
demographics of local music-format radio station lists.

- On average, people who used the viral button to forward to
others, typed in the names of 3.5 friends. However, this average
is slightly misleading because people tended toward either end of
the spectrum - either typing in just one name, or five.

- The cycle of friends forwarding to friends continued through
about seven rounds before it would lapse. (So one friend to
another friend to another friend, etc.)

- Because different stations sent the message, the creative team
don't have initial open and click data, but they could tell us
that the open rate for the virally-sent messages has consistently
hovered around 60% for the lifetime of the campaign; and, the
click rate ranges from 20-23% each day.

Clicks are evenly split, 50% go to the viral area to send the
campaign to more friends, and 50% click on the link to purchase
the CD at

- Interestingly although the radio PSAs did not mention a Web
site at all, listeners still went looking for one. Within 36
hours of airing spots in 10 cities, the landing page received
3,000 unique visitors who found it on their own without having
received an email. The number continued to rise until PSAs were

-> Useful links related to this story

Creative samples - the rich media, audio and HTML emails:

The Lift Network (the agency that created this campaign)

Songs for Life
See Also:

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