April 01, 2008
Case Study

How to Build Viral Buzz With ‘Revolutionary’ Web 2.0 Community

SUMMARY: Marketers continue to hone in on the best ways to launch viral campaigns -- with mixed results. A few ideas are revolutionary, many aren’t.

See how a German airline created a Web 2.0 community around an email inviting members to join personalized groups. The campaign was so innovative, it walked away with an award at this year’s MarketingSherpa Email Summit.
Mark Philipp, Sr. Manager, Direct Marketing, Germanwings, and his marketing team knew their email campaigns for the discount airline were getting stale. Simply creating another email offer to potential passengers didn’t seem like it would do the trick last fall for the most important tourist month in Germany -- October. They also wanted to incorporate more fun and intrigue with the brand.

“We wanted to lift traffic and attract new subscribers, while creating an interactive element,” Philipp says. “We had used emails that said, ‘There’s X number of reduced flights. Visit our website; they are available until Sunday.’ These worked well ... but it was time to find something different.”

They still planned to use TV, radio and kiosk offline advertising no matter what other tactic they picked for the October campaign. But they didn’t want to stop at simply including the airline’s URL in the ads. And they faced another issue: a deadline. There was no time to test new strategies.

Philipp and his team decided to create a Web 2.0 community -- largely driven by an email they hoped would go viral with consumers who could sign up for groups and individual prize drawings. They supported it with the offline ads.

Here are the six steps they followed:

-> Step #1. Develop campaign theme

They knew going in that most successful campaigns needed an unusual twist to go viral. They developed “October Revolution.”

“We wanted people to unite under this campaign, if you will. In the end, we wanted a campaign communicating that we offered revolutionary prices at business-class comfort. And, it had to be unique in the way the consumer experienced it.”

-> Step #2. Build Web 2.0 microsite

Once they determined the theme, they created a Web 2.0 microsite where those who received the email could interact after clicking through.

To create a sense of community with their audience, they let users engage in the following activities:
o Create and name groups
o Choose fantasy names
o Upload pictures
o Add humorous items to their photos, such as Lenin's glasses, Che Guevara's beret, or Karl Marx's beard
o Participate in prize rewards for growing their groups

“We were trying to communicate a group aspect where everybody wins, while emphasizing the fantasy of being a revolutionary,” Philipp says. “We were not communicating ‘revolutionary’ in the political sense, but in a competitive but fun way.”

Participants boosted their group's membership through their viral efforts. Members of the strongest group qualified for the main prize drawing. Recruiting friends, therefore, was a primary incentive. But anyone who registered at the microsite was entered into a drawing for gift certificates and other prizes.

-> Step #3. Write email

The email creative involved historically sensitive icons. The main image, for instance, was a clenched fist gripping a flag “in a rather East German kind of way,” Philipp says. But this sense of risqué was intended; they wanted to juxtapose humor with history and class conflict.

On the right-hand side of the newsletter appeared the text: “Werden Sie Revolutionar!” (“Become A Revolutionary!”) Several more rows of copy led to a gold-hued button with the copy: “Mitmachen” (“Join In”).

Those who clicked through arrived at a registration page on the microsite and were asked to provide:
o Name (first and last)
o Email address
o Group name
o Postal code (optional)
o Date of birth (optional)

The emails recruited “revolutionaries” to register under an assumed revolutionary name and create their own groups, which could be personalized by the founder. Each “revolutionary” was asked to invite friends, colleagues and relatives to join their group.

-> Step #4. Monitor for terrorist language

Being an airline company in an anxious point in history for fliers, they didn’t want their audience to create groups that employed terrorist language -- no matter how innocent the intent. So, they created a blacklist of language no-nos. Participants were informed by email about these rules and about how they could self-report offending members.

A member of Philipp’s team also was assigned to monitor the groups daily. “We could not have a group called ‘Plane Crash’ associated with our brand.”

-> Step #5. Send email to house file

The email was sent to 1.4 million users in a database segment made up of recent customers living in Germany; other Europeans on that list were excluded from the campaign.

The email was designed to spread the campaign message virally over three weeks in October, so the airline tried to make it as easy as possible for recipients to get involved.

-> Step #6. Encourage email forwards

During the registration process, participants were encouraged to invite up to five friends to join by submitting their email addresses into a multi-name field. Each friend received an email from the group founder with his or her picture and screen name.

Recipients who clicked through the email could then enter their own profile information and alert five more friends about the campaign. “And then we wanted them to forward the email to the third-level contacts and become multipliers of the content.”

Invitations sent by group members included a list of prizes with a direct link to a landing page for each group.
“It was one of the best campaigns in the history of Germanwings, and we believe it was one of the best we did last year in terms of driving sales,” Philipp says. “It undoubtedly affected sales and drew new customers to us.”

The creative approach that Philipp and his team put together wasn’t lost on their German audience. In the first two weeks:
- The email saw a 26% open rate and clickthroughs of 7.2%.
- More than 45,000 people created profiles and 15,000 groups were formed.
- Their email list grew by 0.5%

Philipp says they didn’t have the capability to match back orders to “Revolutionar” community members, but the initiative created unforeseen brand interaction and drove revenue at their main website.
Recipients also appeared to enjoy the ‘Revolutionar’ community. “People spent an average of 9.5 minutes on the [microsite], which is longer than our average time-spend per visitor on our main website.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Germanwings’ October Revolution campaign:

Rabbit eMarketing - guided Germanwings through the campaign:


Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions