Burgers, Coke and the Black Death

This week’s topic is viral marketing. To get your head around this subject there is a great academic paper which provides some insight in to this exciting area of Social Media Marketing.

Kaplan and Haenlein’s paper, “two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance” is an extremely thought provoking must-read.

Burger King Whopper Sacrifice Campaign

The authors work their way through the mine field of viral marketing with some great examples of campaigns that went really well (Diet Coke / Mentos and Burger King) and campaigns that just went “thud” (Jet Blue, Starbucks and Sony). The Burger King example in particular was amusing with 82,000 Facebook users sacrificing (unfriending) 234,000 of their friends to obtain a free burger. I found that inspirational.

In its simplest form, viral marketing is an explosive form of word-of-mouth marketing, whereby the audience spread the marketing message significantly quicker, and more efficiently than the advertisers could do on their own. According to Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) word-of-mouth marketing has been shown to sustainably influence consumer attitudes and behaviour. One reason for this success in influencing the decision making process is because word-of-mouth marketing helps to reduce the decision making time and risk, as friends tend to be perceived as unbiased sources of information (Smith et al. 2007).

One point that jumps out for me about creating a viral epidemic in the social media space is so simplistic it is brilliant. To make viral marketing work, you need the right people to get the right message under the right circumstances. (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011).

Five pieces of advice when spreading a virus (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011)

The important thing to remember with viral marketing is that you can’t just sit back and expect your message to go viral, and you can’t just expect your campaign to go viral because you think it’s awesome. Social Media audiences can be very fickle. Although, you can certainly improve your chances of success if you apply a strategic element to the planning and execution of a campaign and make sure that the rest of the marketing mix and marketing communication supports the activity you are planning. In short, don’t over think it and don’t view it as a silver bullet. Not everything you do will go viral, and sometimes success requires a large amount of luck to make it happen.

The right audience means targeting the message to the segment of your audience so that it will resonate enough with them for them to want to tell anyone and everyone they know about it. To go viral, the message needs to have impact and trigger a positive (or negative) emotional response with the receiver of the message (Dobele et al. 2007) and finally, it needs to be relevant and timely.

And if you can pull it off, the dividends are huge. In the case of Diet Coke and Mentos, the viral campaign led to a five percent increase in market share with their target group, which clearly demonstrates a change in consumer behaviour.

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