It's hard not to notice that modern telecommunications have seriously changed virtually every aspect of our life. Just ten years ago, we'd never heard of Google, a word that has since entered the dictionary. Five years ago, YouTube wasn't a household name. Just a year ago, nobody had even heard of Twitter. Now they're all huge parts of our society. After all, you're reading this article on your computer right now. Not surprisingly, advertising has sought to keep up with changing trends, to be relevant to a society raised on absolute communication.
Viral marketing is a broad term used to describe an advertising concept in which advertisers take advantage of people's social networks to increase brand awareness and product sales. While that probably sounds vague and arcane, it's actually quite simple. Viral marketing uses word of mouth to spread its message. The trick is to somehow inspire people to talk about your marketing gimmick in a way that raises product awareness and increases sales. The name "viral marketing" refers to the way the advertising spreads rapidly and organically, like a virus.
To do this, companies produce all sorts of alternative forms of advertising, from internet games to video clips, software, and even text messages. Marketers identify people or demographics most likely to respond to the advertising and spread it, and then tailor the campaign to these people. The basic premise is that once these people accept the advertising, they will begin to spread it to other people, which will spread to other people, and so on. Viral marketing has gotten so advanced that there are algorithms used to describe the rate with which it spreads, and the maximum solvency the advertising will achieve.
Some of the most famous examples of viral marketing include:
The ad campaign leading up to the 1999 film The Blair Witch Project, which involved web sites and publications which claimed that the film was factual rather than fictional.
In 2002, luxury car manufacturer BMW produced a series of short films featuring their cars. The directors ranged from famous to up-and-comers, including John Frankenheimer, Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, and Tony Scott. The films starred Clive Owen, and developed a serious fan base.
Burger King is particularly known for the technique, including a website called "Subservient Chicken" which allowed visitors to type in requests that a video chicken would perform. Another campaign involved leaving wallets around certain American metropolitan areas. The wallets contained money and coupons for Burger King products and came with a note explaining the gimmick.
Viral marketing is just the latest attempt of advertising to communicate something unique and personal to the public.