Viral Marketing Is Plaguing Viral Marketing

An article in this morning's Advertising Age asks "What's plaguing Viral Marketing?" The article points to a sociology professor's work that suggests influencers aren't as important as folks once thought they were.  Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is that advertising messages are at a huge disadvantage as compared to things that are, well, cool when you're talking about something "going viral."  Yet clients have no problem telling their agencies to "go create a viral video" and there is no shortage of agencies willing to take up the challenge, despite the notion that the overwhelming majority of them will fail and never deliver on the client's expectations.

Check out this list of well-known Internet phenomena, all of which have spread virally. How many of them are commercial in nature?  Just three of them, by my count.  The Blair Witch stuff was a hoax, and hordes of marketers tried to use the same tactics to replicate their "success" and failed.  The Snakes on a Plane stuff was grassroots until New Line decided to get involved and turn it into their new marketing campaign - and it didn't translate into butts in theater seats because New Line failed to realize the difference between laughing with and laughing at.  There's a local commercial on the list, but local commercials are funny.  (Again, there's a difference between laughing with and laughing at.)  Note the absence of campaigns from national advertisers, despite all the money and effort sunk into "going viral."

The fact that the square peg of commercial communications can't fit into the round hole of viral success doesn't stop marketers from trying.  They do it all the time, in defiance of the notion that they can't possibly be as cool as Numa Numa.  And they blame their agency when the effort fails.