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Kitschy ads, long Web life, true viral impact

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Over at EthicsCrisis.com, you're invited to write anonymously about the most unethical thing you've ever done in business. Visitors can then rate the gravity of your offense on a 1-to-10 scale.

The site is maintained by a company that sells language translation services. The fact that there is only a thin relationship between business ethics and language translation doesn't really matter. EthicsCrisis.com has been a hot topic of debate in the blogosphere. The site has chalked up more than 20,000 Google links in a little over six weeks and moved from 30th to third place on a search for "Multilanguage translations."

"Focusing on ethics compliance is a lot better way to get attention than focusing on translation," said BL Ochman, the viral marketing expert who conceived of EthicsCrisis.com.

Offbeat, strange or negative messaging has traditionally been a hot potato in the marketing world. But when stories about failure, deceit or sloth are offbeat enough, they can create a viral marketing epidemic that your competitors will envy.

The Slowskys are a couple of turtles who live suburban life slowly. Everything they do is slow and boring. Comcast conceived of the Slowskys to promote its high-speed Internet service. Originally the subject of an humorous TV spot by Comcast, the couple have found a second life in the blogosphere, where the kitschy idea has developed a following. The Slowskys have 19,000 Google citations and 235 links to their blog. There are the makings of a cult here.

Traditional media haven't offered much of an avenue for experimentation. TV ad campaigns are too expensive to permit much risk-taking, and it's expensive and inefficient to run everything by a focus group. But social media offer a quick and cheap way to test weird ideas that just might work.

Here's another example: Internet domain registrar GoDaddy.com has parlayed problems with its Super Bowl ads into a Web franchise. The company got noticed late last year when its suggestive TV commercials were rejected 13 times by ABC before a version was approved just days before the game.

GoDaddy has turned frustration into a virtue. Its Web site now has a place where you can watch all 13 rejected commercials. The company even made a video spoofing the approval process. And it has turned a point-in-time TV spot into a perpetual Internet franchise.

Viral or guerrilla marketing is still a niche business, but it's growing fast because the economics are so compelling. The cost of a months-long Web-based campaign is typically less than that of a single 30-second TV commercial. You can even bury your brand if you're afraid that the idea might fall flat.

TV advertisers know the effectiveness of word-of-mouth marketing. Rejected TV spots don't go into the trash bin anymore. Increasingly, they go on the Web. And the most forward-looking marketers are floating new campaigns online before taking them mainstream.

This channel is cheap, fast and has a high tolerance for risk. Use it.

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