Can You Guess Which Pitch Is a Real Viral Campaign?

Apparently, Many Agencies Can't

By Published on .

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Dear social media gurus, advertising agencies and PR flacks: You need to read this post.

I got three e-mail pitches yesterday about new viral-marketing campaigns. One was from an agency that said it "provides complete viral services." Another was for a "brand-new IBM (Lotus Foundations) viral video campaign" that will launch on Monday. (Hint: a campaign that has not launched yet is not viral.) And the third was from a friend, who saw something she thought I'd love and forwarded me a link.

Guess which one was actually a viral? Apparently most agencies can't.

First let's define viral marketing:

Content passed from one person to another, including images, videos, links, applications, games, stories, e-mails, documents or virtually any other type of digital content that one person passes to another via e-mail, IM, text messaging, or social network like Twitter, FriendFeed, etc., or content-sharing sites such as StumbleUpon, Digg, etc.

What doesn't make a campaign go viral:

  • Sending out a press release about your latest viral campaign
  • An e-mail that says, "This is a viral campaign."

What kind of creative is likely to go viral?

  • Knockout creative that's funny, shocking, intriguing or surprising
  • An idea customers can relate to and care about
  • A clear-cut message so people are able to pass it on with one sentence
  • An easy way to pass it on -- a link, embedding code, "share this" button, e-mail to a friend, etc.
  • A concept that builds relationships with customers by getting them to interact with others
  • Measurable outcomes, as in: What is this campaign hoping to accomplish and how will be measure it?

What can help spread the word?

  • Blog advertising with the right creative can be remarkably cost-effective and high yielding.
  • Blogger outreach (which can backfire if pitches are lame)
  • A seeding plan to get the campaign started:
  • JibJab, for example, e-mails to tens of thousands of people who've asked to be notified of its latest efforts. One of the all-time most successful virals, launched in 2006, is ElfYourself, which OfficeMax created with Toy and EVB. But this year, OfficeMax has partnered with JibJab.

    It's great because it's about us, not a blatant sales effort. It's fun, it's funny, it's easy to use, and it's easy to send.

In 2007, was the No. 1 holiday e-greeting website, surpassing and, and secured more traffic than, according to OfficeMax. In 2007, in six weeks, it attracted 193 million visits with users spending 2,600 years collectively on the site. In fact, one in 10 Americans "elfed themselves" in 2007.

ElfYourself is back and -- aside from taking what feels like forever to upload your photos -- it's even better in 2008 with several new dances and features including:

  • A Facebook application that enables users to place elf videos on profile pages and invite friends to do the same
  • "Quick Post" options to place ElfYourself videos on MySpace, Friendster, BeBo, Live Journal, iGoogle, etc.
  • The ability to create print greeting cards featuring custom elves
  • Tools to customize photo gift items -- snowflake ornaments, mouse pads, coffee mugs or playing cards
  • Downloadable elf videos that can be saved to desktop
  • Profiles where users can save elves and videos for future "elfing."

Remember, social-media gurus, advertising agencies and PR flacks:

It ain't viral til it is.
So please please don't send me another pitch that includes the words "new viral" in the subject line.

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