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Viral marketing

Is viral marketing the future of commercial advertising? Or is it too controversial?

Read a script of a radio show on Viral Marketing

— Good evening. I’m Eddy Johnson. Tonight’s business program looks at a growing phenomenon: viral marketing. First, let me introduce tonight’s guests: Eamon Barrett and Marta Harris. First, Eamon, just what is viral marketing?

— Good evening, Eddy. Well, a viral advertisement could be a video, a simple game or just a message at the end of a web page. The minute an Internet user forwards the clip or the link, then we say it’s ‘gone viral’. Usually, the video is funny or entertaining, so the user wants to pass it on to someone else – that’s what makes it different from normal advertising. It is only watched by someone who wants to watch it.

— How did it start? I guess as a business-to-consumer tool for mass marketing products, like software. In fact, Hotmail really started like this. I think companies just found traditional ad campaigns were too costly and pretty ineffective.

— So, why do you think viral advertising is … better?

— Well, it relies on ‘word of mouth’. Also, initial costs are so low – the consumer does all the work for you. You can reach a huge number of people and raise brand awareness – maybe more people saw Honda’s famous ‘Cog’ advert as a video clip than the original ad on television.

— Marta, I can see that you want to come in here.

— Yes, good evening Eddy, Eamon. I think a word of caution is needed here. Many virals are not real company adverts, and they can do the company image a lot of harm. Take one ad featuring a VW car, for instance. It wasn’t made by the company – it was made by two guys wanting to make a name for themselves. There’s just no control over what people put out there. A lot of these ads are pretty controversial if you ask me – they would be banned on television.

— Fair enough, Marta, but some big names are into viral marketing. Did you know that Microsoft’s viral – what was it, ‘Stationery is bad’ – was viewed by 10 million people? All those people were made aware of a new product.

— Yes Eamon, but virals only work for some kinds of products – those where getting a quick network base is important. I think a lot of people think something you’ve forwarded is just spam – yet another unwanted mail. People become immune to virals – it’s a short buzz and the marketing effect wears off quite quickly.

Think and decide

Which word in each line does not form a collocation with the word at the beginning?

(a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f)
(1) viral marketing video advertising game brand message
(2) marketing mix message campaign consume manage plan
(3) advertising campaign message viral budget executive space


Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness, through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can often be word-of-mouth delivered and enhanced online; it can harness the network effect of the Internet and can be very useful in reaching a large number of people rapidly.
Some of the first recorded offline/online viral campaigns were developed by Tim Nolan in 1996. By placing abstract pairings of catch-phrases, quotes, song lyrics and image mashups, Mr. Nolan developed a method of creating «buzz» around a URL based installation. Phrases like «This city isn’t safe» placed alongside a URL created enough curiosity in people’s minds to remember a URL and visit again once they were online.
Viral marketing sometimes refers to Internet-based stealth marketing campaigns, including the use of blogs, seemingly amateur web sites, and other forms of astroturfing, designed to create word of mouth for a new product or service. Often the goal of viral marketing campaigns is to generate media coverage via «offbeat» stories worth many times more than the campaigning company’s advertising budget.
The term «viral advertising» refers to the idea that people will pass on and share interesting and entertaining content; this is often sponsored by a brand, which is looking to build awareness of a product or service. These viral commercials often take the form of funny video clips, or interactive Flash games, an advergame, images, and even text.
Viral marketing is popular because of the ease of executing the marketing campaign, relative low-cost (compared to direct mail), good targeting, and the high and rapid response rate. The main strength of viral marketing is its ability to obtain a large number of interested people at a low cost.
The hardest task for any company is to acquire and retain a large customer base. Through the use of the internet and the effects of e-mail advertising, the business-to-consumer (B2C) efforts have a greater impact than many other tools of marketing. Viral marketing is a technique that avoids the annoyance of spam mail; it encourages users of a specific product or service to tell a friend.