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April 24, 2007

Workshop: Viral and WOM

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After a quick snack break, we arrive at the Viral and WOM workshop where Daniel Stein (EVB) is moderating the crazy personalities of Jamie Byrne (YouTube), Benjamin Palmer (The Barbarian Group), Gaurav Misra (MTV/VH1) and Sean Carver (Microsoft). Susan totally wishes she was here right now; this is a seriously attractive panel. Hi, boys!

We’re starting a bit late, but it looks like this session is finally about to get underway.

Daniel starts off by showing a video highlighting some great viral projects as of late. We get glimpse of that now infamous SNL skit with Justin Timberlake, a Brady Bunch-esque video about not having pre-marital sex (it seriously is funny despite my lame description), that Diet Coke video, Ms Dewey (groan), the Star Wars Kid, the Ok Go treadmill video, Elf Yourself, and lots other stuff that I don’t recognize because I am old and totally unhip. Such is life.

Daniel says there’s not really a definition for what viral is. When clients come in saying they want something viral, what they’re really saying is they’re looking for something to engage their audience. They want something consumers will grab onto and be excited about. Viral isn’t new; the Internet just makes it immediate.

Daniel starts off by asking the panel what viral means to them.

Ben says viral is a bullshit term. Heh. It’s an effect, not a cause. It’s a sign of success. If you’ve launched something that people want to talk about afterwards you realize you created something viral. The big difference in terms of advertising now and a decade ago is that today you have to create things that people actually like. You can’t just inundate the market with crappy ads. There are so many channels of communication, choices and people who can talk about what’s going on, that you have to do things that people like in order to be successful in your marketing and your brand. The term "viral" isn’t used well, but the motivation behind it is trying to do something that will get people to like you. The best way to do that is to be as honest as possible about the essence of the brand. Do something that is serving your audience, not you.

Gaurav, who has the world’s most adorable accent, says it’s about others evangelizing your product for the good of your users. Users do the heavy lifting for you. Every time someone forwards something they’re staking a piece of their own reputation on that forward. The 100th person who sent out the Star Wars kid video is not as cool as the first person who did. When Susan tries to replicate my Friday Recap this week, it won’t be nearly as cool as the ones I’ve written. [Yes, lower expectations! Good! –Susan] You get the idea; it’s an arms race. As a creator you have to disguise the marketing and present it as something else. Let others take ownership of it.

Jamie says viral is when your consumers take over your marketing efforts. Because there’s so much choice, advertisers and marketers need to shift away from the intrusive marketing methods they’ve used in the past and focus on engaging viewers. You have to think about your advertising messages as content. Jamie says the term viral is a tactic that’s a one hit wonder. People want to produce a viral video with 2 million views but they don’t think about what will happen after that. You’ve engaged consumers, but now what? What are you going to do once you have users invested? If you don’t think of that upfront you’ll miss out on the impact you’ve created.

Ben says viral is not a long term branding strategy. It can, however, offer a boost to a brand that needed a kick in the pants. Shawn emphasizes that you have to focus on the demographic you’re targeting. What we’re seeing with viral is that it’s really the consumer who’s driving all of this.

Daniel asks how much brand is too much when creating viral videos?

Gaurav says it’s a very scary thing for a brand or a marketer to spend money on viral because you don’t know if it will do well or not. At least with display advertising, you’re guaranteed some percentage of traffic. With viral, the more home-grown it looks, the better. The more authentic and organic it looks, the better it will do. It’s the same reason why reality TV is more interesting than scripted television. It’s why people love Sanjaya. (We do? You love Sanjaya? I’m sorry; I don’t mean to laugh at you.)

For some reason Daniel asks Shawn about Ms Dewey. Why do people like to torment me?

Shawn says launching Ms Dewey unbranded wasn’t a popular move with the Microsoft legal department or the branding team, but in the end people are smart.

How do you create something that’s worthy of attention? We don’t want to saddle people with too many tasks for them to do; we just want them to experience the product.

When engaging success, Jayme says for each individual campaign you can look at the different metrics and determine if it was effective. How are you defining success? On MySpace it’s about friend-ing. On YouTube it’s about how many people commented, watched or forwarded your video.

Ben says there’s no hard science in measuring how successful something is, and says his company isn’t oriented in that direction. When he starts a project, it isn’t about numbers. It’s about how do you want people to feel about you? It’s about raising awareness for the brand, not selling shoes. You have to have a good relationship with your client and collectively understand that it’s not something that will lead to an overnight increase in sales. There’s a larger goal.

Shawn agrees with Ben but says Microsoft uses two different kind if metrics. They use the branding metrics as outlined by Ben and then a different set for the suits who approve the budget since they want to hear about the dollars. For those people, they’ll look at unique visitors, how long users engaged with the site, etc.

There’s really no solid answer for defining the effectiveness of an ad. When it is, you just know. It’s more of an art than a science. Like judging someone else’s cool.

Unfortunately, since the session started late so we’re already out of time. I was hoping to dig more into engaging and the process that goes into creating great viral content, but no such luck. That’s a bummer, but this was a fun session with a really great group of speakers. They did, however, all have potty mouths.

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