Viral marketing

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

How to create a buzz about your product or service

Robert Grede

Recently, ABC News reported that SONY-Ericsson, the joint venture between two electronics giants, is introducing a new cell phone that incorporates a digital camera for sending photos via e-mail.
ABC News, however, was not reporting on the product. Rather, it was reporting on the way it was promoted.
With a technique called "Viral Marketing," the goal is to "create a buzz" about a new product and allow the word to spread like a virus — hence the name.
SONY-Ericsson hires two models, a twenty-something couple, clean cut and attractive, and has them pose as tourists in Times Square, New York City. Periodically, they ask people in the target market (18 to 39) to take their picture.
The couple then goes into their promotional pitch about the product and how "cool" it is. The unsuspecting rube becomes excited about the product and, so the theory goes, begins telling all his or her friends.
Why doesn’t SONY-Ericsson use traditional forms of mass media, like newspapers or TV?
For a number of reasons.
First, the cost of mass media has skyrocketed. Over the past decade (1990 to 2000, the latest period for which figures are available), television costs have increased over 340%. Newspapers are not far behind at 288%.
Second, this target is hard to reach. In the past, you could reach over two-thirds of the country using the three big TV networks. Today, with more networks and cable alternatives, it’s less than 30%.
The numbers get worse for the 18 to 39 target group. Generation X and Y have so many media choices, their numbers become fragmented.
Lastly, there is no more powerful means of promotion than word-of-mouth. Who wouldn’t prefer to buy a new product based upon the unsolicited recommendation of a trusted friend rather than some paid shill on television. Viral marketing creates word-of-mouth for a product or service.
Creating a buzz can also be more cost effective. SONY-Ericsson’s cost of hiring two models was far cheaper than spot TV buys in New York. And the free publicity from ADC News just boosted the efficiencies further.
"Buzz" marketing can be a great way to introduce a new product. When Mike Shinoda and his buddies started a band back in 1998, they weren’t attracting a lot of notice. But they logged onto the Internet, got into the chat rooms of some hot bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit, and started hyping their sound ("There’s this cool new group – here, check out their MP3 file") pretending they weren’t in the band.
When interested kids e-mailed asking for more, the group sent back multiple music samples and instructions to pass them along to anyone with ears. By the time the group finally signed with Warner Bros. in late 1999, Shinoda and his band, Linkin Park, had fans all over the world. They also had several thousand unpaid promoters "creating a buzz" about their music. Last year, they sold more CDs than any other band.
Why does viral marketing work? One reason is the Internet. It helps spread the word. It’s much easier to stay in touch with acquaintances and professional peers today than ever before. In the past, we might correspond with friends as seldom as once a year during the holidays. With e-mail, we send messages or forward jokes and pictures clear across the world with the touch of a button.
How can you create a buzz in your business? Even if your target market does not include twenty-somethings, you can still use viral marketing to create a buzz about your product or service.
Let’s say you have a gasoline additive that helps increase mileage, particularly in diesel-fueled engines. Your target is truckers and large trucking companies. You would think that driving truck would be a lonely existence, with little opportunity for word-of-mouth.
But lunch counters and CB radios are the perfect incubators for viral marketing. Just a few drivers talking up the product at major truck stops and on their CBs and your product is known throughout the country in a matter of days.
It works for business-to-business, too. Trade shows are ideal for creating buzz and nurturing interest in a product.
Whatever your product or service, a little imagination and you can use viral marketing to create interest and awareness for it, too. Pick your target market, and start the buzz.

Robert Grede, author of Naked Marketing – The Bare Essentials (Prentice Hall), teaches marketing and entrepreneurial management at Marquette University. Contact him at

Sept. 13, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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