How to avoid the viral marketing bug

Marketers are a happy bunch of people, especially when they are slapping each other on the back for “fantastic campaigns” or dreaming up creative ideas. No doubt at next Monday’s Marketing Society Awards in London, there will be an excessive use of the words “brilliant”, “fantastic” and “amazing”.

Going down the marketing road takes your eye of sales

Going down the marketing road takes your eye of sales

But being brilliant, fantastic or amazing is only really any good in terms of your ego. What matters most are sales. And as any really good marketer will tell you, often you can get excellent sales without actually being “brilliant, fantastic or amazing”. Often, “straightforward” or even “boring” does very well indeed.

Nowadays, though, everyone seems to be worried about making their marketing go “viral” – whatever that means. The term was coined over ten years ago to describe what happened after the launch of Hotmail. Since then it has come to mean all sorts to different people – though at its heart is the concept of creating something so striking people want to pass it on, particularly through social networking sites.

Hence, the popularity of the Cadbury Gorilla adverts which where a “brilliant, fantastic and amazing” piece of creativity that achieved YouTube fame running up almost as many views as the Susan Boyle clip. But did the advert actually sell more? Well according to Cadbury’s figures sales went up by 5% in 2007 when the advert went “viral”. However, sorting out the impact of the advert from the re-launch of Wispa, combined with an industry average increase of 5% in confectionery sales is difficult.

The chances are that Cadbury’s sales were not significantly impacted by the viral nature of the campaign. Indeed, the product advertised by the viral video is not actually sold in many of the countries where many viewers live. To Cadbury, they were worthless views. This year, Cadbury has reported record sales again, but puts them down to the recession and the increasing “stay at home” culture. No claim for the impact of the viral “Eyebrows video“.

Don’t misunderstand me; the creativity and sheer genius of the Cadbury team should be applauded. However, their achievement at going viral, with their videos being shared worldwide on social networking sites can make us believe that this is success. Only if it has a direct impact on bottom line can it really be called success.

There are dozens of other examples of viral marketing, which if you think about them carefully are “brilliant, fantastic and amazing” – but were they of real, bottom-line value? That’s doubtful. The problem for most web business owners is that these are all eye-catching, superb examples of creativity. They achieved between them hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of people viewing them. Combined, that means they seem an attractive proposition.

Beware. They aren’t. The web is littered with people who have tried their hand at viral marketing and failed. They have spent thousands attempting to produce something wacky and memorable only to find that either their creative abilities are limited, or that the item gets mass attention but no sales.

Focus your mind on getting sales, rather than trying to be creative. Forget attempting to “go viral”; instead try to “go healthy bank balance” instead. Our minds are attracted by the different, the exciting, the new and that can mean we get distracted into believing that our business needs to do the same. But it doesn’t; it needs to concentrate on sales. Forget viral marketing – it’s a waste of time and effort for most businesses.


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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones


Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
RT @SteveHeadSpeaks: Thanks to @GuidesForBrides for having @ChrisHeadMagic at #ukwedconf @MiltonHillhotel learning from the best @grahamjon - 22 hours ago
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