Viral marketing is a special form of guerillia marketing. The approach of this marketing form is to encourage individuals to distribute a marketing message to other individuals. As a result, the potential of an exponential growth in the exposure and influence of the message is created.1) The term “viral” refers to the epidemic spreading of a virus within a population.2) The advertising message should also spread from one person to another creating interest and increase awareness of the advertising.3)The spreading of the advertising resembles the classic word-of-mouth effect. Nowadays, the internet serves as a global platform for sharing own experiences and also viral marketing messages with everyone at every time connected by social media like facebook, twitter or youtube.
The classical marketing mix includes the 4 P's which are product, price, promotion and place. Viral marketing can be classified as a part of promotion because it focusses on drawing attention of potential customers on products or brand names.4)
Further, various forms and characteristics of viral marketing are discussed and distinguished in the literature. Below are given two expamles:
passiv vs. active viral marketing
In this case, the distribution methode of the advertising message is differenciated in passiv and active viral marketing. The passive approach includes the frictionless distribution of the message, i.e. the message is directly transmitted by using an application or service. A prominent example is given by e-mail providers which automatically integrate the brand name or an advertising at the end of each e-mail. Thus, every user of the e-mail service distributes passively the advertising. In contrast, the active viral marketing approach is based on the recommondation of the application or service by the user. The advertising campaign encourages the user to send the advertising message to others which requires a concious act, e.g. to press a “send to a friend” button.5)
added value vs. incentive
In this classification, it is distinguished which objective is to be achieved by the viral marketing campaign. An added value campaign is designed to create benefit and value for the consumer, e.g. by providing of funny videoclips or software-tools. The objective of these campaigns are rather to create brand awareness than to increase sales. An incentive orientated campaign focusses mainly on rewarding the consumer for the recommendation, e.g. by product samples, free products or discounts. This approach should be used carefully because the reliability and the advertising effect of the message is lost if the recommendation is obviously driven by extrinsic motivation.6)7)
Viral marketing messages are distributed by the customers. This form of distribution is called “seeding”. It is distinguished between simple seeding and complex seeding.
The e-mail provider hotmail was one of the first companies using viral marketing as an advertising strategy. At the end of each e-mail the following text was added: “Get your free e-mail at www.hotmail.com”. Therefore, the advertising is automatically distributed by the customer. The e-mail service itself was for free but in order to subscribe it was neccessary to fill out a detailed demographic and psychographic profile. By using the customers as salespersons hotmail grows exponentially due to the snowball effect and first-mover advantage.10)
Johnnie Walker - Moorhuhn
The german advertising game “Moorhuhnjagd” of the scotch producer Johnnie Walker was in the first place created for promotion in pubs only. Somehow, the game was copied and distributed via the internet. The popularity of the game was rapidly increasing and so an official website was launched.11) Furthermore, the game was provided for download by many private webpages. It reached cult status in a short time but a study of the University of Mannheim revealed no evidence for the direct impact of the game on brand awareness and buying behaviour of customers.12)
The blair witch project
The viral marketing campaign for the low-budget horror-movie “The blair witch project” started in 1997, two years before the movie was shown in the cinemas. A faked story about the disappearance of three students was the basis of the campaign. The directors of “The blair witch project” announced in the news that videotaps directly connected to the disappearance were found and that they were in charge with the reconstitution of the material. Reality and rumor were mixed up in this campaign in a plausible way and supported by faked interviews, police pictures and short video clips provided on a dedicated website. The media attention rised and discussions in various internet forums started about the reliability of the story. When the film was finally released the impact of this cheap advertising campaign using the word-of-mouth effect was very high (regarding the ratio of revenues and costs).13)14)