Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dance Club Lessons and Viral Marketing

When I was much younger, I was active in the dance club scene. I would go to some of San Francisco's and Sacramento's hottest industrial and dark music clubs. I would dress up to match the culture, my hair (when I had it) was various colors and various styles. My friends and I would enter the club fashionably late and immediately start dancing and mingling with the other regulars there.

One of the things I always noticed was that often times, there were interlopers, generally men over 30 years old... dressed noticeably incongruous. My friends and I, in our early to mid 20's would snicker and laugh at those "old guys"... we would make snide remarks about how they didn't fit in, how they were ogling our female friends. This was not a rare occurrence in the clubs, there was always someone there who just didn't belong there, who didn't fit in and we would always talk shit about them.

Now that I'm in my mid 30's, far from the "scene" in San Francisco, I've kept up to date with the music. I still listen to Internet radio stations like Digital Gunfire, Tormented Radio or The Ungodly Hour. They have the best selection of industrial, EBM, Future Pop and Darkwave music on the web. At times, I've even entertained the thought that it might be fun to visit some of the industrial clubs in the Raleigh/ Chapel Hill area... then it hits me. I'd be that "old guy". Even though I've been listening to the music since most of them were in their single digits, even though I can say I've seen some of the classic bands play, even though I can listen to bands like Pride and Fall or VNV Nation and recognize some of the influences of bands like Front Line Assembly, I still wouldn't have any credibility with the clubbers. I would still be "that old guy".

(I'm done rambling now... here's the point)

Viral Marketing, like fitting into a club scene, is a tricky strategy. It can be highly successful like the SNL sketch like Lazy Sunday or Sony's craptacularly painful assault on all of our senses with "All I want for Xmas is a PSP" video. The key to any attempt to implement a viral strategy can be summarized with the following key points:

  1. Credibility
    • With any viral marketing efforts, whether they be planned viral or organic viral, there has to be credibility. The audience has to believe in the connection. One of the main reasons that the Sony PSP viral efforts (the site's been removed, only the cached text remains) failed is because it was so obviously forced. It wasn't "so bad it's good" but "so bad it's bad". It has all the subtlety of a Hawaiian shirt.
  2. Transparency
    • If the viral effort comes from the originating company, then the efforts have to be transparent. Again, looking at Sony's PSP viral failure, they tried to hide the fact that it was Zipatoni, hired by Sony to create the viral marketing effort. This pissed off a lot of gamers. It appeared that Sony was trying to dupe them, it appeared that Sony didn't think much of the intelligence of the gamers and it appeared that Sony felt it was OK to lie to them.
    • On a good example, Snakes on a Plane had a brilliant and transparent viral campaign. They had a site that would have Samuel L. Jackson call a friend's phone with a customized message "encouraging" them to watch Snakes on a Plane. It was transparent, it was free and it was funny as hell. They made it easy to transfer to your friends, they took advantage of existing VOIP technology, and they knew that if someone was already pre-disposed to see the movie, they would send this message to all their friends.
  3. Existing Brand/ Product Loyalty
    • The "existing brand/ product loyalty" principle really applies to planned viral marketing. Organic viral, like the BofA U2 "One" Merger video, doesn't really have any rules that apply to brand/ product loyalty.
    • For planned viral, like the Snakes on a Plane phone call, there has to be a propensity to consume the media. That consumption of media should influence the decision to consume the monetized product. The end goal of the Snakes on a Plane marketing was to induce people to go pay to see the movie. However, they needed strategic positive contacts with the audience, they needed reminders that they would remember, and they needed to give the audience a positive emotion when they consume the intermediate media. In this case, the Snakes on a Plane phone call was the intermediate media. Between the trailers, the commercials, the interviews and the movie release was the phone call. This intermediate media has to leave a good impression on the potential user... otherwise, the likelihood that they would consume the end product would be less likely.
  4. Applicability to Target Audience
    • This is all about understanding your audience and how they consume media. Do they visit YouTube, MySpace... do they use cell phones or MP3 players? It makes no sense to have a MySpace presence if your audience doesn't visit the site. Does it make sense to market podcasts to teenagers? While I don't have any data to back up my claim, intuitively, I would predict that teenagers are not the highest consumers of podcasts.
  5. Captivating Content
    • The content has to be interesting. Whether it's Samuel L. Jackson on the phone, or whether its an uncomfortable cringe as you watch the "suit" sing a surreal version of U2's One, the user has to consume the media and immediately want to consume it again and send it to their friends. They need to feel a connection to the media in order for it to have a viral effect. That connection could be an imagined connection to a celebrity, a repressed memory of some embarrassing moment or it could be something else. The key to captivating content is that it needs to be representative of a shared experience for the audience.
  6. Some Self-Deprecation
    • Back to Sony's PSP debacle... when the wicked bright people at Penny Arcade essentially outed Sony, with some help from the skeptics at Something Awful, again... Sony decided to show us what not to do.
    • Busted. Nailed. Snagged. As many of you have figured out (maybe our speech was a little too funky fresh???), Peter isn't a real hip-hop maven and this site was actually developed by Sony. Guess we were trying to be just a little too clever. From this point forward, we will just stick to making cool products, and use this site to give you nothing but the facts on the PSP.
    • Sony Computer Entertainment America (From The Guardian UK)
    • Even their apology (kinda) was lame and inappropriate to their consumers.
    • When planned viral marketing goes well, there's always a little bit of "tongue in cheek" fun involved. There has to be some levity and some humor. Secondly, the company has to trust the makers of the viral media. Believe me, rabid media consumers like me can see product placement, out-dated slang and other things that just don't "fit". If we can smell a rat, you've lost our trust.
Back to the dance club lessons. Like viral marketing, in order for me to communicate to that audience, I need to have each of these qualities. I don't have credibility... they've never seen me before. I don't have Transparency... since I haven't been to a club in years, I don't know the people, the fashion or the culture of the club. I don't have any existing loyalty... I don't know anyone in the scene to give me credibility. I don't have anything that would be applicable to the audience... while I would know what I like, I wouldn't know what they like, which is the basis for understanding the culture. I don't have any captivating content... I look older, I no longer fit (if I even still have them) in my cool club clothes, so anything that I would have would be obviously patched together. I wouldn't be self-deprecating... I would be the interloper in their culture. Even if I could convince them that I liked the same music... I still wouldn't be one of them, and that would be all too obvious.

When companies try to create viral marketing that doesn't understand the principles, it comes off as believable as that "old guy" in a dance club.

1 comment:

Andy said...
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