A viral marketing campaign can make or break a brand. It can increase a company's cred, but it has to be something special to have an impact.

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It’s a marketing exec’s dream come true. A campaign that doesn’t cost the earth, and has the potential to reach a massive audience. But designing for viral marketing is more than just raising a cheap laugh with a funny image or a time-wasting game. 
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The phenomenon of viral marketing uses the Internet to spread a commercial message, increase brand awareness or capture data for further marketing activities. It could be seen as the commercial world hijacking a genuine grassroots movement, but those involved don’t feel threatened.
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“Viral marketing and mainstream advertising are fighting to be heard over ‘true viral’,” claims Ben Wheatley, founder of the mrandmrswheatley site. “The Internet culture is vibrant and creative, and leads other media by the nose. The traffic to sites such albinoblacksheep.com, rathergood.com and B3ta.com should terrify online marketers. There’s nothing out there to touch them.”
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Virals hop digitally from peer to peer, growing exponentially. It could be sent as a <BR>
link or as a Flash email – a slick video ad, or a freakishly altered JPEG, or just a text message sent over the Web or SMS networks.
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“It’s often just creatives having fun,” says Ciaran Deering, managing director of Tribal DDB in London. “If creatives have come up with an idea that’s too risqué for TV, viral presents an opportunity to use it rather than throw it in the bin. A lot of it used to happen by mistake, but now you’ve got creative teams sitting down with a brief to come up with a viral ad. For the first time in the past year or so, you’re getting the very big advertisers moving in and realizing that you can reach an awful lot of people at a very low cost.”
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“Viral marketing essentially covers any commercial communication whose message is spread by ‘word of mouse’,” says Andrew Brown, creative director of Swamp, a UK-based digital marketing agency. 
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“In other words, anything that one Internet user passes to another of their own free will. It could be considered the holy grail of marketing in so much as, in theory, there is little or no advertising spend.”
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“Basically something becomes viral if it’s topical, if it causes debate,” says Will Jeffery, producer at production company Maverick Media. “The idea with our Smooth Parking Mazda ad is that you want to raise a comment based on the question ‘can women park or can they not park?’ That’s enough to stimulate a conversation with people, to cause them to pass it on.”
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Mike Hawkyard, new business director at Bournemouth-based agency 4T2, feels the goal is to make your audience form an emotional attachment with a campaign through humour, personalization, and interactivity. “The aim is to provide an experience that is sufficiently engaging that the initial ‘seed’ audience will want to tell their friends about it,” says Hawkyard. “This personal recommendation cuts through the clutter of mass-marketing, ensuring it gets the recipient’s attention.”
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<b>Hit and hope</b>
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4. Establish the brand parameters with the client and explain the risks and opportunities of viral marketing. For conservative brands a badly executed or poor taste viral can do more harm than good even if you do get the numbers. A better strategy than treading the bad taste line can be promoting safer viral content through advertising on targeted media sites to ensure the viral does not have to rely on notoriety to get user numbers.

5. What brand collateral do you have to work with? Many recent virals are part of integrated multimedia campaigns. Is there an ad campaign launching that can be adapted to viral marketing? An example is Reebok's Terry Tate Office Linebacker.

6. Hold a brainstorm and don’t be afraid to think laterally. Like all marketing, all good virals start with a great idea.

7. Test the concept before you launch it. Have you overstepped the mark, or is it too conservative? Would you pass it on?

8. Release it to the world. Use existing databases, push it on viral sites and consider using some advertising, if the budget allows, to provide the initial impetus.

With thanks to Chris Colby, Netcoms Consultant, Hill & Knowlton (UK) Ltd




Agency: Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R / Rushes Post Production

Virgin Mobile Wristband & Better Service

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Rushes put a professional sheen on a viral ad for Virgin Mobile in a campaign by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R. The 60-second spot reminds the summer

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The ad shows someone going to great lengths to get his wristband back and stars one of the runners at Rushes, Murray Thoms.
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The cans are supported by print ads featuring the message: “The only legal performance enhancing drug at this year’s Games”, alongside an image of the Hero Breath can and a tagline that says: “Genuine Hero Breath from Onitsuka Tiger”. 
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The Hero Breath cans were sent to people who influence what’s cool in the sneaker world across Europe, plus leading sneaker stores across Europe, and fashion and lifestyle media.
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The other is www.tokyo64. com – an Onitsuka Tiger brand site that features secret footage of Japanese Olympiad, Yukio Endo, having his heroic breath captured.

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“Onitsuka Tiger is a challenger brand in a market dominated by multi-million dollar sports marketing," said Mark Chalmers, creative director of StrawberryFrog. "We

The Hero Breath cans are a handheld advertisement while the online work reflects the story of the short film. All executions hold masses of water cooler talkability yet tap into the Japanese heritage of the brand, while demonstrating the product benefits in a memorable way."


Agency: Mook

Bravo The World’s Deadliest Gangs

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Bravo needed an online campaign to promote The World

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Mook wanted to do something controversial and thought provoking that would go viral. So an underground live video Web-chat with an LA Gangster called Pirate was set up and a provocative, eye-catching banner campaign was used to drive people to the site. In reality, Pirate was an actor captured on video, and the

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As a result over 20,000 people hit the site during the three-week campaign, with a quarter of all traffic driven by peer recommendation. Mook improved the quality and volume of data capture for Bravo and significantly reduced the cost per acquisition.
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<h2>Case study: Trojan Condoms</h2>
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The Viral Factory was able to get a 7,000-seater stadium in Bucharest and shut it down for a few days and found a 50-strong crew, complete with cranes and dollys. “It was a big production because it needed to be, but generally they’re a lot smaller, with 15 to 20 crew,” explains Smith. 
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<b>Seeding</b>
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If you're on the promotion trail, you need a really good promotion, something that makes it worthwhile.

Jez Jowett, head of new media at Cake

Ensure that it creatively stands out before you release it.

Make sure that there is an incentive for people to pass it on. Then, seed it with early adoptors, PR it with key news, entertainment, lifestyle, and viral sites, and promote it with key partner sites as feature content for their users.

Dave Smith, director at New Media Maze

Go with the idea that is edgiest. A lot of virals start out as amazing ideas and get watered down as client legal teams pour over them.

Spend some money making it work well, plan ahead to ensure you've got time to make it perfect, and then spend some money actually launching it. Don’t treat viral as a cheap option.

Mark Chalmers, creative director and partner at strawberryfrog

Be simple, be topical, and be original. Have a media plan that achieves your goal.

Never rely on a campaign taking off. There are no guarantees. If you let your client down this time why should they believe you next time?

Amy Lennox, head of online, Manning Gottlieb OMD

Be realistic: ask yourself honestly, would you pass that message on?

Be opportunist: You need to be nimble, reacting to stories or rumours quickly – you need to capture the zeitgeist. You need to be funny and sensationalist.

Andrew Brown, creative director, Swamp Media

The really successful virals tap into the zeitgeist. It's the idea that counts.

Have a really good idea and concentrate on how it's seeded – you’re unlikely to spread something around the globe by sending it to all your mates and asking them to pass it on, regardless of what you may have heard about six degrees of separation.

Tim Gibbon, account director, Elemental PR

If the campaign will be of interest to a group of people then it holds the potential to be transmitted virally. If the concept is new, original, fun and well thought out it can create its own viral momentum.

If MPEGS are a must, it will seed and spread better if there's a microsite supporting it for people to download or view it – some email systems block attachments.

Emma McLachlan, account director, Digital Outlook

Use sex and humour! It is the quirky things that work and different takes on the blindingly obvious.

People must relate to the humour you are trying to get across.