The November issue of Fast Company highlights the work of an agency called Campfire, which has been responsible for some of the most highly touted viral campaigns of the past few years: Audi’s “The Art of the Heist” for its A3 sedan; ESPN NFL Football 2K4; and The Blair Witch Project.

As the article points out, one of the keys to great viral is the skill at which marketers can manage the curiosity gap, i.e., “the addictive pull people experience when their preconceived ideas are challenged.”  The article further points out that creating that pull isn’t easy.  “For the gap to work, though, the audience needs enough backstory and a sufficient flow of detail to keep it guessing.”

Based on what this article, there are a couple of interesting points
about what constitutes truly effective viral–and by extension, word of

  • It’s all about community.  In fact, the Campfire
    believes that it’s most effective when it creates a community where one
    didn’t exist.  For your product or service, what’s a community that’s
    thirsty for something to rally around?
  • It has to start small if it ever hopes to be big.  High focus.  Narrow targeting.  A marketer has to go deep, not wide, into one (1) segment.
  • So, know your target.  Become one of them.  What do they
    value?  What are the hallmarks of their language?  How do they see the
    world?  What’s the aesthetic?  What social customs must be followed?
    This means that marketers should be prepared to bring in fireteams of
    anthropologists or, better yet, learn how to be anthropologists.

What I find most exciting is that, done properly, viral can be the
source of the big ideas marketers clamor for.  Look at the ways that
both the Beta-7 and Audi campaigns took their respective storylines and
crossed multiple media.  Perhaps it had to do with the fact that, by
keeping the above points in mind, the marketing teams were forced to create the
level of detail that breathes real life into what would be an otherwise
static campaign.

The biggest stumbling block to getting more marketers on the viral
bandwagon may be simply that they have no history with truly out of the
box programs.  Brands are like banks: They love to look at history.
Pontiac’s Mark-Hans Richer is able to do all of these “cool” marketing
programs for a reason: He sold $21 million worth of cars in 40 minutes
when he did the Solstice integration on The Apprentice.  Not only does
that put a lot of chits in his “credibility bank”, but it enables him
to make a case inside of GM that they should do more of it.  So when he
proposes that Pontiac work with Campfire to integrate the GXP into Second Life,
he can back it up with his track record, which includes car giveaways
on Oprah and comic book integrations.  And for the CFO who still isn’t
impressed, he probably points to the media efficiencies that were
achieved, as well as the sales that resulted.

And the best part is this: These kinds of “out-of-the-box” programs
seem to be a regular part of Pontiac’s overall marketing arsenal.  When
it comes to fully embracing viral, perhaps the message to other
marketers is simple.

Get started.

Full disclosure: Mark-Hans Richer is on the board of the Promotion Marketing Association, my employer.

The full Fast Company article can be read here.

Other blogs covering this include Gareth Kay’s Brand New and Joanna Pena-Bickley’s On: Digital+Marketing.

Posted by Rob Fields