idsgn (a design blog)

Manufacturing a virus

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July 30 2009

Illustration by Simon Oxley

With the growing popularity of ‘viral’ videos on the web, leading brands are racing to create the next big thing. When it works, it can be a rewarding (and often budget-friendly) way to create buzz—but can success be bought?

Using social media, advertisers are able to captivate and communicate with audiences like never before. Advertisements featuring roller skating babiesnude flight attendants, dancing eyebrows, and rouge fonts are being watched by the millions right now, voluntarily and without the cost of TV airtime. These spots are so compelling that people actually want to watch them, and even share them with their friends—taking off and spreading like, well, a virus.

Buying faux-buzz

But what if your campaign doesn't spread naturally? That's where ‘seeding’ companies like Feed Company, GoViral, and The Viral Factory come in. Working with advertisers to spread the word (and in some cases, creating the content), it's their job to make the spot go viral despite the odds—posting on forums, social networks, and blogs—with a budget that provides cash to website owners and bloggers (bribes?) for their influence.

idsgn was made aware of this practice a few days ago when we were contacted by an individual who claimed to represent a new campaign by The Viral Factory. We were asked how much we'd charge to write a post about the campaign, promoting Olympus cameras. The spot was actually quite well done and we might have written about it had we came across it in a different fashion, but accepting money to disguise advertisements as genuine articles is not something we are interested in. To us the video has a somewhat tainted quality after this process, but for curious readers, you can see it here(I guess we did write about it after all, you win!)

We certainly aren't opposed to selling ad space on blogs (especially when done tastefully), and we love writing about advertising campaigns that are newsworthy or interesting. It's when those lines are blurred that it becomes misleading to readers.

So, what's an aspiring campaign to do?

Focus on the content. Instead of paying people to talk, how about producing brilliant work that gets people to talk? A recent article Fast Company explains, “Viral doesn't have to be a crazy YouTube video—Here's our CEO on nitrous! Start thinking about emotion, public service, and triggers. We didn't say it'd be easy; in fact, it might require you to rethink the way you do business.”

If it's truly innovative, people will interact and the message will spread—in true viral form.

Filed under: advertising

By Skylar Challand