We This time of year is seems that all the marketing mavens want to talk about are this year’s batch of Super Bowl commercials. The oxygen is being sucked out of the room at a rate of over $7.5 million per minute. Mercedes Benz, Pepsi, Budweiser, Axe deodorant, Best Buy, Chrysler, and Century 21 real estate are among the advertisers this year ponying up the stratospheric fees hoping that their spot will capture the imagination of a world-wide audience. Why are these companies willing to spend millions on producing and placing their 30-second spots? Simple. The viral effect that can accompany a strong Super Bowl commercial can attract an audience that far exceeds the measly 100 million or so viewers during the game itself. A well executed strategy can mean that a brand’s commercial will be seen by millions more online, that news media will provide free coverage for their product, and that the spot will be discussed endlessly around water coolers the world over. When you add up all of that potential exposure, all of a sudden that $4 or $5 million a brand spends on producing a great spot and airing it between tackles seems pretty reasonable.
Now, to a small business or startup the idea of spending $4 million dollars on any one marketing tactic is nothing short of laughable. But this doesn’t mean that those of us who simply watch the ads (in between running payroll, answering emails, or responding to customer service requests) can’t stand to learn a few things from the big boys. At it’s most basic, the Super Bowl ad strategy is a simple word-of-mouth play: put something out there that will get people’s attention and get them talking to their friends and family. While we may not be able to afford that multi-million dollar megaphone that is the Super Bowl broadcast, there is no reason why an effective viral effort can’t work for even the smallest of businesses, at a scale that is appropriate. Here are 5 elements common to the best viral marketing efforts; the most successful of the 2013 Super Bowl spots will no doubt leverage all or some of these:
Spot a trend. Opportunity exists when you can identify an activity that lots of people are already engaged in. In the 1990s LOTS of people were buying and using video camcorders to shoot home movies, travelogues, and short documentaries, The insightful producers of The Blair Witch Project realized that they could leverage the ubiquity of these cameras to tell a scary story disguised as a low-budget student documentary, shot with all of the bad exposure and shaky hand-held look common to amateur auteurs the world over. The result was one of the least expensive marketing campaigns ever and one of the most profitable movies of all time.
Keep it simple. Your messaging should be clean and your tactic easy to execute. To get people talking, you first need them to see your message and then make it simple to share. For instance, when Tourism Queensland wanted to promote their little piece of the world to visitors, they landed on a brilliant idea: create a job that people would want and then get people talking about it. Not just any job, mind you, but what might have been the world’s greatest job: tour the Great Barrier Reef for 6 months and blog about it as you go. The salary for the temporary stint was $150,000 and the lucky hire ended up staying at some of the most luxurious hotels and resorts Australia has to offer. Not a bad gig, and a very nice return on organization’s investment.
Inspire your audience. People want to be better and do better. Some of the most successful viral campaigns have leveraged this knowledge to get audiences talking and to spread the word. Where in the Hell is Matt is a great example of an internet video campaign that inspired viewers by communicating how much we have in common with one another no matter where we live or the culture in which we were raised.
Encourage copycats. Some of the best viral efforts on the web have been those that motivated viewers to try it for themselves. The Diet Coke and Mentos partnership was imitated literally thousands of times and YouTube is strewn with empty plastic bottles and puddles of sticky brown fluid because when viewers saw what fun could be had, they simply had to try it out themselves. The result was a magnifying effect that money could never buy and skyrocketing brand awareness for a chalky-flavored second-tier hard candy.
Leverage what you have. Every organization has assets that can be leveraged to great effect but we often don’t think of these as a marketing lever. Hotmail began as a tiny startup but had a great insight: if they simply inserted a small, fairly subtle advertisement into every email that each of their small community of users went, they could magnify the effect at a cost of $0. In the first year that they began to add “Sent by Hotmail” to the bottom of every email, their user base expanded from 500,000 to 12,000,000!
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