After writing yesterday’s post I spent a little time reading up on the latest developments in viral marketing.
Viral marketing is all about 'exploiting pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness, through viral processes similar to the spread of an epidemic'.
The Holy Grail of viral marketing is to achieve, that other buzz term, a ‘tipping point’ when awareness of their product breaks into the mainstream, takes on a life of its own and becomes completely self-transmitting and self-replicating.
Obviously, viral marketers don’t actually introduce real viruses into society, though they’d like to, and are probably working on some right now. No, until recently they’ve restricted themselves to coming up with 'amusing' screensavers, on-line games and other e-content that they hope people will pass onto like-minded friends within the same target demographic.
Most of that stuff is rubbish though isn’t it? Personally, whenever I get an automated email referred to me by a friend entitled 'Have you seen this?' or 'Great New Game' I trash the fucker. Life is far too short to sit there downloading tedious Shockwave flash movies and lacing my PC with cookies. Usually.
Anyway, most of this supposedly hot new marketing thinking is just the same old stuff dressed up in different trousers. Publicity stunts, product crazes and catch phrases have been with us since the year dot. Ah, the days of space hoppers, slinkies and those sweets that exploded in your mouth drawing blood in the process. What was that stuff called again? Oh yes, Space Dust.
Having said that, there are some marketing developments that do seem genuinely new. I’m particularly taken with the concept of neuromarketing which, amongst other things, involves connecting people to brain scanners and seeing which bits light up when they drink cans of Coca Cola and Pepsi. You can see where the guys doing this work are headed from a few choice quotes that tickled me…
"...researchers suspect that the inescapable influence of marketing does more than change minds. It may alter the brain."
"They seek to understand the cellular sweetness of rewards and the biology of brand consciousness. In the process, they are gleaning hints as to how our synapses might be manipulated to boost sales, generate fads or even win votes for political candidates."
"They have glimpsed how the brain assembles belief."
"They have begun to obtain the first direct glimpses of how marketing can affect the structures of the brain."
"We think there are branded brains"
Sounds like fun research and I reckon they’d make a lot more progress if they could get to work on political prisoners and other undesirable elements imprisoned in the 3rd World somewhere.
The problem for advertising people is that most of us, particularly the better educated and more media literate, react negatively to someone trying to force-sell us shit.
One of the real joys of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s and parts of the undeveloped World through to this day was marvelling at the crude advertising standards companies could get away with…
‘Increase the size of your manhood! Eat Snickers! King Size
‘Unhappy? Drink our beer!’
‘Buy our brand of cigarettes and attractive young women will want to have sex with you’
I remember sitting in a hotel room in Manila a few years ago awe-struck by the commercials on a local TV station. Two stick in the mind. The first was for a pill that would make your children grow to be as tall as Western children within a few months, featuring tape measure-wielding Europeans in lab coats, carrying out a controlled experiment on a group of Filipino school children. The second was for a brand of vaginal deodorant that portrayed a succession of virile looking young men crinkling their noses as they passed a distressed matronly 40-something woman sitting at a typewriter. In the second half of the ad, after applying said vaginal deodorant, she looked much happier surrounded by a group of half a dozen studs fighting to chat with her. My Filipino is poor but I got the impression at least one of them was saying 'Wow! You're so much more attractive now that your muff doesn't stink'.
Now, in the West, we’re far too clever to be fooled by cack like this aren’t we? Well, maybe not that clever. But we have seen it all before. The challenge to the marketers is to package their message in a format we don’t suspect and deliver it from a completely unexpected direction.
In short, they have to become even better liars.