If you have yet to launch a viral marketing campaign, you might
already be too late. In the high-speed world of internet marketing,
where yesterday’s hot tools are tomorrow’s big yawn, e-mail chain
letters have almost reached critical mass.
Viral marketing often means e-mails that contain commercial messages,
created in such a way that people are motivated to forward them to
friends. There are, broadly, two kinds - messages that contain something
branded that stays on the computer (a Felix the cat icon did the rounds
last summer), or a message that directs you to a web site address.
Executed correctly, you can tap into the power of personal
Executed poorly, you risk being as irritating as a virus and alienating
your target audience.
The other problem is that consumers, particularly the clique of
net-savvy young ABC1s, are getting wise to the technique as the volume
of viral marketing increases.
Latest into the fray is Elida Faberge. Last Thursday it sent 13,000
people an e-mail with details of the Timotei Power Pod, accessed via a
link to its web site at www.timotei-naturebursts.co.uk.
Directing consumers to the site meant that its new media agency, Good
Technology, could track numbers of people logging on, and the volume who
entered the competition and downloaded the branded screensaver.
By Thursday lunchtime the fact that it took a number of minutes to
access the site reflected the deluge of interest. By Monday, the site
had scored 17,471 hits.
The goal, says Good Technology account director Louisa Moya, is either
to create something that is fun, or that contains enough of an incentive
for people to want to forward it to their friends. She hopes that three
times the number of people who were originally sent the Timotei e-mail
will ultimately see it.
The Virgin Group established itself as connoisseur of viral marketing
last year. Its e-mail campaign for Virgin Net, promising people free
tickets if they left their e-mail address on a site, has entered
internet marketing folklore. Virgin Net e-mailed 25 people offering free
In under three hours all 20,000 tickets had been taken; 34,847 people
entered through the competition URL and 62.5% opted for the regular
Realising that getting something for nothing is a fairly hot motivator
for the British public, it employed a similar technique on launching
Virgin Wines in June. An e-mail invited people to enter a competition to
win a holiday for a group on Richard Branson’s Necker Island. But there
was a catch; entrants had to nominate the group of friends they would
take if they won - and those friends then had to enter too.
This ensured that it would be in people’s interests to forward e-mails
and, most crucially, add personal messages encouraging their friends to
This, says I-level chief executive officer Charlie Dobres, is the kind
of technique that will be the signature of the successful viral
marketing campaigns of the future.
’If you are sent a message where you are at the end of a long list of
forwarded addresses, there is little motivation to open it. But if
marketers can find ways of encouraging the most recent sender to be more
involved, to personalise it, that could work.’
Dobres is, in general, sceptical about the value of most viral
campaigns. ’It’s getting to the point where the volume of them means
they’re annoying. There’s a natural shelf life to ideas like this and I
think we’re approaching the end of it. There may be room for some more
subtle approaches, but you can’t expect people to forward blatantly
branded messages on to their friends, and even if they do forward them,
where’s the value to the brand?’
But marketers are continuing to be seduced by the holy grail of personal
recommendation and the chance to get their brands into their customers’
However, most fail to crack the motivation for people forwarding
Scurrilous or abusive humour generally works, but is inevitably
difficult ground for a commercial organisation.
A chance to make your views heard also tends to strike a chord. Pressure
group Jubilee 2000 and Comic Relief’s e-mail campaigns, asking people to
e-mail Tony Blair about the debt relief issue, resulted in the prime
minister receiving 100,000 e-mails on the subject.
A genuinely good offer, such as Clinique’s current e-mail campaign
offering consumers free skin care products worth pounds 15 if they leave
their e-mail address, also attracts results. As a sampling exercise,
combined with the branding effect of a TV campaign, it is well thought
Perhaps the litmus test of whether you have created an attractive e-mail
campaign is to cast yourself in the guise of your target list. Send the
message to a few friends and see how popular it makes you.’