Viral marketing is nothing new

August 19, 2008 10:14:32 PM PDT
Billboards in New York City subways have recently advertised a pill that can turn any Pete, Jane or Bob into high-profile rapper Kanye West.

The odd ad isn't from a pharmaceutical company. Absolut vodka, without identifying itself or its product, is using it to draw people to a Web site -- bekanyenow.com -- where its pitch is more direct.

So-called viral ads like Absolut's campaign have been around for years and routinely appear on YouTube and social-networking sites. Forrester Research estimates interactive advertising, which includes viral ads, was worth $20 billion in the U.S. this year -- an amount expected to triple by 2012.

But the strategy could backfire, according to Allen Adamson, author of the recently published book "Brand Digital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World."

"It could get people talking, but you also have to be careful -- people may be too busy or don't want to work that hard to figure out what the heck it's about," said Adamson, who is managing director at brand consulting firm Landor Associates. "With this, people may not connect the ad to the brand at all, and you may end up shooting yourself in the foot."

Companies are increasingly looking toward the Internet and digital technology to draw attention to their brand, he said. "The digital world has magnified what is true about building great brands -- understanding the customer's mind and engaging consumers," Adamson said. "People are much more willing to tell you things online that they wouldn't in person, like what kind of toothpaste they use. They're more than happy to tell you their deepest, darkest secrets."


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