The Perfect Storm

by Dan Woychick

Today’s forecast calls for heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. Maybe I should climb on the office roof and point a golf club to the sky.

Why attempt such foolishness? I’ll certainly get wet, but even taking extreme measures the chances of getting struck by lightning are remote. Yet marketing departments frequently appear to be pursuing a similar strategy – choreographing (sometimes literally) elaborate efforts in hopes of becoming the next internet sensation.

Is it contagious?
By now everyone has probably heard of or enjoyed a campaign or video that produced a groundswell of publicity. The Blair Witch Project, fueled by a promotional campaign that blurred fiction and reality, was a viral marketing phenomenon. Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald, in a series of online trades, successfully bartered his way from one red paperclip to a house. And Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, attracted widespread acclaim for his star turn in the school’s lighthearted video parody.

Manufacturing buzz
Understandably, marketers dream of capturing the attention of ad-saturated consumers and generating free media coverage. But there’s no formula that can be taken from these examples and consistently applied to duplicate their success. When asked how his project received so much publicity, MacDonald replied: “I have no idea.”

In fact, gaining traction is harder than ever with the explosion of content available online. And consumers are savvy enough to sniff out – and savage – a contrived attempt to win their affection. The best advice is to consistently give people something of value that is true to your brand.

Happy accidents
Don’t get me wrong. Trying new ideas, even non-traditional ones, increases your chances of being in the right place at the right time. Be happy if one of your ideas is wildly successful, just don’t gamble all your hopes, or your annual budget, on a fleeting chance. Because if your goal is to capture lightning in a bottle – to “go viral” – you’re not marketing, you’re just playing the lottery.

Related Content:

Through Non-profit Eyes: Christian Haas (The More Donors Blog)

Down the Rabbit Hole: Meet the Puppet Masters of Viral Marketing (Fast Company)

What I Learned from YouTube (Chronicle of Higher Education)

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