Highprofile viral buzz and word of mouth marketing campaigns

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1. Hotmail (1996): The campaign that put viral marketing on the map and that helped Hotmail become the leading personal web-based email service provider. Deceptively simple, the campaign involved turning users of the service into brand advocates, by appending all outgoing emails with a small 'P.S.' message as if it was from the sender: 'Get your free email at Hotmail'. By therefore turning Hotmail users into a promotional sales force, the email service recruited 12 million subscribers in 18 months with a marketing budget of only $500 000.18

2. Unilever Dove 'Share a Secret' (1998): One of the first examples of a viral sampling initiative, this campaign turned loyal users of Dove soap into active brand advocates by enabling them to order free Dove samples for their friends. An advertisement invited Dove users to mail in the name and address of a friend with whom they would like to share the Dove secret. The friend would then receive a Dove gift certificate in the post entitling them to a free Dove pack of soap and discount vouchers. By supplying their own name and address, participants in the promotion would also receive a Dove certificate themselves. 90% of people who participated in the offer supplied the contact details of a friend, some 80% higher than Unilever had expected, and during the promotion Dove's market share rose 10%.19

3. The Blair Witch Project website (1999): The first high-profile online campaign that combined advertising with entertainment (aka advertainment) and that was used to successfully promote the word of mouth hit movie. Costing only US$15 000 to produce, the Blair Witch Project website used mystery and intrigue to stimulate word of mouth anticipation for the movie. The site attracted 75 million visits on the first week of the film's release.20

4. Virgin.net 'viral email' (2000): Popular viral email promotion that demonstrated the speed of viral marketing. In just three hours, the UK ISP (Internet Service Provider) signed up 20 000 people to its marketing database after sending out an email offer to only 25 people and asking them to forward it to a friend. By offering recipients and those to whom they forwarded the email a compelling incentive for signing up - free cinema tickets - the email spread like an epidemic, swiftly creating a CRM (customer relationship management) database.21

5. Agent Provocateur 'Proof (2001): The most popular online viral campaign to date - that happened by accident and happenstance rather than by design. A sexy cinema advertisement for the lingerie brand, featuring an orgasmic Kylie Minogue, was posted online. It was then copied, downloaded, or forwarded an estimated 100 million times. The risqué viral clip, called 'Proof', massively increased awareness for the small luxury boutique brand, putting Agent Provocateur onto conversational agendas around the globe.22

6. Hasbro POX 'Alpha Pups' (2001): A high-profile experiment in viral seeding designed to ignite word of mouth for the toy manufacturer's new portable game console 'POX'. Notable for the ingenious solution employed to identify opinion-leading boys aged 8-13 (aka 'Alpha Pups'). Hasbro sent market researchers to city playgrounds, skate parks and video arcades to ask a simple question: 'Who's the coolest kid you know?'When they got a name, the researchers went in search of this cool kid to ask him the same question, to climb the local hierarchy of kid-cool until someone finally answered 'Me!'Alpha Pups, once identified, were invited to trial the game, in return for which they would be given 10 new pre-release POX units to share with friends - to kick-start word of mouth. The innovative seeding campaign created media buzz, getting reported in the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review. It has also been included as a case study in the latest edition of the marketing classic The Diffusion of Innovations.23

7. Procter & Gamble 'Tremor' (2001-ongoing): The most comprehensive and extensive seed marketing initiative to date: a national US sampling panel of over 250 000 teen opinion leaders used to optimize product launches. Using 'get it first' sampling (pre-launch freebies), 'inside scoops' (buzzworthy information) and 'VIP votes' (market research) to turn opinion leaders into word of mouth advocates, Tremor seeding trials have been able to produce sales uplifts of up to 30% for P&G's new products and those of its partners - including Coca-Cola, Sony and Toyota. In 2005, Procter & Gamble launched 'Tremor Moms', a second launch optimization seeding panel of 500 000 young mothers.24

8. Sony Ericsson T68i 'Fake Tourists' (2002): The ingenious, if controversial, live buzz campaign to kick-start word of mouth for their new T68i camera phone. The campaign involved hiring teams of undercover buzz agents to pose as tourists in ten US cities.Their mission: to go up to people in the street, hand them the phone and say 'Excuse me, would you mind taking a picture of us?'With the photo taken, the buzz agents would start a conversation 'Thanks a lot, man. It's cool, right?' - then proceed to talk up the new phone. Branded variously as stealth marketing, covert marketing, or undercover marketing, no data on the success of this live buzz campaign has been published, but awareness of the phone was certainly augmented by the extensive media coverage of the innovative, if controversial, campaign.25

9. adidas 'Fevercards' (2002): Popular brand advocacy campaign designed to help adidas brand fans evangelize about their favourite brand. The campaign involved offering sets of free personal contact cards to visitors to its website, featuring adidas brand artwork on one side and customized with personal contact details on the other. Ordered and personalized online, printed using on-demand digital printed technology then sent out by postal mail, one million adidas 'Fevercards' were ordered in 46 days and sent out to fans in 180 countries. Follow-up research showed that 78% of Fevercards sent out were handed out to friends, stimulating brand conversations 65% of the time.This brand advocacy campaign also enabled adidas to generate a high-quality CRM database of 50 000 adidas brand advocates.26

10. Burger King 'Subservient Chicken' (2004): Highly successful and hilarious online branded game (aka 'advergame) to promote awareness for Burger King's new chicken sandwich. The game involved directing the actions of a man dressed up as a chicken in underwear through what appeared to be a webcam window. Through online word of mouth ('word of mouse'), the game clocked up 286 million visits, creating double digit growth of awareness for Burger King's chicken sandwich.27

11. Nike 'Armstrong Bands' (2004): High-profile cause marketing campaign to enhance the word of mouth appeal of the Nike brand. In a joint venture with Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer research and education, Nike began selling US$1 yellow rubber wristbands for the Foundation in May 2004. The bands were engraved with the words 'Live Strong' - the mantra of Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor and seven-time winner of the Tour de France. With no marketing promotion, demand for the bands spread uniquely by word of mouth: in just six months, 20 million bands had been sold in the US and more than 60 other countries worldwide, with proceeds going to charity. (By spring 2005 that number had doubled to 40 million). In 2005, Nike - continuing its brand-enhancing good corporate citizenship drive - followed up with a second word of mouth cause campaign called 'Stand Up, Speak Up', selling interlinked black and white wristbands to promote an anti-racism message.28

12. General Motors 'Fastlane Blog' (2004): One of the first highprofile business blog campaigns to stimulate online word of mouth. The campaign involved getting senior executives from the car manufacturer to publish online diaries of their personal thoughts, opinions and predictions relevant to their industry. Written in a candid, informal and honest fashion, the business blog avoided gimmicks, marketing speak, or sales talk and enabled readers to comment and engage the diarists in dialogue, attracting a large daily readership.29

13. General Motors 'Oprah's Great Pontiac Giveaway' (2004): Much-cited buzz stunt to get General Motors' new Pontiac G6 car onto conversational agendas.The event involved giving away a new Pontiac G6 to each member of a live audience of the popular US Oprah Winfrey television talk show. The 276-car giveaway cost an alleged US$7 million, and certainly succeeded in getting people and the media talking, chalking up 624 news reports, including the cover of People Magazine, and driving half a million people to the Pontiac website.30 The campaign was also noteworthy because it later was the subject of negative buzz - as a campaign that sold itself rather than the car it was supposed to sell, and because the recipients of the free car had each received a nasty surprise in the form of a $7000 tax bill.31

14. Microsoft Xbox Halo 2 'ilovebees' (2004): The first promotional ARG' (Alternate Reality Game) to create mainstream buzz. An ARG is a cross-media game that blurs the distinction between fiction and reality using fake websites, real-world puzzles, telephone messages and cryptic clues in the media to create intrigue and excitement. The promotional ARG for the new Microsoft Xbox console game Halo 2 began with an enigmatic reference to a website, www.ilovebees.com, in a pre-launch advertisement for Halo 2. Those curious enough to investigate found only an amateurish website of a bee lover in California - but that would then become unstable and start spewing strange messages, including GPS coordinates of public telephone boxes across the US. If they visited the telephone boxes, participants would receive a message and become drawn into an alternate reality where they would become players in the creation and distribution of a sinister and mysterious plot related to the forthcoming game.Through word of mouth, the 'ilovebees'ARG attracted over a million visitors prior to the release of Halo 2, created scores of active online communities, was picked up and widely reported in the mainstream mass media, and introduced the motto of ARG gamers,'TINAG', into popular language (This Is Not A Game).32

15. Orange 'Orange Wednesdays' (2004): One of the first highprofile viral mobile campaigns - used to generate loyalty, capture customer data and acquire new customers for Orange, the UK mobile telephone network. The 'Orange Wednesdays' promotion, set to run for three years, enables Orange customers to invite a friend for free to any cinema in the UK every Wednesday using vouchers delivered directly to their handsets. The Orange customer simply sends an SMS message to Orange in order to be sent an immediate SMS reply with a buy-one-get-one-free voucher redeemable at over 80% of UK cinemas. If the friend then signs up with Orange, they too can invite a friend for free every Wednesday. Although the promotion doesn't use a viral 'forward a friend' SMS voucher, its virality lies in the fact that it transforms existing customers into promotional agents for the mobile network - by giving them promotional offers to share with friends. Based on 'pull' rather than 'push' technology (people request the mobile voucher, rather than receiving uninvited advertising from the provider or friends), Orange Wednesdays represents a new breed of viral marketing that uses mobile handsets to connect with customers and stimulate word of mouth advocacy.33

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