Viral Epidemic – No Cure?

The past few weeks I’ve heard a lot about viral marketing. The firm I’m currently working in is trying to concentrate on the digital advertising space to differentiate themselves from the pack. A good strategy, given their young, dynamic employees and a fairly good understanding of the Internet and its use as a marketing tool. However, the focus on everything viral is quite disconcerting.

Digital marketing, and viral marketing through the digital medium, is only a nascent trend in India. The current downturn has ad agencies scrambling for ideas and strategies to differentiate themselves from the pack and grab the few crubms that are being given in these times.  So in a desperate effort to stand out from the crowd, a lot of agencies have jumped into digital marketing. The success of a few high profile viral campaigns like Subservient Chicken by Burger King (, the “Best Job In The World” by the Queensland Tourism Department, and more recently the Great Driving Challenge by Mitsubishi ( have done wonders for raising the awareness of their respective brands. It has also resulted in a lot of advertisers and advertising agencies sitting up and taking notice. All are intrigued by the power of the online medium as a viral tool that can catch millions of eyeballs at very low cost (relatively).

Is viral marketing in the online space a solution to grabbing peoples’ attention for every brand? Or is this viral contagion a harmful epidemic that needs to be stopped? No doubt digital marketing and viral campaigns have the power to singlehandedly change the fortunes of a brand. The problem it has the power to change the fortunes for the better and for the worse. Mortin’s ad which got released on YouTube ( created a huge uproar from mothers. The ad, which suggested that motherhood is a pain that needs to be tolerated, created such a backlash that the brand may never recover.

This reveals an interesting problem. Although viral marketing may have a tremendous potential to do more with less, it is not well advised to jump into the viral/digital bandwagon without careful thought. This is true for both advertisers as well as agencies. Viral marketing can truly be an epidemic. Once it is started it is nearly impossible to stop, whether it works for the benefit or harm of the brand.


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One Response to “Viral Epidemic – No Cure?”

  1. claritydigital Says:

    It’s good to see a post challenging the notion of viral marketing and you raise some valid points. Brands need to avoid jumping on the bandwagon and ensure that activity is right for the audience and delivers tangible benefits for the business. I’ve commented on this aspect of viral marketing before. And your final point is well observed: done badly it can damage a brand.

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