If you ever asked a marketing agency to offer you some wonderful way of promoting your brand, Ninja Cat bets her $5 that they offered you something “viral”, be it video, game or other activity.
Viral videos, games or even photos are specific interactive phenomenas (or memes) that quickly spread through Internet by people sharing and recommending the viral object to others.
No one really knows when viral marketing started, but a safe guess would be that for the Internet, it was the begining of the century, when the infamous “Blair Witch” Project interactive promotions helped the producers score some extra points in the box office.
And for years the Internet viral mechanism worked well and more and more companies tried to tap into its power. But over the years a lot of things have changed, and the pace of changes is greater than ever. That’s why Ninja Cat thinks many marketers have not noticed that viral is dying. And telling clients that it’s a cheap and effective way to gain brand awareness is a fat lie (or simply ignorant wishful thinking).
Let Ninja Cat explain her point of view. And for this she will take you on a time trip to early 2007.
Meet Accountant Ninja Cat.
He is just a typical Accountant Ninja Cat, spending his days watching TV, reading porn mags, and occasionally chatting on msn. Accounting Cat regularly checks his e-mail, and knows e-mail addresses of his closest friends. He once send an e-card too.
Occasionally our Accountant Cat would receive e-mails or links from his friends to check a funny video or photo.
Now lets return to Ninja Cat nowadays. He spends most time on Facebook, when he is bored he will check out Digg and watch random videos on YouTube.
So what has changed?
1. No more are viral items distributed by personal recommendation of a link, made directly to friends and family. More often links are put on social networking sites for others “to check”. This is followed by popularity of viral aggregation sites, like digg, redit, leenks, etc.
2. We spend much more time on-line, hence consume more items. As much as just few years ago the trick was to make a person watch a video, now it’s more about being in the group of videos being watched. Barack Obama gathered a 6 million audience on YouTube, and we were all amazed by the number. A year later Susan Boyle got 37 million people watch her video within weeks. Was she more popular, or is it the Internet audience that is expanding?
If you don’t believe Ninja Cat, that the Internet is swelling, take a look at social platforms that grow, grow and keep growing out of control. View the average numbers of YouTube videos being watched – you will be amazed how many make it to a couple of milions in few weeks. Check out how many celebs have milions of followers on Twitter.
And it’s not just numbers – it’s real people consuming real Internet products.
3. The demand for quality of viral items has increased considerably over the months. Few years back a candid video of a woman falling on her ass, or a fat kid playing Jedi was enough to get a fair share of attention, whoever wants their piece of the viral attention cake, has to put in a lot of time, effort and money, to produce brow-raising stunts and still walk away with just a couple of million views.
As audience, Ninja Cat feels, people get more sophisticated and numb when it comes to intentional brand promotion. We still enjoy random silliness (especially kittens) or a fresh ideas, but it is not that easy to be perceived as worthy of sharing. And, even if a video or a link gets “shared”, it usually happens in a form of a shout-out on many of social networks we use; lacking personal recommendation; only rarely will we send the link directly though Instant Messengers, or via e-mail.
That is why Ninja Cat finds viral a dying breed – or rather a phenomena that used to be special, and now is no different that a typical ad in TV, fighting with the natural instinct of the viewers to switch channels. Thats why Ninja Cat strongly advises companies and small businesses not to believe that they can “go viral”. If that happens – then great! But like with miracles, it’s ok to believe in them, but never rely on them.