Calling bullshit on "viral". Finally.

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A post dear to my heart from Go Big:

Reminds me of this one.

Every time I hear someone use the term “viral marketing,” I cringe. I know it seems like just a word, but I think it’s a concept that misses the mark and perpetuates some half-baked thinking.

I hated the word “viral” the very first time I heard it in the mid 1990s, probably because it made Marketing sound like we were spreading a disease other people had no choice but to spread, too. At the time, the whole “viral marketing” thing got people excited because it used the Internet to cheaply spread crap like Burger King videos or Hotmail invitations. Dance monkeys, dance.

Now that we’ve all been bombarded on the internet, the notion of something being viral is no more special than any other idea or phrase that catches on. That’s just part of Marketing’s job. For over a decade now, Advertising Agencies all over the country have some sort of “Viral Marketing” as part of their plan to try to get us to ask their version of the Subservient Chicken to do something obscene and then laugh about it. We all get a bajillion invitations to try products and there’s an asston of bite-sized digital entertainment gimmicks you can sneeze all over your friends. No question, you can get the word out quickly but spreading your message is a small part of the picture.

I remember sitting in a Jive meeting when someone mentioned viral marketing and then in the very next meeting engineers were talking about the importance of product adoption. The word “adoption” struck me. Why is spreading Marketing a disease but spreading product usage like bringing in a stray dog? Shouldn’t we be pushing for Adoptive Marketing? Marketing that people want, that leads to products people want? Viral Marketing is merely the quick transaction of ideas. But if no connection is made to the product, the Marketing can (at best) only make an ephemeral nick in brand perception. Adoptive Marketing can be just as “viral” but is so closely connected to the product that if the idea catches on, so does the product. In fact, the product is built to be remarkable and to be the primary Marketing engine. For people to spread Adoptive Marketing it means that within the product and the Marketing they:

- Discover recurring personal significance
- Control their own participation
- Believe it improves their situation

People adopt things they have an emotional connection to. They like it and/or it helps them. Adoptive Marketing is dependent on the product. Ask any Marketer who has the best Marketing and the first company they think of is Apple. But Apple’s ads only work because their product and retail experience backs up the Marketing. Apple practices Adoptive Marketing. The Marketing is the product. The product is the Marketing. You want to talk about the iPhone. You want to use the iPhone. You want to watch the Ads. It’s a social object. You care. You choose. It improves your situation. It’s feels unique, even if it’s not. When you’re successful with Adoptive Marketing you’ve earned the right to be an Organic Meme. Screw being viral.

The problem is most products suck. If your baby’s ugly, go market something you believe in. Or it’s time to sit down with the product and service group and have a heart-to-heart. Yes, I’m sure it’s not that easy but we can’t fix it for you. Perhaps you can think around your product to create a social-cause initiative that makes people love your ice cream, batteries or dryer sheets. No amount of dancing babies or viral videos will cover up the fact your product is boring.

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