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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Clarification of "viral"

Since the Utah Flash fiasco continues to get as much media attention as a Tiger Woods family crisis, I thought I'd take a little more time on the concept of viral and the natural spread of word of mouth.

In a blog post apology, Brandt Anderson states,
"off the court we are going to embrace the fact we are a minor league team, and therefore do crazy fun promotion in the hope to get people talking about the team... If you were offended by the stunt I sincerely apologize. Good or bad I hope it got you talking."
In a statement to ESPN, he further stated:
"We wanted to test the strength and effectiveness of viral media by putting him (the impersonator) out in Provo with bodyguards, and some hype," he said. "I always assumed it would be uncovered very quickly that it was a hoax. I'm tremendously sorry for the way it came off. It was never intended to play out the way that it did"
The assumption in this entire situation was that viral=good. They believed that getting people talking about the team would be good, even if it was talking about a hoax.

How about we ask Motrin how awesome having an ad go "viral" can be? The "Motrin Moms" debacle caused a lot of pain for the company, and certainly did not leave a good taste in anyone's mouth.

How about Mel Gibson's famous rant? The video of his drunken rant went viral, and how has that worked for his career?

There is bad publicity. You don't want it for your business. If the general consensus of your target market is that you have done something wrong, then you have done something wrong. This is not a shock-factor marketing tactic like heavy-metal artists use to excite their target audience. When Marilyn Manson pisses off the Christian Coalition he is not trying to sell albums to them, he is selling albums to those who want to rebel against the moral majority.

A good viral campaign is when people are sharing their positive experience with others. A funny ad shown on TV or online that appeals enough to make people want to share it. A new product launched which finds evangelists telling everyone how much they love it. Viral is not planning a hoax or asking people to talk about something. That is fraud.

Motrin did not mean to upset thousands of mommy-bloggers. They stumbled accidentally into a bad situation. The Flash created this bad situation for themselves. Perhaps they hadn't considered the backlash, but it could have been easily avoided, and should have.

So what now? Continue to reach out the olive-branch to the public, apologize profusely, and mean it. Do not tangle at all with anything that could fuel the fire. Brandt Anderson has been openly accepting comments on his blog, and has addressed some of the concerns. Some of the comments may need to be moderated, and it's not the ones you may be thinking. It sometimes is better to delete those "defender" posts, the people who are supporting Anderson and calling the negative commenters idiots. Whether they are or not (and I am certainly not making the accusation) the public will believe these are shill comments from those involved with the organization.

Never, never, never, never post fake comments or reviews to attack criticism and bad publicity! Commenters who are taking your side are often more damaging than saying nothing at all. Once people suspect a shill there is very little that any official word from the organization can fix.

Stay classy, listen to your customers, and learn from your mistakes. Bad publicity is a virus, not a happy viral campaign.

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