In his blog post Where's the Beef?, Marc Hausman gives some suggestions on how a company can successfully execute viral marketing. While I agree with most of his concepts, his first one irked me. "Embrace humor," he advises. I strongly disagree with this.
What's the quote? "Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"? Well, humor is the goblin of lazy marketers. For years now marketers have thrown funny at the wall and hoped it would stick. Well funny marketing videos feel old to me. I think good viral marketing is engaging. For the Dark Knight film opening in July, Warner Bros. has executed a full viral marketing scheme centered around the Joker. The psychopathic clown sends fans on scavenger hunts or makes them play puzzles online. The reward is fictional newspaper pages from Gotham, new teaser posters, or even an early glimpse at a new trailer. This strategy engages fans, puts them in a world, and doesn't use trite humor.
Last week the groundbreaking video game Grand Theft Auto 4 was released. It takes place in a fictionalized New York City called Liberty City. In the months leading up to the release, all across NYC small wanted posters for the criminal main character Niko or other supporting characters were posted on traffic light and telephone poles. These posters effectively teased the game in a compelling manner — fans were stoked to see the game world of Liberty City made more real and those who did not know of the game were curious and sought answers from more savvy friends.
Viral marketing should be more than a funny video on YouTube. That concept is years old — just look at this archival blog entry from yours truly. I completely agree with Hausman's assertion that companies should keep trying viral campaigns, that even if one out of ten succeed then that is an achievement. But marketers must go beyond trying different levels of humor and should try to truly mix things up. People need substance and not just lighthearted fare.