Viral Advertising

Gone Viral

I had cause to strike up a conversation last week with my son and his wife about viral advertising.

Viral advertising is brand and product advertising cleverly disguised as entertainment. If successful, it is propagated (at no cost to the creator) via social media platforms by often unsuspecting individuals, that is, by people who don’t realise that by sharing the content, they have effectively become the advertising medium.

Below is an example by Coca Cola (and yes, it pains me to share it, even to demonstrate my point … aaaarrgh!). It’s a 2 minute video.

In our conversation, I expressed my reaction when someone sends me such a link. I might look at it but once I realise it’s viral advertising, I stop and delete it. I very rarely, almost NEVER pass it on or share it.

They were really surprised as they felt it quite natural to share something funny or clever regardless that it was promoting a brand. They felt they might even want to support and promote a brand they liked. I listened openly as I always do, trying to understand and appreciate the changing values of the younger generation.

But I had cause for reflection. My concern is around the attempted invisibility of the advertising, the cloaking of consumerism as entertainment. The clever fairly seamless distribution, engaging willful actions of a public largely unaware of the impact of their actions. It makes me feel uneasy.

Is it really that harmful? Where is it leading us? Does it empower corporations to infiltrate our everyday life in ways we never imagined before? Or is it simply a mechanism to affirm the brand commitments we already hold for goods and services we want to avail ourselves of anyway?

Love to hear what you think?

5 thoughts on “Viral Advertising

  1. Interesting Sarah, that your attitude seems reflective and consistent with most Y Gen. They embrace this sort of advertising and also don’t feel fear (good on you for ‘staying young’). I think my fear/suspicion comes from awareness of the subtle conditioning that influences (propels?) my buying behaviours and therefore consumption passions. Although I acknowledge this conditional brainwashing(?) is a fact of our capitalist-driven economy, I want to minimise that manipulation where possible. Though it’s no doubt a fantasy (however I acknowledge that you have managed to control your coke intake! Well done.). But how much of our buying impulses are influenced by our brand conditioning? It’s difficult to analyse but it seems useful to at least be aware and think about it from time to time. Recognising viral advertising for what it is seems a good first step. It seems to me that much of the world is not even aware of it’s existence and ‘consume’ it as entertainment unaware of the brand conditioning behind it. I guess that ultimately was the driving force behind writing this post.

  2. Thanks Margot. Loving your thought-provoking blog posts by the way.

    Coke must be one of the earlier adopters of the contemporary approach over the last few years (rather emotively labelled “viral marketing”) and I’m sure I’ve been exposed to it as frequently as anyone else over that period. Over the same period my Coke intake has dropped from one can a day to one every few weeks. So, on that evidence I would say no, my brand loyalty has not increased (That said, I’m not drinking cola these days so it’s not a case of a switch to another brand).

    In any event, I’m a fan of clever, especially when it is polite and less intrusive.

    I’m not really sure what there is to be afraid of here – is there some sort of psycho/neural research that suggests we’re all being brainwashed?

  3. Great feedback Sarah. You make a good point that you have a choice to view viral advertising. But isn’t it likely that your brand loyalty is affected by the cleverness of this sort of advertising? Maybe even more so?

  4. I don’t find it sinister at all. The fact that there are two (or maybe more) images of Coke bottles or logos doesn’t bother me and I know that my decisions as to what beverage I drink will always be my decisions (I don’t consider that a promotion within an entertaining clip is going to somehow worm it’s way into my subconscious to influence my taste/nutrition choices. In a sense, I believe I’m stronger than that.

    What gets under my skin is the old fashioned TV, radio advertising and unsightly billboards. Interruptions, distractions, time wasters and brash intrusions (I don’t choose to watch them – they are forced on me). If companies are coming up with methods that are less intrusive, not infecting or interfering with the experiences I chose for myself then I am relieved about that. Finally, can we see an end to the “in your face” rubbish we’ve put up with for decades?

    In the case of viral advertising, it’s my choice to watch the clip and the appearance of the brand, although it may be unexpected, is not intrusive – hardly noticeable, polite almost.

  5. I never forward ads, either, no matter how witty. Everything is a message; all is data. And some of it (lots of it) is insidious.

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