There's little that's more exciting online at the moment than the viral hype surrounding The Dark Knight. It was pure luck that when Emily stuck a post-it on my desk today that said 'working??' as I watched the trailer for it, that I could (this time- ahem), reply with something along the lines of:
Beautiful. Except that's not really what this post's turned out to be (although there are similar elements). Instead, I've looked at the effectiveness of viral marketing for films such as The Dark Knight, and considered how this could be transferred to businesses operating online.
The Dark Knight is engaging its future audience on a whole new level. Other films, most notably Cloverfield, laid the groundwork for this process. A friend of mine was tuned into the Cloverfield phenomenon from the off, and blogged about how much more he got from the film because of the “little nods and winks to the internet frenzy throughout”. It's more than feeling like you're in the 'in-crowd' and superior to other viewers; it's about feeling like you're actually part of the conversation.
As demonstrated by Dell's Ideastorm, this kind of engagment with the consumer from an actual, believable business perspective, really works.
Another example (that fits extraordinarily well) is Domino's attempt to cash in on The Dark Knight's online success. The idea was that fans had to have ordered a pizza online within the last 48 hours to be able to view the latest trailer. Engagement at its finest. And it would have been genius if only you couldn't also watch the clip on YouTube.
Above and beyond this 'customer engagement' however, what's particularly clever about viral marketing for films is that it is, by definition, something that spreads infectiously. In terms of cost, it's negligible compared to traditional forms of marketing and has the potential to bring in a huge, dedicated audience. The Dark Knight has all the ingredients to appeal to an online audience, and that includes me. Believe me when I say however, that my twin sister (the 'control' in this little experiment, if you will), is not part of that online audience. But when I started raving to her about The Dark Knight and its viral presence, not only did she get excited, she'd actually heard of it!
Is this a sign of things to come? Of our beloved niche social media finally spreading its wings and launching itself into the mainstream?
And what effect does it have for businesses online? It means that they can start appealing to social media sites for custom rather than just links. The recent live Honda ad is a perfect example of how well this could work. The skydiving advert appealed to traditional audiences by appearing on television first, but was also perfectly designed to grab the attention of online fans- YouTube alone amassed hundreds of thousands of views. And, just as with true online viral marketing, the cost involved (a reputed £500,000 including sandwiches for the crew) is nothing compared to "the PR column inches alone hyping the one-off event". And then some. I wonder if any of those thousands of viewers will henceforth favour the Honda as a result.
With The Dark Knight, fans who were loyal enough to spot the addresses, visit the bakery and eat the cake were rewarded with an almost godlike status within The Dark Knight buzz. Why is this technique so effective at generating attention online?
It's a completely natural feeling to enjoy working for something in order to achieve a certain right or privilege. The idea of customer loyalty for businesses has been around offline for ages. For example, shop loyalty cards are ever more popular and, while the cost benefits they offer us are nothing compared to the value of the data they collect for the company's market research team, there's something very addictive about them. However, simply moving this online would not be the same as the idea of loyalty expressed above.
I think the secret lies in combining all three of these features- engagement, virality and loyalty.
I'm obviously not the first person to point out that online marketing has massive potential to build brand, attract new customers and improve relations with existing ones (particularly within the tech world, for obvious reasons). But there's also the opportunity to make some money directly from these sites. Imagine if, for example, a chain such as Starbucks had a really really cool game online that was carefully designed to appeal to social media audiences and had discount coffees as a prize:
1. Engagement? Tick. Customers could be involved in any stage of the development, launch or participation of the game. 2. Viral? Tick. Fabulous content always has the potential to spread fabulously. 3. Loyalty? Tick. Your customers use their skill to earn a discount. They'll/I'd love it.
There is, however, a fairly serious risk of alienating your online audience should your social media efforts fail. Like this.
Digg users, as a generic example, are notoriously fickle and have both the ability and the nature to destroy an online presence, particularly if there's money involved. Is this a risk worth taking for your business? Absolutely.