Recently, I have written about the merits of viral marketing as a novel technique to get your message out to your target market.

As you recall, viral marketing is a relatively new term that refers to marketing techniques that use social networks (i.e. MySpace), your e-mail buddy list, and other channels to pass along messages, e-mails, or video clips. The message gets read or viewed and then is passed along to a friend or colleague in a viral fashion. Much like the chain letter of the old days, viral marketing is efficient and pinpoints its target. Advertisers figured out that an odd or entertaining video might be just the vehicle to carry an advertisement.

In my opinion, some advertisers are pressing the envelope of ethical advertising when using this technique. More commonly known as ”Astroturfing”, some advertisers are using YouTube and other media sharing sites to distribute viral ads that are disguised (i.e. misrepresented) as an amateur video. In this example, the consumer is deceived or lied to about the authorship of the video; it is represented as being real. I am the first one to enjoy a clever joke, but I don’t want to be lied to or duped. How about you?

A blatant example of this was recently described in the November 6, 2006 edition of the Yankelovich Monitor Minute. They cited an example on YouTube called “LonelyGirl15.” Per Yankelovich, “A risky tactic, this series of fake video blogs about an introspective teenage girl’s ruminations was confessed to be a commercial venture by a group of California filmmakers only after being exposed by a group of tech-smart fans. However, the videos and actors have retained a large fan base, and an upcoming movie is still planned, revealing that marketers can have success presenting consumers with false realities if consumers are clued in along the way.”

Advertising has grown less and less effective over the last decade because of the continuous bombardment of advertisements, which increasing relies on shock value and sensationalism. These ads use a “spray and pray” methodology that is based on the assumption that, if you spend enough money and contact the customer a gazillion times, the prospective buyer will eventually get the message and buy the product. This is, of course, absurd. This deluge of “Madison Avenue advertising spam” destroys the brands of the sponsors; our brand awareness is raised, but so is our distaste for the brand and product in general.

What is left for the unscrupulous advertisers to do? Answer: deception and outright lying to the consumer. Enough with my rant.

Under the guise of a good joke or a clever presentation, viral marketing is great way to enjoin the customer in your marketing efforts. Be sure to position the message as a commercial effort and identify it as coming from you.

Thanks to Aaron Barkenhagen from California State University, Fullerton, for bringing this to my attention.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.
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