Justin Kirby sheds light on difference between viral and deception.

Hello world, Dab here, I'm talking to Justin Kirby of the VBMA, sipping absinth at the Carlton hotel in Cannes. Ok, so I fibbed a little on the last bit - in reality we've just emailed. Let a girl dream.

DB: So Justin, what is Viral marketing vs what is word of mouth? (if you had to explain it to your mum)

JK: My Mum's doing a PhD (seriously and she's over 70) so how about what Dr Paul Marsden says:

Viral and Buzz: Spreading crafted advertising messages through consumer networks - either through media, ambient or online.
Word of Mouth: Accelerating, amplifying and measuring natural word of mouth recommendations.

He also says; Buzz, WOMM and viral are all the same - namely "network-enhanced word of mouth".

If you want to talk of nuances then;
... viral has tended to be used by those dealing with online networks
... buzz by those who exploit media networks (PR-ability)
... and WOMM by those who harness traditional social networks.

But it's all network-enhanced word of mouth. Simple!

DB: At ad:tech you quipped "lets not throw away the buzzbaby with the bathwater" - could you elaborate?

JK: Well, there are very diverse set of approaches in the viral, buzz and word of mouth marketing arena.
Arguably the approaches are as diverse as those used in advertising, PR and CRM, so it's impossible to apply one set of standards that apply to all ... although this isn't stopping some from trying.

For example, the viral advertising work my company DMC helps plan seed and track is really branded advertainment, so transparency is not really an issue, but there are those that take a more PR-orientate approach. So how can they carry out hoaxes/stunts or April Fool-type campaigns if total transparency is called for.

Obviously, if you are recruiting teenagers to spread the word then there are some obvious ethical questions to be asked and I can see why the practitioners would call for total transparency.

But there is a difference between working on a "War of the Worlds" hoax where the deception is supposed to be found out compared with one where marketers go undercover or infiltrate chat rooms where they don't wish their stealth to ever be found out.

So the issue about transparency is not one of all or nothing, but about degrees and appropriateness given the diversity of techniques.

DB: So in short, the wrong way to do it is like when the PR agency Pronto Communications 'snuck in' to gaming forums raving about their client Electronic arts products, deceptive from the get go - whereas building/creating big stories/myths like say the Blair Witch story or the recent Sharp campaign blog-triangle is different.

JK: Right and that's what the VBMA manifesto was all about.

The principles are designed to safeguard consumers' interests, but still allow brands and VBMA members to have fun with their communication campaigns, which in many instances go well beyond simply profiling and recruiting influencers on word-of-mouth marketing campaigns in order to spread the word -- incentivized or not.

So the Blair Witch and Sharp 'conspiracies' are designed to be found out although in your case this seems to happen in a nano-second whereas most web-users have to do a double take ;-)

Whereas the chat room infiltrators don't want to be found out. I'd say that's a huge difference.

DB: Sure is... Ah, it's so simple when you think about it, innit? ;) For more on this here's a ClickZ interview with Kirby. Thanks for the chat, can I get a top-up on my absinth now?
PS - The Spy vs Spy films are here: Mt. Dew - Spy vs Spy - Helicopter 0:30 and Mt. Dew - Spy vs Spy - Hallway 0:30.

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caffeinegoddess's picture

Great interview DB. I just don't understand how so many don't get that the deceptive stuff will come back to bite them in the end. Just seems like there's a lack of thinking going on. Seems pretty logical to me. *shrug*

kamari's picture

I find it amazing that few people (in advertising/buzz marketing) have the common sense that Kirby displays here.