Teaching Students How to Create Viral Advertising/Marketing: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper presents an example of a class project where students are required to use viral advertising/marketing to promote a product for a client. Students were required to first submit a paper on viral marketing. Then in groups, they were given a product to promote using viral advertising/marketing. Students evaluated the project in terms of the usefulness of the exercise.

Overview of Viral Advertising/Marketing

The term viral marketing was coined by Steve Jurvetson and Tim Draper in 1997. It appeared in a Netscape newsletter to describe the process of forwarding messages, via email, from peer to peer resulting in rapid message spreading (Phelps, Lewis, Mobilio, Perry & Raman, 2004). Viral marketing, or online word-ofmouth, has been defined as "any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence" (Wilson, 2000, p.1). Currently this medium "exploits existing social networks by encouraging consumers to share product information with their friends" (Leskovec, Adamic & Huberman, 2008, p.1).

Today an increasing number of marketers are using viral techniques to attract potential customers who would otherwise be oblivious to traditional marketing strategies. Viral marketing has the potential to increase a company's sales force by using customers to spread the word, thus costing a company far less than more traditional forms of marketing (Datta, Chowdhury & Chakraborty, 2011). The early successes of companies like CareerBuilder.com, Hotmail. com, Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch Co. have increased awareness of the potential for this type of strategy given the relatively cheap price tag compared with traditional marketing (Vranica, 2006; Wilson, 2000).

However, there are several drawbacks. Brands like Trident have found that viral marketing is not necessarily easy to do (Steel, 2009, p.l). Even when a campaign is successful, it is difficult for marketers to determine how viral marketing efforts translate to actual sales (Vranica, 2006). Holt (2004) suggests that building a company's reputation by relying heavily on viral marketing strategies relinquishes control of the brand's identity to consumers and cultural tastemakers and thus results in a loss of more resilient iconic consumers.

The explosion of social media has significantly contributed to the number of vehicles currently available for viral marketing. For example, YouTube allows its 12 billion users the ability to connect with each other through visual recordings. YouTube usage grew more than 137% from 2008 to 2009 (Yarow & Angelova, 2010). Users who prefer a life-like-virtual environment have increasingly found Second Life to be of interest. The Second Life community offers users personal avatars that roam around seeking entertainment, educational opportunities and product offerings. Users searching for connections in the business/occupational world are using Linkedln as a medium for viral communications. Facebook's popularity has soared to more than 500 million users with 250 million active users currently accessing it through thenmobile devices (Press Room, 2011). Twitter, with one billion tweets per week, offers a communication service that combines instant messaging with texting (Kissmetrics, 2011).

Viral marketing encompasses viral advertising but authors argue to what degrees. Phelps, et al. (2004) suggest that "electronic word-ofmouth advertising" (p. 2) is synonymous with viral marketing. Porter and Nolan (2006), on the other hand, make a case for recognizing a distinction between viral marketing and viral advertising. Their study sought to compare viral advertising with television advertising while Golan and Zaidner (2008) applied viral advertising strategies to Taylor's Six-Segment Message Strategy Wheel. Viral advertising, "refers to an online advertising distribution method that relies on word of mouth distribution via email or social network platforms as the means of reaching target audiences" (Golan & Zaidner, 2008, p. …