Looking for a dollop of marketing pixie dust from the viral video fairies? Or just hoping for an easy way to get your company or product noticed? Whatever your goal, creating buzz online can seem like a perfect solution—but there’s far more to it than just spontaneously uploading goofy office videos. Even the most “guerilla” of Internet marketing techniques requires a great degree of foresight and planning.

This is where the The 7th Chamber comes in. The UK-based firm focuses on viral marketing and an underappreciated technique called “video seeding.” Like cloud seeding, video seeding provides an artificial push to an organic process, and when done well it can expedite the circulation of brand-related video clips on social networking sites. This is no buzzword snake oil scheme: the 7th Chamber works with big name clients like Procter & Gamble, Gucci, Nokia and MTV.

The company opened a US office only 15 months ago. But in that time, VP of sales Christian Pimsner says the viral video-approach in social marketing has exploded, and for good reason.

“Videos tend to have a longer shelf life than advertisements,” Pimsner explains. Ad campaigns eventually end, and then the commercials leave the airwaves and the public’s consciousness. Even the stickiest of traditional commercial campaigns—think the Budweiser frogs—may not translate to viral success because they feel too manufactured. But a strong viral video creates a much more unique relationship of discovery and interaction with the viewer.

This is especially important in an era of information overload. Both public and private spaces are so saturated with advertising that it can be difficult for any brand message to break through. This is a well-established and oft-repeated point, but it simply can’t be stressed enough. For a viral campaign to work, it has to function as a shared experience, not merely a shared viewing.

Advertisers have long understood the value of word-of-mouth. Fabergé’s Farrah Fawcett and Heather Locklear-helmed shampoo spots in the 1980s famously urged viewers to “tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on.” (See below) The ads were big “viral” hits, and effectively created a two-tiered connection with viewers, lodging both the advertisement and the product in their minds. Subsequent campaigns have tried to magnify this approach by working across multiple platforms.

The Most Interesting Campaign in the World

Take, for example, Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign, created by ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. The campaign began with traditional commercial spots, the first of which premiered during the Super Bowl. But W + K capitalized on early buzz with a blitz of YouTube clips in which actor Isiah Mustafa responded directly to comments from fans on social media sites. Viewers were attracted by the humor and interactivity of the clips, and “Old Spice Responses” became one of the most successful online video campaigns of all time. The character also returned in subsequent television spots, but now as a well-established brand icon rather than a novelty character.

Although the Old Spice campaign is now several years old, it still serves as the best example of an ad campaign seamlessly transitioning between platforms and successfully connecting with social media users. “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign for Dos Equis embraced a similar character and tone—and was enormously successful. The spots relied upon a similar barrage of non sequiturs and one liners, which were tied directly to a comically outsized ideal of masculinity. But when the spots became “buzzworthy,” marketing firm Euro RSCG didn’t seem to have an adequate web strategy prepared to capitalize on the television success. In part, this was because the Dos Equis ads were part of a slow-to-develop TV commercial campaign. The first ad for “The Most Interesting Man in the World” was introduced in 2006, but the commercials didn’t receive national airtime until 2009.

Euro RSCG’s campaign for Dos Equis certainly has a web presence now, providing fodder for YouTube users. But fans reposting the commercials online have been fairly incidental to the success of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ads, as opposed to a planned extension of the marketing campaign.

Viral Strategy

Every company wants to create a long-term, cost-efficient strategy that utilizes different platforms to target specific demographics. But not every company can afford a Weiden + Kennedy (or, for that matter, Euro RSCG) to give its video high-end gloss and high-powered marketing thrust. Still, Pimsner stresses that smaller startups play by the same rules as big brands with big budgets. Before any video is seeded through 7th Chamber, there are high-level discussions about strategy and target audience.

When this strategy is effectively plotted, viral marketing can level the advertising playing field between large and small companies. The barriers to entry are relatively low, and the return on investment can be astronomical. But the caveat is recognizing that viral videos are intrinsically collaborative—they are “spread” by viewer shares and mentions, not ad buys (even when companies like 7th Chamber do their best to fan the flames). And, as successful campaigns show, a humorous approach often creates the most opportunities for a “shared experience” so critical to marketing success.

Startups can begin assembling a viral strategy through consultation with an established agency or by simply using in house resources. One good place to start for neophytes is this jargon-free Harvard Business Review article that outlines the basics of social media strategy. Although videos can be made in house inexpensively using desktop video editing, many companies will opt for professional production and marketing, no matter how “guerilla” they want the clips to appear.

Strategy aside, the most important thing, for audience and brand alike, is to let the originality and humor take center stage.