I am weary of hearing that the era of mass media is over. Not only do we see evidence day after day that this simply isn’t true (how many people were following the U.S. Women’s Soccer team before it began to dominate the headlines?), but because there will always be a place for a variety of communications; some narrowly targeted, others with much broader reach.
Now comes evidence that even that magic pill so many marketers are chasing, the infamous “viral video”, is largely a myth. Since the widespread impact of Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken“, Evian’s “Roller Babies” and “The Old Spice Guy” (among others), marketers and advertising agencies have all been trying to capture a similar form of lightning in a bottle for their brands.
Duncan Watts, former Columbia professor and now director of Yahoo’s Human Social Dynamics group, says don’t count on it happening—at least not without integrated marketing support. In an interview with McKinsey, Watts said, “What we recently stumbled on is that almost nothing spreads. Instead, the vast majority of all adoptions happen within just one degree of the seed.” In fact, Watts says, “Research suggests that when we do see big events—things that we call viral—something other than word-of-mouth, peer-to-peer diffusion is happening.”
So how does he explain the viral video phenomenon—especially those that make the big time, with hundreds of thousands or millions of views? Watts points out that the key to such videos taking off is receiving significant media exposure; i.e. the kind generated by good old-fashioned advertising and/or public relations efforts.
It’s not that videos that get widely seen aren’t entertaining and worth passing along; in fact, that’s an absolute perquisite. It’s that the “better mousetrap” fallacy lives on in the digital world—building a better viral video is not enough to get the world to beat a path to your door. Not without mass media exposure.
So while we embrace the glorious and wide variety of new marketing options, let’s not lose our heads. The video may get all the credit, but many other hardworking elements of an integrated brand marketing plan do much of the work. AsWatts puts it, “Once you get your so-called viral video on the front page of Yahoo!, 100 million people see that. So this is not about viral anymore. This is mass media.”