The viral marketing dilemma
Ok, I see Facebook’s point in making itself into a sort of viral ad network. Word of mouth from people whose media taste you trust is one of the best ways to get you to check out a movie, TV show, DVD, or what have you.
I know this because I take great pride in being a media instigator, convincing hesitant friends to give The Office another try, for example, and then exulting a few days later when they have to admit I was absolutely right, the show is one of the funniest things on television. And I’ve personally created at least two Mad Men addicts, so that probably raised the show’s ratings by a tenth or something. I didn’t have quite as much luck with HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, but that’s not my fault – that show is a tough sell unless you are as fascinated by other people’s relationships, flaws and foibles as I am.
All that said, I’m not sure the concept works when you commercialize it. It’s one thing when your best friend tells you to check something out. It’s another when you know that CBS paid for the campaign. That’s why I’m doubtful about CBS’ announcement today that they are building an online community at Facebook to support five-time Emmy-winner The Amazing Race.
“Facebook is all about connecting people and sharing information via word of mouth which perfectly complements the spirit of this show,” says CBS’s top marketing guru, George Schweitzer, in a statement. “We want to tap into fans of the program, their friends and those who are predisposed to the show’s premise either because they enjoy travel, hiking or perhaps are from the same hometown of a contestant. We see this as a great way of exposing The Amazing Race to new viewers while adding a new level of online engagement for those who have been enjoying it for years.”
While viral marketing is, in fact, a great way to change or improve a show’s fortunes – word of mouth (sort of) saved Jericho, for example – it loses its authenticity when it comes from the corporation that’s trying to make money on it. That’s why I’m not sure that companies will ever be able to really take advantage of this marketing trend. Viral marketing’s raison d’etre is about people’s organic opinions and true feelings. Once a company comes in and tries to influence that, it becomes something else. Today’s savvy consumers can tell the difference instantly.