Going viral requires amazing creative and a concept that is appealing across many segments.
I can't say I disagree with Matt Cutler. I've never disagreed with the founder of one of the first Web analytics companies (NetGenesis, sold to SPSS in 2001) and currently chief marketing officer at Visible Measures.
I certainly did not disagree with him when we co-authored that seminal white paper on Web analytics called "E-Metrics - Business Metrics For The New Economy" in 2000.
But when Matt Cutler was quoted as saying that the Old Spice Guy videos surpassed the reach of traditional broadcast, I have a bone to pick.
First, the methodology, then the bone.
According to the Visible Measures' website, True Reach™ is a measure of the total audience that has been exposed to a viral video campaign, no matter where the campaign videos travel online. True Reach combines data from brand-driven seeded video placements with results from community-driven viral video placements - spoofs, parodies, mashups, and more."
From a brand manager's perspective, this is good stuff. Keeping in mind that the 2010 Super Bowl was watched by more than 106 million people, having a "True Reach" of over 11 million views is a big deal. You can go to your CMO and say, "The Old Spice Guy has gone viral!" and when he or she looks at you like you're from Mars, you can say, "We got a reach of over 11 million!" That's enough good news to get you a pat on the head and another bucket of money along with the directive, "Go do it again."
That's where the whole metrics thing falls on its face.
To begin with, "going viral" isn't something you invest in. You invest in promotions that will get you a nice bump in sales. You invest in brand recognition. You invest in direct marketing with specific ROI (define) attached to a specific promo code or a specific landing page/conversion combo. Shelling out a lot of - or just a little - money for a viral campaign is the same as wandering into a red light district looking for love. Hey, it could happen, but a predictable direct response is far more likely.
We just don't know how love happens. There are so many variables. Time of day, day of week, lighting, method and tenor of first and subsequent meetings, whether he brought certain flowers or she wore a particular perfume...and so forth. If we had the answers, we'd all be living happily ever after.
Going viral requires an unimaginable combination of factors to all fall into place at once. First, your creative must be insanely great - and hats off to Isaiah Mustafa and the team at Wieden+Kennedy for the most Monty Python/Robin Williams/Saturday Night Live/Steve Martin humor seen since, well, Monty Python, Robin Williams, Saturday Night Live, and Steve Martin. This creative was out-of-this world funny.
But it needs to also be out-of-this-world funny across many segments. If it were only funny to people in the advertising business, it would have gone nowhere.
Furthermore, it has to hit at the right time. By the right time, I mean more than just a slow news week. If this had hit at the same time as Hurricane Katrina, the Indonesia Tsunami, or the BP oil spill, it might never have caught fire. It would have been old news. Internet virality depends on people getting excited about something new and asking, "Have you seen this?" It has to hit when the universal mood is poised for something pithy. If we're still getting over a major catastrophe, we may not be in the mood to chortle at something like this.
Satires from the mild homage by Cisco (Ted in Accounting) to the truly gifted parody, New Spice | Study like a scholar, scholar from BYU are proof that this brilliant piece of creative is worthy of going viral and hit at the right time.
So, when Matt Cutler was quoted by Advertising Age as saying that the Old Spice Guy videos surpassed the reach of traditional broadcast, I have a bone to pick.
During the Super Bowl, 106 million people may have tuned in at one point or another. But there's no way 106 million people watched any particular Super Bowl ad.
Eleven million people did not happen to be tuned to the right channel at the right time whether they were in the room or not. Eleven million people leaned forward and clicked on a link, did a search, opened an e-mail from a friend, or had somebody show them the Old Spice Guy ads and tweets. This is not reach. This is grab.
This is branding that goes so deep, it becomes part of the cultural lexicon. "Hello ladies," and "I'm on a horse" are now catch phrases that people are going to be hearing for months.
Therefore, there are two metrics we should use to measure online virality like this. First, I am asking Matt Cutler to consider changing True Reach to True Grab or True Impact or True Influence or True Brain Penetration or something that differentiates it from "Opportunity to See." This is "Went Out of My Way to See It and Show it to My Friends and Family."
The second metric? Sales.
Last week, Mashable reported that sales of Old Spice doubled. I'd like to see a Super Bowl ad do that.
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Jim Sterne is an international consultant focused on measuring the value of the online marketing for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, produces the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and is co-founder and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association.
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