The Care and Feeding of Marketing Viruses

The Internet is a giant petri dish, swollen with nutrients, heated by the fast-click, nanosecond acquisitiveness of worldwide users. We’re all in there doing the Australian crawl in a stew of goods, services and messages, bumping up against one another. By looping together web site collection points and individual email nodes, the Internet is born to breed bugs.

Viral marketing is so intrinsic to the Net that launching any product or service should include some kind of viral support. But where to start?

The Marketing Virus proposition is simple. In using a product or service, the consumer sends along a (usually) clickable ad for the provider of that service to a friend. Arriving under cover of a privileged communication, the viral ad overcomes natural immunity systems, breaks down consumer resistance, and spreads through the host.

All viruses are not created equal. They act in unique and even opposite ways. Some are passive, some active, some cool, some gross. We can’t let the buzzword keep us from coming to grips with the real diversity viral marketing presents the e-marketer.

To help you culture your own killer marketing virus, here’s a breakdown designed to foster understanding of the major viruses, their seat of infection, and means of proliferation.

Based on three months of intensive research and a long night at a local bistro it dawned on me there are four common viruses and three orphans. However, marketing biotech research into the taxonomy of viruses is an on-going process, so don’t let this limit your thinking.

R-EA-C-H The Four Common Marketing Viruses

The four common viruses are Rhino, EbolA, Contact, and Herpes.

R- Virus Spread through word of mouse, the R-Virus, named after the common cold or rhino-influenza viruses, is potentially endemic. The chief characteristic of the R-Virus is the requirement for the sender to decide to pass along the virus. (The common “Email this article” and “Tell-a-Friend” viruses are in this class.)

E-Virus Taking its name from the dreaded Ebola, this virus is highly contagious and persistent. The E-Virus is pandemic, wiping out established competition as it aggressively acquires market share.

The mother of all E-Viruses and let’s be thankful wasn’t there first to snap up the patent was HotMail. Launched by a seven-word virus, “Get your free private email at,” HotMail was able to rifle everyone’s email address book as friends contacted and infected their friends… free.

Spending essentially bupkes, HotMail was able to barrel over a better-entrenched, high-rolling The most popular email system on the planet, HotMail is used by quadrillions of people and their dogs. the free greeting card guys and, web-based and raising the viral concept to the group level, also flood the Net with E-Viruses.

C-Virus The Contact virus is a slow-acting but highly contagious microbe that takes the form of a clickable logo on affiliated sites. Contact with both the referring logo on an affiliated site and the host is required before infection can be initiated. While may own the hotly contested patent on the one-click, C-Virus is a common and effective human-click.

HumanClick offers free on-line chat service for personal and business web sites, just for the price of carrying its C-Virus. That way, every web site using its chat service becomes an affiliate. HumanClick also uses the E-Virus in its marketing by offering its free web chat services in every email communication.

H- Virus This herpes-like marketing virus, almost always packaged in games and other entertainment venues, leads to active eruptions and consumer inflammation. Relatively hard to acquire and transmit, it is usually not very contagious, but sometimes persistent., with its Shockbowl game is a good example of the H-Virus. The new version of Shockbowl, small enough to be attached to email, flashes a small billboard link back to adveract.

G-R-P Not Your Basic Virus

G-Virus The gastrointestinal virus. This class of virus almost always looks like Spam and is about as digestible. The most common form warns of phony viruses that can crash your hard disk, urging you to forward the warning to everyone you know. The G-Virus infects only those who deserve it.

Retro-Virus A hardy microbe, the retro-virus infiltrates a host site and reproduces by integrating its genome into the host’s DNA. The virus appears to be identical to the host. Interactions with the host invariably cause the spread of the retro-virus into the proximal environment.

Paytrust, the New Jersey based company that pays bills on-line, burrows into host site OnMoney, the money management and financial planning site launched with a Super Bowl ad. You may think you’re using OnMoney to pay bills, but Paytrust is the machinery behind the transaction and the clickable link that pops up on the page.

P- Virus This recurrent virus takes its name from the papovavirus (warts). Marketing warts are those ugly, useless e-zines and vacuous newsletters that clutter up email boxes and provide an unsightly display on web sites. Not dangerous and seldom transmitted.

There’s a full-blown treatment of these viruses at You’re welcome to read it, download it, and pass it around to your friends and neighbors. Just wash your hands first.

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