Is it really viral ?

virtual bartender - a truly successful viral campaign
marketing technology
Viral now seems to form the part of most youth culture marketing campaigns. Does using the power of Word Of Mouth and giving tools for passing content on to others mean huge audiences and exposure?


It seems very little is actually very ‘ viral ‘ and many still require traditional methods of ‘ mass ‘ to achieve the desired goals.

Very little is actually viral

In the viral marketing world the success of a campaign is measured by it’s reproduction rate or ‘R’ rating.

An ‘R’ rating of 1 implies that a person who receives the message, will pass this onto more than one person.

With an R rating of 1 and above the pass on rate reaches a tipping point, it exponentially grows creating an epidemic – a virus effect.

An R rating of less than 1 means they eventually die out as the pass on rate becomes less and less each time.

There are a number of factors that can affect your R rating


Why should I pass on this pretty crappy commercial to my friends is the first hurdle, a hurdle that can be jumped with the use of good quality and engaging content.

Relevance’s role is key in the final outcome – the purchase, it also plays a part in the success of pass on. However there are other considerations above this.

Incentives using donation schemes for publicly supported causes can also assist in the pass on rate of the content – although this should be complimentary and not the key driver.

An example of this was seen in a campaign run by Oxygen Network which used Katrina donations – achieving a ‘ R ‘ rating of 0.769 . While one of the highest pass on ratings recorded it still meant the campaign eventually would die out .

Who you are

Another big factor in driving the ‘ R ‘ rating can also depend on the peer standing and influence of those involved. Identifying key influencers in the outset will only improve the seeding.


Alternate reality games ( ARG ) while not having the reach that TV / radio engage people for long periods of time.

A recent ARG which supported the release of the film A.I attracted around three million participants over a twelve week period, 50% of the new participants were female.
Using techniques such as rabbit holes which are in effect the first website or entrance to a larger more complex ‘ warren ‘ has been a successful way of leading users into a more complex engagement.

It seems people are willing to accept all the events to be authentic within these stories, to actually park preconceptions and bias until the ending.

This parking gives rise to opportunities for marketers, however be warned this should not be abused. This large investment of time and effort these people undertake, it would be unwise to totally cheat these groups with some form of shallow ultimate message.

In summary
  • Engage
  • Identify key people and peer groups
  • Quality of content
  • Tell a story
  • Provide tools to assist pass-on
  • Reward
On R Ratings

For a campaign exhibited a reproduction rate of 0.5, meaning that each generation is half the size of the previous one, then an initial seed of 10,000 people would pass it to 5,000 new recipients, and those 5,000 would pass it to a further 2,500, and so on, eventually reaching a total of 20,000 people— twice the number that would have been reached by the traditional campaign.

Sources :

Alternate Reality: The New Frontier
Viral Marketing for the Real World – Harvard Business review

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