Remember the “Ice Bucket Challenge” campaign from a couple of years ago? Those days, we watched it and some of us joined in on the action by pouring cold water over ourselves. Then, we shared countless videos of people pouring water over themselves and challenging someone else to do the same, and then we waited for the ones who had been challenged to post their own videos, so that we could share those as well. Naturally, our attention was focused on videos of celebrities accepting the challenge, since it was all over the traditional media. These videos were followed by a call for donations in a bid to fight amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
This campaign rapidly became globally popular and in 2014, $115 million was raised to fight the disease. Most of those who watched all these numerous recordings did not quite know the purpose of the entire action, and only about 10% of the total number of those who took part in the challenge actually donated money. In any case, the total amount of aid collected in fighting up-to-then not very known disease was a testament to the success of the campaign.
How many of you watched the same “Challenge” the following year? You are not the only one who quickly forgot about this pouring and never followed it again. The truth is, the organizers repeated it again next year, but at that time only a million dollars were collected, and only 14% of those who donated money previous year, did it again in 2015. Allegedly, this challenge continues, but it is now a completely marginal thing for global media.
Be that as it may, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” remains an example of a good viral campaign. Let’s just leave aside the irony of basing a campaign for fighting a disease on a campaign aimed at “spreading a virus” of some sort. Even today, there is practically not a single client who won’t ask their marketing agency to come up with a strong viral campaign, and the agencies that wish to remain part of the market game recommend themselves to clients as experts for virals.
Isn’t a virus something dangerous, something that causes infectious diseases and what needs to be suppressed? How come that a virus in marketing became a positive thing that needs to be spread and infect as many people as possible? Language is again only a traitor that shows where a part of the marketing business actually goes today. It is probably because the change happened so quickly that there was no proper language codification of this new marketing practice.
Today, when every type of communication has become media content bombarding us from all sides, attention is scattered and the primary task of marketing communication is now focused on how to draw any attention at all, while the content of the message itself has been pushed into the background. And in order to attract attention in today’s world, you have to be different at all costs. Or, in this new marketing language, the message you want to send must first be infected by a strong virus that serves to help spreading the message. And then you just let it go. And there is already a mass of potential transmitters out there anyway, who have never had an easier task of transmitting this virus and starting the spread of infection. The goal is, therefore, to provoke an epidemic.
And that’s where the problem starts. For, in order for this to happen, the masses must first be infected. And this will only happen if they find a motive in the message they’ve received to spread it further, which doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the product itself. And, as a rule, it’s not. On the contrary, the motives for spreading a message are entirely different from those for purchasing a product. The key criterion for measuring the success of a campaign today is its infectiousness, which is again measured by the number of clicks, likes, retweets, shares… Essentially, these are false criteria which, at best, can represent something like measuring elapsed time in the marathon aimed at gaining customers’ confidence.
At one point, marketing agencies thought that they should infect potential buyers for their customers by sensationalism cloaked in a shroud of infectiousness, so as to attract their attention even for just a little bit. They believed that this was the best way of keeping up with modern times, which was understandable at first. But insisting on this even when faced with the short effects and lack of results of such an approach begs the question of the purpose of their very existence. And if clients catch onto this quicker than they themselves do, even pouring cold water over themselves won’t be enough to help the agencies.