Great Viral Marketing Commentary from Jaffe

I met Joseph Jaffe once a few years back at a P&G brainstorm. As someone who had been working in the P&G digital space for a few years at that point, I found it nice to have a fresh outside perspective from someone like Joseph represented in the meeting. In his article Conversation Killers found on AdWeek.com today, his opening paragraph does one of the best jobs of summing up the nature of ‘viral marketing planning’.   Honestly, I thought we had evolved past this to some degree.  Personally, I haven’t found myself in one of those disturbing meetings – typically with a traditional agency or too-big-for-their-own-good digital agency – trying to figure out what would go viral in a very long time.  But I can only imagine it still happens frequently…

The movie Rounders contains a life lesson: “When sitting down at the poker table, look around for the sucker. If you don’t recognize the sucker, get up and leave, because the sucker is you.” Along the same lines, the next time you sit down at a planning table to discuss something viral, look for the moron leading the project and if you don’t see him, excuse yourself from the meeting because that moron, my friend, is you.

Awesome! Don’t forget to check his blog for inevitable commentary. But I have to throw in this gem from the same article:

So let’s do our best to keep our eyes on the prize: creating unique and compelling content that is sharable and infused with sociability (conversation). We’ll rack up those views sure enough and not have to concern ourselves with cutting corners, reducing costs and duping our consumers into doing our jobs for us.

Yeah, like start a record label!

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Social Media, Meet Branded Content

The meeting was in a banquet hall of Palo Alto hotel. It was billed as a meeting of the social media minds, as a few dozen social media experts and their corporate counterparts gathered together to loosely architect the future of social media. It was hard not to sense the irony. On one side, you had the pioneers of the social web – the once pure bloggers – the same bloggers that feverishly attacked any brand involvement in their formerly gated community. On the other side, representatives from big brands, each with newly minted business cards with social or community in their newly minted titles.

The day was filled with panels, break out sessions, and even the occasional clever presentation with funny consumer generated videos and Hugh McLeod drawings. Really smart people sharing words like ‘emotional connections’, ‘two-way conversation’, and ‘engaging and immersive experiences’ all in the context of how brands should leverage the social web. Traditional advertising – unfairly not represented at the meeting – was a four letter word and the butt of most jokes.

Yes, social media exploded on to the scene and the momentum remains strong. Technology is enabling people to connect in amazing ways. Blah, blah, blah. We read this everyday. We know this. We embrace and champion this. But what most of us marketing dogs seem to have forgotten or don’t want to say to the eager-to-spend clients, is that the vast majority of people, especially young people, don’t want Mr. PC Manufacturer as a friend.

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Quality Content, Low Definition

Back in 1990, there was a trio of remarkable skateboarders – all of them could have claimed to be the best street skaters around – and to this day, nobody would argue. One was the still-relevant skate icon Mark Gonzales, one was Jason Lee (yes, that Jason Lee), and the other was a quiet guy named Matt Hensley. Although none of them were famous back in 1990, their influence helped catapult skateboarding to the cultural significance it maintains today. Amazingly, they were all under the age of 20.

So what made these teenagers so influential?

One of the tools of the trade of the skateboard industry for the last 20 years has been the skateboard video. If you’ve never seen one, imagine 45 minutes or so of pure skateboarding, set to music, featuring the best skateboarders doing their best to represent their sponsor and elevate their own personal status. Today, skate videos (dvds) are awesome hi-def productions with major label music and even occasional special effects. Back then, skate videos were blurry bootleg copies of bootleg copies of VHS tapes that would circulate through schools and at local skate spots. Skateboarders… always the innovators, led the viral video revolution!

Now thanks to YouTube, all of the best videos from back in the day are now available on demand. I wanted to share a short clip from a classic skate video from a brand called H-Street, featuring Matt Hensley.

I get goosebumps watching this clip like I did when I was 15-years-old watching it after school. Not much can give a 15-year-old goosebumps – think about it! A video like this is the ultimate argument for the incredible power of high quality content.

Terrible audio, terrible video, a no-name musician, and kids would still gather around the television set with their bootleg copy of this video for hours to get pumped up to go skate. Kids would lose sleep after watching a video like this. Forget the lack of HD quality! Yeah, it would have been nice to have back then, but when you have great content – content that connects, motivates, inspires, and generally keeps kids like me daydreaming through every class – all the bells and whistles are just… fluff. Brands like this also inspired some of my first forays into consumer generated content… almost every art project at school was inspired by H-street and brands like them.

Forget the focus on technology. Forget the focus on the delivery mechanism. Learn a lesson from Matt Hensley and the H-Street guys from 1990 and give consumers what they want – high value, high quality content!

P.S.  Check this video of a star in the making: