Viral Marketing: Adult vs Youth

There were more interesting things than I can begin to recount here, but one that resonated a lot with me was an argument in the presentation Henry Jenkins, Ana Domb, and Xiaochang Li gave where they (among other things) critiqued the concepts of viral and sticky, pitching spreadable as a better alternative.

They said, and I agree, that the goal of creating “sticky” internet sites — sites that hold people’s attention, provide a unified customer experience, provide only top-down information and so on — needs to be (or is being) replaced with the goal of “spreadable content” which circulates among diverse, dispersed people as they participate in social networks and engage in grassroots activity. I’ve talked about this in the context of providing fans with widgets they can export to sites of their choosing in order to spread word of (keyboard?) about whatever it is they’re into.

They also went after the notion of “viral” with its biological language of infection. When something spreads virally — take, for example, the flu — people receive the virus without realizing (and sometimes never even manifesting) it. They pass it on to others without any effort — indeed, if they realize they have it, they have to put effort into NOT spreading it. From a marketers perspective, if you can engineer the perfect “viral” campaign, the people will be powerless to resist. They’ll be diffusing your ideas before they know what hit them.

This creates an illusion of control — a viral campaign will work if we design it right — and therefore feeds into what I see as a dying model of media control in which the big content providers get to manage everything from the top down (see “stickiness” above).

Online Fandom » War of the Concepts: Virus vs Spread

Okay. So, this was a great read first of all. Gets the brain crankin’ and the thoughts a’churnin’. And as I was thinking about this concept of spreadable content… as well as viral content, I went through some of the past campaigns I’ve seen for the mass public – elves with cut out faces of co-workers dancing and singing in shareable videos, Britney Spears UGC poetry whispered creepily through a phone call, printable McLovin fake IDs, widgets, etc…etc…etc (Thank you, King of Siam).

We’ve been talking briefly here at the good ole SDG offices about viral content – and the luck-o-the-dice rolling of making successful viral content (of course, it’s not really always a luck-o-the-dice situation, strategy + “duh” play patterns exposed + ease = a great starting point, it’s also good to sometimes engage what I like to call the “snarky” factor).

Most viral content is made for the 14+ market (you can blend 10+ in there as well, if you believe it just). So… what happens for anyone under that age bracket? Does the same content and application apply? That’s the great question of the day, ain’t it?

I’ve seen TWO great viral campaigns (at least in creation and quality) of a tween market (but not necessarily FOR the tween market).

The Golden Compass had a really smart widget come out about a year ago. If you know the His Dark Materials series (or by now have seen the movie), you know about Daemons – and how they’re a reflection of your soul.  The widget allowed you to discover your own Daemon (animal), share it on your social network page, get friends to interact with the widget, and then entice them to get their own.  Investment. Sharing. Interaction.

Basically, what the The Golden Compass widget did that I hadn’t seen = make FRIENDS get just as invested in the widget on someone else’s page by encouraging friend-supported interaction… and then use that as an opportunity to peddle & temp for more viral widget spreading. I’m not sure how well it worked – considering the movie came off as demographic confusing (who is it for? kids, tweens, teens, adults? with its graphic nature and young/fantasy cast, cutsey animals and anti-christen subtext, etc), and the folks on myspace using that app were probably more YA readers of the older variety (myself, for example). Alas, it was a really clever ploy in my opinion.

The other great app I’ve seen is for Moshi Monsters – a tween virtual world. Currently mine is on my facebook page. Visitors to my facebook page can listen to my wee lil moshi monster speak sassy to them (and he is sassy – and personalized). It’s aesthetically pleasing, snarky-good-natured-goofy, and bright/colorful (bubbly happy colors that aren’t acidic like Hello Kitty, but still carry the right, bright energy of amusement). I know this has worked on at least TWO other people (who spotted mine and jumped into Moshi for their own), which is great. But again, those peeps were YA-appreciators (and fellow community folks) like me. I don’t have tater tot friends in facebook, nor will I, aaaaaaaaathankyaverymuch. And for the 12+ set, this could be highly successful (again, I don’t know, but I do know that Moshi has several demographics targeted, and that’s cool as its safe & appropriate for youth but accessible and fun for all).

But what about the 10-? The kinds who aren’t quite established in the social networking widgetopia? The ones who aren’t receiving marketing phone calls from Britney Spear’s fragrance (and if they are… hmm, that’s kinda creepy)?

Is there such thing has VIRAL/SPREADABLE CONTENT for the tater tots? I see peeps like Disney & the folks behind Doko (the pog-like toy whose name reminds me of Star Wars’ Count Doku) trying new viral (“sharing” because “sharing means caring”) outside-the-box techniques. You could also just have product tie-ins (redeemable cards that sit next to cash register that just scream “Hey, auntie, buy this and stick it in my birthday card so you don’t have to UPS a pressie”; stuffed plushies that lure with their dull black plastic eyes, etc). But that’s less of a viral campaign and more of a product strategy, isn’t it? Hmmmmm…

Does viral marketing for youth really only exist in advertising and word of mouth? We already know about the advertising issue (as there’s a collective hiss from the more protective sorts, no insult intended – but we all know its there).

The word of mouth points DIRECTLY at the thin balancing blade of a subtle knife (oooo, another His Dark Materials reference). On one hand, you need to make a product that’s trustworthy, safety stamped, and parent hugged; while on the other hand, you need to make a product whose parent hug is not visible to young eyes (nothing curbs a kids freedom like a n excited parent in the room), seems exciting and edgy and fun, as well as recognizable (play patterns, brand awareness, etc). A product that makes parents talk at play dates, and kids share at the lunch table. Then you gotta just CROSS THE FINGERS and hope that good ole “If you Build it, He will come” mentality works for people other than Kevin Costner.

What am I missing? Is it true that there isn’t a great way to create viral content for youth? OR is there a REASON there isn’t viral/spreadable content for the under 10’s?

Now of course, all of this has been rambling around in my mind, and in no way am I saying I’m right about any of it, nor am I taking sides. This whole idea of “spreadable” marketing is still struggling to swim in the grown up world, so maybe its not fair to ask to expect any swim time for the tater tot world.

What do you think? Viral/Spreadable marketing… does it exist for kids & tweens? Should it? And if it’s a speeding train cruising the downhill track-of-life, how can we man-handle it to do as we wish instead of fighting an up hill battle? I’d love to hear your thoughts – whether you want to add to my insanity, or point out something I missed.

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  1. May 27, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    I remember this from years ago in school. Some things just hit you, and you have a pure “ah ha!” moment.
    Marketing, Adult -vs- Youth. It’s not really a new thing. It’s always been there, lingering. Push to the kids, and the parents will buy.
    Go to your local grocery store, any store. And if you must walk on your knees … Ok maybe not, you may be thrown out. But put yourself at height of a child. What do you see? You see the “GOODS”. Cutesy boxes of cereal, junk food, toys, gidgets and gadgets! All the fun kind of stuff, that parents try to lean away from.
    The marketing really has not changed, now has it? It’s just grown and moved up in the world. =)

  1. May 23, 2008 at 6:51 am

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