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viral marketing: giving it away for free

By June 26, 2008Marketing


A frequent topic on this blog, and with my clients, revolves around the conundrum of giving ideas, content, video, tools, etc. away for free online all in the name of branding, publicity and increased sales. And here it is coming up again – this time in the form of a story about JC Penney, viral marketing and how they just don’t get it.

A colleague of mine, Ron Miller, has written an amusing and very smart article about the situation for Apparently, JC Penney recently aired an ad that was a bit cheeky and insinuated that teenage sex was good, fun, okay and something, perhaps, to aim for when dressing in your JC Penney garb…and now the company is totally freaked out and trying to cover their tucasses (sp? what is the plural of tucas?) They’re busy trying to say that they never authorized the ad and certainly don’t condone teen sex. According to Miller:

What JC Penney failed to understand is that this ad did them far more good than harm. The people they want to reach saw it and were talking about JC Penney. When was the last time this 20th century company had any buzz on the internet. How about never? As for the people who think the video condones teen sex, chances are those people aren’t watching YouTube.

And this concept of intensive brand protecting vs. viral marketing can be found on Facebook as well. One of Ron’s friends recently made a FB gift of a Nerf toy…and joked that she could possibly get in trouble for using the name without legal permission, that Hasbro might insist that she and others stop using their name and product. Ron wrote:

…they would be stupid if they do. Can’t beat the free publicity of Facebook. I realize you can’t let just anyone mess with your carefully crafted brand, but companies have to realize that there is a bright line between protecting your brand beyond reason and letting a fan champion your brand for free. Fact is, my friend is making a tribute to Nerf toys.

Last night I watched the Oprah about YouTube – featuring a handfull of people who are now bazillionaires, or somehow infamous, because of their YouTube videos. Does it matter that Esmee’s YouTube videos have been downloaded millions of times for free? No, because Justin Timberlake found her and signed her to his record label (and she got to sing with him and touch him). Does it matter that 2 million people watched a ridiculous couple do a rather lame version of the final dance from Dirty Dancing via YouTube? No, because they got to do it again on Oprah, and Patrick Swayze showed up and (and they got to dance with him and touch him).

Bottom line: free can be good, viral is queen…do not underestimate the power of putting yourself out there and seeing what happens.

Read Ron Miller’s entire article here.

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