Dark viral videos and Witchery

Wikipedia defines viral marketing as "marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological or computer viruses ."

Some recent marketing campaigns have taken their "viral" aspect to its extreme and are not even mentioning a product or brand name, but are instead running a dark campaign. The only aim this can have is to encourage the curiousity of the audience that finds something oddly unreal about the video and starts investigating who could be behind it. Such an approach usually engages younger audiences who dislike overt marketing and gets people talking - ultimately also talking about the brand.

Let me explain what I mean by "dark viral marketing" with three recent examples, one of which is Australian.

1. Taylor Momsen escapes paparazzi

A overly energetic Taylor Momsen runs away from the photographers - something that was immediately assumed by bloggers (e.g. here , here or here ) to be an ad. Turns out, it is an ad for Nike. It achieved more than 580,000 views, hundreds of comments, and created quite a buzz around the blogosphere .
2. Leaked assassination footage from Russia
This one is a challenge to uncover - it took one blogger's intensive detective work to find out that this is really a dark viral ad - in fact, the video is part of the storyboard - for the new first-person shooter game Singularity. Feedcompany bascially admitted in their blog that they helped DDB roll this out. I guess this was a great test to challenge the prospective purchaser of Singularity. With more than 600,000 views within only 2 weeks and more than 2,000 (!) comments, this has certainly hit a nerve.

3. Are you my man in the jacket?

In this Australian video, a girl asks to be put back in contact with a guy she met in a cafe who left his jacket behind. The video was exposed as a dark viral ad for Witchery 's new menswear line and run by Naked Communications .
For an Australia-only campaign, the video received an amazing number of views - more than 190,000 within the first month and more than 1,000 comments! It made it into main - stream media and got lots of other attention ( here and here ).
Interestingly, a follow-up video where Heidi "comes clean" also shows all signs of a viral video with more than 40,000 views after only three weeks. Below is the graph as recorded by Vquence, which shows how viral the first view days of this second video were.
Witchery Followup Views
This agrees with an analysis published by Hitwise which states that the Witchery website increased its market share within the Apparel and Accessories industry by 120% and ranked the second most popular downstream to receive traffic from YouTube in the same industry. Survey company edentify also reported huge successes for the Witchery brand recognition and perception. In contrast, social media monitoring service Streamwall reports only little viral effect and a dominantly (by 23%) negative social discussion.
It seems while the industry was outraged about this dishonest ad and authored much of the negative publications around it, consumers were amused and entertained for a while, but mostly indifferent about it. The publicity certainly helped increase the brand knowledge.
The more fundamental question about these kind of ads is: should you produce a video ad and not mention what it is actually trying to sell? It seems not disclosig the brand can stir more interest from the public and more airtime by main-stream media. On the other hand you take the risk that the audience does not follow up and discover the brand at all. I think we're going to see many more of these videos.
The largest problem with such ads is that they are not per se creating customer engagement, but just customer entertainment. It will be difficult to include them into a strategy that keeps people engaged with the brand. It will work well to enter a young market with a bang.

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  1. [...] doing here in Australia is interesting too. There have obviously been some high profile flops like Witchery about 18 months ago but at least they were giving it a go. Obviously the most recent disaster was [...]

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