Viral marketing, a technology-era avatar of word-of-mouth publicity, made Hotmail the world's leading e-mail provider with a mere $50,000 spent on traditional marketing.
The free e-mail service used simple text tags attached to messages that travelled all along the communication highway.
With Internet advertising catching on in India, viral marketing, too, is making progress. It relies on spreading the buzz through a self-sustaining word-of-mouth strategy. Once a viral is released, it will most likely spread itself without the marketer's constant backing.
Provided it is interesting enough, instant replication is guaranteed. Instant communication channels on the Internet ensure that the message travels from one social circle to another.
Webchutney, an Indian interactive agency, has just launched a viral marketing campaign for travel outfit MakeMyTrip.com. The promotion takes inspiration from the Ramayan.
"Viral marketing is catching on in India. It can work very well here because, as a society, we are far more connected than some others. Families and friends meet one another more often. In some other societies, certain things may be considered an intrusion but not here. This can be harnessed by the marketers," says Arvind Singhal, head of retail research outfit KSA Technopak.
Webchutney claims that its virus was viewed by 60,000 visitors and forwarded by 5,000 viewers. It also notched up 76,000 page views.
"The success of any viral execution is in the number of times it is forwarded. This one was sent ahead by recipients 5,000 times in four days. We are launching a sequel to the current one," says Sachin Bhatia, co-founder of MakeMyTrip.com.
The model is not lightning fast but eventually the perpetrator (marketer) gets results. Costs incurred are radically less than those on conventional promotions.
A viral can be pure text, animated, a film or in any other form so long as it is snappy, interesting and grabs attention. This can work very well for short-term promotions and offers.
"As the first interactive agency in India to have engineered this concept, we look to spread the virus as much as we can," says Sudesh Samaria, co-founder of Webchutney.
Keeping it short is important. Slow speeds and connectivity issues can play spoilsport.
At the same time, a marketer would not like a viral campaign to grow into an uncontrolled flu. It is important to monitor the spread and have a fair idea as to where it is heading. A successful viral marketing campaign can sometimes be hard to control.