Viral is great — but does the infection last?

Advertising Age magazine has a great story about the recent Dove “Evolution” marketing campaign, which included a video uploaded to YouTube of a fashion model before and after the makeup and Photoshop artists get to work on her. At the beginning, she is an average looking woman with blemishes and stringy hair, and after some makeup and digital effects, she is on a billboard.

Dove’s campaign is aimed at showing young women how unreal the fashion industry is, and according to the Ad Age piece it has been more successful than a Super Bowl ad: In less than a month, the ad (created by a Toronto ad shop) got more than 1.7 million views on YouTube, was mentioned on “Ellen” and “The View” and caused a huge traffic spike to Dove’s site.

dove campaign

Tony Hung at Deep Jive Interests isn’t all that impressed — with good reason. He points out that the Ad Age article doesn’t mention anything about whether all of that traffic and views turned into more donations for the Dove fund, or caused any appreciable gain in any other metric. He also notes that traffic spikes from things such as Digg and Slashdot are notorious for overloading a site’s servers without resulting in many clicks or other tangible impact.

To be fair, it may be a little early to see that kind of effect from a campaign such as Dove’s — and there’s no question that the kind of reach it has gotten will eventually pay off in some form or another, even just in increased awareness. Another thing that occurred to me: just how successful are those Super Bowl ads anyway? I bet they aren’t that much better at turning a hot ad into real revenue than Dove’s web ad, and they’re orders of magnitude more expensive.

22 thoughts on “Viral is great — but does the infection last?

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  3. That’s the right question. With all the writing recently about hesitant advertisers wanting more real data about clicks and traffic, it’s amusing that no one’s mentioned that eyeballs, and ratings for that matter, are just as ephemeral. It’s even easier to surf through 50 tv channels with your remote than the equivalent on your computer. At least with the latter there is a real possibility of converting attention into immediate action.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Vera. It is interesting that online advertising or marketing gets held to a higher standard than offline — simply because the ability to measure all those different parameters is there.

  5. “Viral” is just another distribution mechanism, isn’t it? It’s the content that really counts. Dove and the mentos/diet coke video became as “big” as they did because the content was really interesting and compelling.

    Your comparison with super bowl ads is the right one, I think. Pushing online products and services particularly is much more effective in the online medium. That trend will only grow, I would think, whether it be viral or more traditional online advertising.

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  7. Sorry – Eric … viral is not just another distribution channel. Compelling content is only part of the story. And Tony is not talking about most TV advertising when he starts a discussion about the promotional boost to the bottom line. Most TV advertising is about building the brand or market positioning in the consumer’s mind.

    While Advertising Age’s article which is basically a CPM comparison matters, particularly when the reach for a cheap(er) online video starts to approach Super Bowl numbers … I don’t think that is the heart of the story either.

    What matters most is that the first time I learned about the dove ad was when I read the blog of one of my team members about a month ago. That posting said something to me about my team member and about dove. I have noted the buzz about it over the last couple of weeks, and here it is coming to me from another trusted, credible source … Matt Ingram.

    Let’s be honest … size always matters. But if dove’s brand is being placed on the pedestal in my mind, the repetition and general buzz are only one leg. The other two legs are just as big and important in my mind because they come to me more intimately.

    That is the real glorious story of viral distribution. My team member and Matt Ingram develop their status as trusted sources, dove is an obvious winner and I am actually sitting here using my time writing this damn comment!

  8. So I think you’re saying that viral marketing is a superior distribution mechanism, Michael? Perhaps, but I still think the content has to be there. No one is interested in sending a typical car ad to their friends or blogging about the latest Ditech commercial, you know?

    Interestingly, I first saw the dove video by clicking a link on a social news site (reddit, I think). I do know that I had no idea that the video was associated with dove until I read about it in this very column! What stuck with me was how the process of “beauty” is created for marketing purposes.

  9. I would agree, Eric. I probably never would have paid much attention to this ad campaign, despite the reports about traffic etc., if it hadn’t been for the campaign’s message, which is interesting in part because of what it says about fashion, society, etc. — and which is also probably interesting because it conflicts with the thrust of the industry that Dove is a part of.

  10. I have never really been fond of the term viral, since it describes a successful effect and not the actual discipline of generating attention and buzz. There is no question that a marketing message that goes viral is vastly superior to an interuptive ad – the reason being that people have either sought out the content or been referred by a trusted source and therefore the viewer is in much more receptive mindset to the message because every click is a vote. Whereas in traditional advertising, would anyone pay more attention to an ad because it happens to interupt their favourite show?
    Crappy ads or content almost never achieve viral distribution. Generating significant traffic online is a system of natural selection – the videos, sites, news stories or whatever that are most adapted to the environment thrive, those that aren’t are ignored.

  11. Those are good points, Doug. Thanks for the comment. And nice work with the whole rock, paper, scissors thing too 🙂

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  13. there are many people that became good looking when they are change because of make up and it looks good for them at least they see their selves how beautiful they are and they can gain confidence.

  14. My experience is that a lot of women love the ads, but men are a lot more lukewarm. Most find the women okay, but nothing spectacular. But seeing as the ads are intended to cater to women who want to loved warts and all, I'd say the whole campaign has been a success (up until recently anyway, as sales figures are starting to slump

  15. They look healthy and attractive. They aren't fat by any means and best of all they are not skinny. Boney ematiated models don't look good and really don't think that most men would think so if their friends weren't around to raz them. I'm telling you, they all look great.

  16. These promote one specific ideal of beauty which, frankly, I'm never going to come close to unless I spend a lot of time and money, and probably get plastic surgery, etc. Instead of encouraging me to celebrate my natural beauty, Dove just wants to tell me the same thing that every other cosmetic company does – if I spend enough time and money I can start to look like what their graphics department created.

  17. I don't know what to say about Viral but I remember I used Narconon in order to prevent pretty much all the infection I could have made in a different situation. I think many more people should follow my example and do that I did and I'm sure there will be less casualties.

  18. I don't know what to say about Viral but I remember I used Narconon in order to prevent pretty much all the infection I could have made in a different situation. I think many more people should follow my example and do that I did and I'm sure there will be less casualties.

  19. Because viruses are tiny and replicate inside cells using the cells' own metabolic functions, there are only a limited number of metabolic functions that antiviral drugs can target. In contrast, bacteria are relatively large organisms, commonly reproduce by themselves outside of cells, and have many metabolic functions that antibacterial drugs (acnee) can target

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