MarketingMonitor: Crackermatic Viral Case Study

CASE STUDY: Crackermatic

Pull The Other One

There's a nice little company placard for a marketing agency round here that reads "Contagious Marketing and Design." While 'infectious marketing' would appear to be more fitting, it seems that Disease + Marketing = Good. And that's where viral marketing enters, stage left.

Like most holy grails, viral marketing is oft spoken of and recommended, but few know how it works or how to make the most of the opportunities it affords. Working much like the internet equivalent of 'word of mouth', viral campaigns can be as cheap as they are effective as much of the legwork is done by the user, forwarding the campaign on to ever-increasing numbers of friends and colleagues. Anyone with an email address knows that it's not long before jokes, pictures and multimedia arrive in their in-box - while it took only a few hours for the Harry Pothead mock-ups to do the rounds (and we won't even mention Claire Swires), Levi's is still one of the few brands to try out an internet-only commercial during its Flat Eric campaign.

For example, a couple of years ago, Guinness ploughed a great deal of cash into sponsoring the Rugby World Cup. Amongst television, radio, press and ambient campaigns, Guinness also dipped a toe into email marketing, hiring agency Circle to produce an easily emailed game pack. Within hours of sending out the first emails to friends and colleagues, the agency reported that there had been several thousand responses to the game pack. Indeed, this may have, in part, contributed to Guinness being the only sponsor at the Rugby World Cup to have generated sponsorship awareness amongst fans - according to a report at the time from Performance Research Europe, over half of the fans recognised Guinness's involvement, compared to 26% for Coca-Cola and 21% for BT.

A good example of how effective viral marketing can be is in Dial Media Group's (DMG) recent Crackermatic promotion to showcase its online marketing department. Deciding, with some justification, that viral campaigns are often best associated with a specific event or experience, DMG chose to follow the popular browser-based e-card approach in the form of a Christmas cracker - users would receive a Christmas cracker by post and be given the opportunity to create and send multiple crackers of their own. Launched on 29th November 2001, the campaign delivered a total of over 200,000 crackers by the end of the campaign on 3rd January 2002.

The process began when DMG employees sent out multiple crackers to personal and professional contacts from their databases - while 1,112 crackers were sent with this method, each individual cracker can be set up to display a To and From field in the email, enhancing the direct and personal feel of the campaign. The immediate result of this original posting was that around 1,500 more crackers were sent on by the recipients.

Clicking on a link in the email led the recipients to their individual cracker which would download in a separate browser window - while the navigation was hidden, 'close' and 'minimise' buttons were added to avoid oft-voiced criticism of intrusion when sites, ads and multimedia force changes on a users machine (pop-up ads in particular).

The cracker animation itself, a comedy scene with elves and exploding crackers, was chosen to emphasise the light-hearted and 'cute' nature of the campaign (the word dominated much of the campaign's feedback) as well as showing the potential to do something fun and different without excluding companies whose brand integrity does not normally sit well with internet humour. The recipient was then given the opportunity to construct their own crackers in the Crackermatic area.

In order to continue the direct and personal involvement with the recipient (and, presumably to prolong their involvement with the campaign), the creation of the crackers was intended to be as, if not more, fun as receiving them. However, in anticipation of a users growing weary of going through the whole process each time they began a new cracker (and for those discouraged by the use of Flash), a Quicksend feature was added for repeat visitors. The popularity of Quicksend with second and third-time users resulted in around 13.5% of crackers being sent via this method.

While viral marketing can often work in isolation, DMG also carried out a mix of innovative and traditional marketing methods to boost its results. A small amount of PR activity resulted in Crackermatic receiving Radio 2's Website of the Day tag, achieving an increase in crackers on the day of the broadcast from 1,500 per day to 15,000 - and doubled to 30,000 on the next day. The number of visits coming from URL searches on Google and other search engines (especially at the time of the broadcast) was also substantial, aided by search engine optimisation done in the run up to the campaign. This meant that specific URLs and a tightly-focused set of search terms were used to minimise waste and introduce the site to as many 'cold' users as possible - there was also attention paid to the likely descriptive text used on linking sites, especially as Google gives ranking preference to sites with higher link popularity.

The decision to explore the marketing potential of discussion lists and signature files is a welcome acknowledgement of oft-forgotten techniques. While signature files are rarely used beyond contact details and 'witty' quotations, a link pointing back to the URL was used on an international Usenet group (although the campaign was primarily UK-centric, downloads from Australia, Estonia, Indonesia and Japan were recorded), resulting in use in the Southern Hemisphere, which ended up trailing back to the UK and, hence, a new set of UK recipients. While newsgroups are hardly ever used or written about (in business terms anyway) nowadays, discussion lists are frequently forgotten in the marketing mix. However, an announcement on Chinwag's ViralMonitor (announcement service for viral campaigns) and a signature file on the uk-netmarketing discussion list throughout December resulted in a further 1,800 crackers, along with the 1,400 that the Usenet experiment had gathered.

Although tracking of the campaign was limited to unbroken chains (i.e. if a recipient closed the site and came back to send a/more cracker(s), tracking was broken), it generally allowed DMG to follow the spread from user to user, with the average number of chained crackers being 3 and a maximum of 14. Similarly, the average number of crackers sent by each user was 3.4, although the maximum was 100. In addition, the single server dealing Crackermatic managed over 25,000 download sessions and 50,000 outgoing emails on peak days.

While the Crackermatic campaign is clearly an experiment, it does show how successful viral marketing can be, provided the same level of effort goes into planning as with traditional marketing campaigns and that the initial proposition is a good one. In these current times of reduced marketing budgets, similar efforts could reap ample rewards.

General statistics for Dial Media Group Crackermatic campaign:

Total Days of Activity   36
Total number of crackers sent   200,667
Unopened crackers   76,195
Visitors to main site   91,353
Total number of unique senders   58,735
Average number of crackers sent   3.4
Most crackers sent by one person   110
Longest unbroken viral chain   14 users
Visitors to DMG site from Crackermatic   9297

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Sam, how much do you think

Sam, how much do you think viral marketing has really moved on, apart from migrating in large numbers to YouTube? As a marketing practice and part of brand strategy, has it truly evolved in the last five years?

Has Viral Marketing Moved on?

Good question. Sounds like something we should examine with a panel at a Chinwag Live event.

Judging by the submissions to Viralmonitor, it would appear that the mechanisms haven't evolved a huge amount, although things like are encouraging evolution. What has changed is the level of creativity, the distribution methods and also the sophistication of the metrics involved.

Some of the apps, games and creative pieces that have come through are brilliant. But there's also an awful lot of material that's been cranked out in what looks like a "quick, let's make a viral game, do you have an engine we can customise?" kind of a way.