Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Dream Of Viral Marketers

This week, a new bit of viral content hit the internet. It's called "ThisMan.org." If you click through, you will discover that this website claims to be a hub for a growing number of people that have all seen the same creepy visage in their dreams.

The site brings together a lot of evidence that This Man is appearing in dreams on a global scale. There is a gallery of artists' renditions of the guy, a display of "Ever Dream This Man?" posters from all over the world, and a few anecdotes about particular dreams featuring the weird face.

It all sounds so interesting, so fantastic, so science-fictional. You might even say it sounds "too interesting to be true."

Turns out, that just might be the case. A Google search of "ThisMan.org" reveals first this website, but second this article explaining why the thing is probably viral advertising or guerilla marketing and not a legitimate creepy phenomenon. Specifically, the domain name is owned by a semi-renowned Italian guerrilla marketer and prankster named Andrea Natella.

Which is bad news for Natella. If this site looks like a hoax (or even not a particularly interesting fiction), why would anyone feel motivated to share it with their friends, aside from the impulse to mock it? This site doesn't promote anything yet, and when it finally does, it's not going to have an interested audience left.

That is the pit that viral marketing is always in danger of falling into. A viral ad has to be interesting enough to be passed around and still maintain enough of a connection to the advertised product that it still promotes it without feeling like a hoax or a waste of time.

So how can marketers provide an interesting story that is connected to their product but still offers something as a motivation for those that have the burden of passing it around to friends? We need look no further than the first giant viral marketing apparatus, one that ran its course in the early days of the era of the internet meme. It's called The Beast, and its scope and appeal are still surprising to this day.

In an upcoming post, I plan on waxing nostalgic about this little game while talking about just why it was such a huge success, but you can read up on it here before then.

In the mean time, keep an eye on ThisMan.org. I'm betting it'll be outed as an ad within the week.