The Manipulation of Tay Zonday

Viral marketing, part-savvy, part-skeevy

Canadian entrepreneur Lea Alcantara will appear  on Monday's panel the  Art of Self-Branding.
Canadian entrepreneur Lea Alcantara will appear on Monday's panel the Art of Self-Branding.

When Tay Zonday became an Internet phenomenon for the awesome and addictive "Chocolate Rain" in less time than it takes most folks to write one chorus, he was regarded alternately with awe, giddiness, and humiliation. Viral videos are nothing new, and even his insane popularity –eventually landing him on Jimmy Kimmel Live! – wasn't unheard of. But Dr Pepper's promotion and envelopment of Zonday's massive success – "Cherry Chocolate Rain," a big-production music video complete with scantily clad girls and gallons of chocolate syrup – now that was something unusual and funny. Obviously an ad for the cherry-chocolate soda, "Cherry Chocolate Rain" never once mentions the words "Dr Pepper." It's not the perfect model of viral marketing, but Dr Pepper gets it. There's no reason to spend millions of dollars on television advertising when you can get upward of 3 million hits on a three-minute skit.

In essence, Dr Pepper is rebranding itself as a company that's hip and in the know. As more businesses accept that receiving a YouTube link in an e-mail from a friend is much more likely to hook a consumer than traditional advertising, the market will flood with subliminal viral ads. But new marketing goes much deeper than that. It's now about community, reliance on the consumer, and new media, all rolled up into a symbiotic relationship where – in theory – everyone's happy.

"In a way, we're only making visible what people have always done: asking their friends for advice," marketing consultant Brian Oberkirch explains. "Maybe you had a gadget friend, someone who knew wines, someone who could pick clothes or music or restaurants. And you leaned on them. Same thing now, but that friend who shares your tastes might be in New Zealand. We have access to more brains."

Oberkirch is moderating Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing, a seeming oxymoron that pervades the contemporary nonformula. How can you sell a product or service to a consumer without making her feel like she's being beaten over the head with a slogan or idea? It begins with a great product, he says, and intense word of mouth. Companies like the Threadless online T-shirt shop, Skype, Amazon, and even Google grew into multimillion-dollar businesses through little but communication within a community.

"The more the marketing insight is baked into the experience of the product, the better," Oberkirch says. "It shouldn't need a lot of shouting from the rooftops."

Daphne Kwon, CEO of ExpoTV, speaks on a relative topic, What User Generated Video Means to Word of Mouth Advertising. It's not as creepy as it sounds. Her philosophy isn't about manipulating consumers.

"Authenticity is required, and insincerity is swiftly punished," Kwon relates. "The corporate poseur road kill is all around us. ... The great thing about word of mouth is that it's not about a campaign or a flight or a budget. It's about whether people decide to talk about you because they want to talk about you."

How does a company breed trust in a cynical generation of choosy consumers? It comes down to what real people are saying on the streets. A good brand transcends taglines and jingles and becomes integrated into the fabric of daily life. Lea Alcantara's Art of Self-Branding emphasizes the importance of a consistent yet evolving image.

"Viral videos and blogs can absolutely help the branding process," the Canadian entrepreneur says, "but if you are anything but true to yourself or your message, that becomes very quickly apparent and can backlash."

As people continue to intensify their buying habits, the trickery of the past is replaced by honest marketing, and only the products that are worth the ink on their copyrights pass muster. The consumer is becoming stealthier, more cautioned, and more intelligent with each download. It's about time that businesses put a little more faith in their products.

"I hope to convince people that marketing doesn't have to be skeevy," Oberkirch admits. "What if we learned to make things people actually like and use? That might even atone for all those billboards we were responsible for all these years."  

RELATED PANELS

What User Generated Video Means to Word of Mouth Advertising March 10, 10am, Room 19AB

The Art of Self-Branding March 10, 10am, Room A

Self Replicating Awesomeness: The Marketing of No Marketing March 10, 11:30am, Room C

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

viral marketing, Tay Zonday, Brian Oberkirch, Daphne Kwon, Lea Alcantara

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