Recently I’ve been writing about “viral marketing” for the book I’m working on. It’s got me thinking about the distinction between the forced viral marketing exemplified by Hotmail, Blue Mountain Arts, and other commercial companies, and the viral phenomena that seem to occur just by virtue of their own compelling natures.

I’m thinking particularly about happenings like these:

  • Mahir Cagri, the Turkish fellow, whose goofy personal home page gained millions of visitors a couple years ago.
  • All your base are belong to us,” an off-beat phrase that has proliferated around the Internet, derived from a badly translated 1980s Japanese video game.
  • Psycho Ex-Girlfriend, a site developed by a guy who decided to post audio files converted from voicemails left by a crazed woman he broke up with.

I wonder …

What is it about these examples that causes them to rise from obscurity, get broadcast around the Internet, and gain the attention of millions? Is it that they are so funny, goofy, weird, or engaging, that people just can’t resist sharing them?

Whole companies have arisen just for the purpose of creating “viral marketing campaigns” for their clients. Obviously, these campaigns work sometimes. But how often? I’ll bet many companies have spent tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands trying to creat a viral effect — with little or no result. On the other hand, the above examples seem to have “worked” with minimal effort on the part of the originator.

Can you really bottle viral-ness? Or does it have to just “happen”?

AB — originally posted about 2001

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