Friday, March 11, 2011

How "Smart" is SmartWater

The Jennifer Aniston/Smart Water “viral” video has probably sparked more conversation among my peers about the subject of viral marketing than any piece I’ve encountered in a while, especially regarding whether SmartWater “gets it” or not.

The SmartWater video parodying viral media which, then of course went viral, was probably a one-shot deal as the only reason it did go viral was because it was poking fun at the viral culture.  Got that?  But with the world changing and people now getting their content from many different mediums, corporations and marketing companies are scrambling to figure out how to get the word out about their product in a quick, sexy manner and, thus, have chosen to dip their toe in the viral pool as an extension of their marketing plans.. 

Though it’s incredibly hard to quantify, the sharing of information over the past few years has increased exponentially with the rise of digital cable, the internet, and most importantly social media.  For example, if you look at the whole Charlie Sheen saga, the news blitzed through all mediums to the point where a story with apparent legs went firmly into overkill within the course of a week…and now, of course, within just seven days the saying “WINNING” went from popular to passé.  So if you’re trying to market something with a launch date seven weeks out, how do you even begin to earn sustainability when dealing with such a tiny window?    

But, even despite that tall hurdle, I strongly think, unless you are incredibly saavy (I’m looking at you, Apple, Inc) corporate America is fighting a counter-productive battle because, by definition, anything produced by a corporate controlling entity will not be successfully viral because it won’t be considered grass roots.  The entire appeal of sites like Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter is the creation of a common community where voices can be heard and ideas shared while circumventing mainstream media and anything that represents the old guard (or in colloquial terms “the man.”)  The discovery of a video featuring a cute kitten or a 5’11” white kid who excels at slam dunks spreads through the internet because 1) it feels “found” and not “force fed” and 2) involves people who share the commonality of, well, being common.  This unspoken solidarity is appealing because, in our “celubuculture,” it’s easy to relate to someone similar and understand that you too may one day experience the same notoriety, if only for a Warholian moment.  It’s the same reason we relate to reality TV contestants who only 2 months before their show was filmed were on their couches eating bonbons like everyone else.

As soon as we see corporate logos attached to “viral” videos there’s an automatic disconnect because 1) we automatically know we are being forcefed and 2) you’re playing on our turf and the same rules don’t apply.  This is not to say viral marketing can’t be successful through a corporate entity, but it certainly fights an uphill battle because it lacks the one thing every great viral video lacks:  sheer authenticity.  That said, it looks like SmartWater struck a balance between viral and traditional (the use of a celebrity), though my best guess is, as said, that was a one-time shot.  So while they “got it” for a  moment, I wouldn’t expect other companies to have incredibly similar success. 


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