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Viral Advertising – real or imagined?

Without actually realising it, signage in the mid 1990’s was on the edge of something very new. It would, in this the 21st century, reconfigure the basic elements of mass advertising beyond what was ever imagined in those heady days of the 90’s.
At the time, I think most of us in the trade thought it was a waste of time.
What was it?
Clients, no doubt thinking they were the first to think of it, would ask us to spell things wrong, or mirror a letter within the text, or use colours that clearly clashed.
Why?
Well, the philosophy was simple – do anything to get noticed. It was well before the full colour wide format printing became main stream, so we were dealing with traditional painting and computer cut text.
For my part, I often refused doing a sign with spelling errors. My reasoning was simple: If a client asked ‘who did your sign’ and it had spelling errors through it, I was concerned they’d think we were unprofessional, illiterate or stupid, costing us business.
To be fair of course, the client was looking for any opportunity to have his advertising noticed. The theory being that if someone noticed a ‘stupid mistake’, they’d tell others, then they’d tell others and before you knew it, everyone knew of the sign. It was a dilemma of sorts.
Viral Advertising  real or imagined Fig 1I think the jury is still out as to whether it got any more work, but as the old advertising slogan goes ‘any advertising is good advertising’.
It was termed ‘creative’ advertising in those days.
Everyone it seemed had a better idea than the last, and some were just corny, but some were clever.
However, it didn’t really take off on a grand scale until the internet became readily accessible to the masses.
Now it’s called ‘viral marketing’. As the name suggests, the amount of people that see it multiplies in huge numbers over a short period of time.
If you think of the grim reaper ads in the anti-aides campaigns of the 80’s where if one couple slept with a different partner every week, the amount of people that could be indirectly affected would be beyond our imagination in a very short space of time.
That is the attraction to viral marketing today.
Hitting ‘pay dirt’ by getting people to share a funny photo or a clever idea on the internet or via social media is fast becoming as important as making a memorable TV commercial, Billboard or radio advert. The most attractive aspect of the whole viral campaign is that it is relatively cheap when compared to other forms of advertising. Once the campaign is published, the actual viral aspect of the campaign is free. Who could resist that proposition?
Probably the number 1 success story in a viral campaign is Hotmail.com. The premise was simple. Invite people to get an email address for free. One person signed up, he told his friends. They signed up and then told other friends.
Viral Advertising  real or imagined Fig 2Social media took the same business model and got the same result. Oracal, Avery and 3M have also embraced social media to their credit. Whilst I don’t know their individual growth stats, I am sure as long as they embrace dialogue with their client base, be entertaining and informative, they will be assured of success.
Viral Advertising  real or imagined Fig 3It is not all about the hard sell though. Viral campaigns have matured as the popularity has grown.
Gone are the days that people just showed their friends anything. Now, the focus is on clever concepts, entertainment value or just respect for a good looking product or result. No longer is signage ‘just’ signage. Now it is becoming clever, funny or thought provoking.
Astute marketers are taking this further with the popularity of social networks, more signage is being targeted for the viral market. Advertisers actively factor in the viral element in their campaigns, targeting demographics to include the most popular social media.
Viral Advertising  real or imagined Fig 4We were recently involved in the Wake up Campaign in NSW. It involved wrapping two white buses in black material, with white text on the sides.
As is common with viral campaigns, they usually rely to a certain extent on one of these things:
-    the element of surprise,
-    something new,
-    clever or sophisticated design or
-    The fact that they are truly unique.
It is a gamble in many ways too. Whilst 3 of the examples here could be called clever or unique, the WAKE UP campaign relied in surprise.
No one was told what or who was behind it, what we had to ‘wake up’ for, or why it was even relevant.
The advertising agency left everyone in the dark.  We had no idea who was behind the campaign, the Coach company and the drivers knew nothing either. They were clearly banking on an impact that would go viral.
To a large extent it didn’t. Something unforeseen weeks earlier came to a head un-expectantly. Federal MP Peter Slipper was accused of impropriety, and the newspapers were full of stories associated with that event. No one was interested in the WAKE UP campaign because there were bigger stories to be had.
It did get coverage among the tech savvy members of the community, largely because the advertising agency obviously had a plan ‘b’.
A social media commentator just ‘happened’ to be at the first port of call for the buses, the Apple store in Sydney, and he just ‘happened’ to have his web cam with him, and he also just ‘happened’ to be at the windows when the buses arrived. I’m sounding cynical because I am.
The IT sector started buzzing with the mystery, which also managed to garner some bad press. But, like advertising, any press is good press.
As an industry, especially the smaller operators, we need to be up to the challenge that the viral market is presenting us.
It comes down to the products we use and the end result we produce. We can easily damage a campaign quickly if we don’t use the right product for the job, damaging our reputation in the process.
The amount of times a great campaign or sign has been let down by a poor product choice and application is disturbing. The mindset that you can use anything cheap as ‘it is not going to be on long’ is a dangerous attitude to have, because a product that begins to peel, is un-laminated or pulls back on the cut lines, takes the attention away from the campaign and focuses the attention on the poor fitting. The clients’ impact is tarnished, and your reputation will be tarnished too.
Viral Advertising  real or imagined Fig 5Yes, there are companies that specialist in the low end slap & dash wrap market where price is king. We compete with them all the time. I lost a wrap contract to an opposition shop that undercut me substantially on several vehicles. I was annoyed, but uninterested in matching the price.
Several weeks later I called in on the old client as a courtesy call. The wraps were supposed to be on for 12 months but already peeling. I expressed surprise. My client wasn’t surprised at all. The new sign shop didn’t even clean the vehicle but went straight over the grime. When my former client complained, the new guy said it wasn’t part of the quote, as cleaning was extra. Stupid but true. My client has since come back to me and the new guy is no longer welcome there.
My personal belief is that a client only motivated by price will never be a loyal long term client, nor will they ever value your professionalism and experience. I don’t think twice about walking away from that type of client because you will lose them to the next guy that comes along and undercuts you anyway. Remembering of course that it’s no less expensive maintaining a cheap client as it is a good client.
If you’ve worked hard for your reputation, prostituting yourself and your business for no or little profit is a sure fire way to go out the back door fast. At some point you have to set the bar at a reasonable standard and maintain your determination not to drop below the standard you have set.
My own experience is that advertising agencies are realising a strong correlation between a good campaign and good application of the signs.
The major manufacturers are also doing their bit to help the industry lift their game. But they can’t do it on their own. They need industry participation. This is an industry that is always evolving and technique and product knowledge is always being tested.
It’s worth remembering too that every wrap is another opportunity for a viral campaign. The Wide Format Industry must make sure then that we use the correct products, the job looks good, and the campaign promotes the clients market strategy rather than becoming a symbol of what ‘not’ to do when a wrapping a vehicle.
Shane Drew
www.dsi.net.au

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