Five years after most consumers latched on, and a good decade after the early adopters dicovered them, it seems marketers are beginning to discover viral emails en masse - at least if the clients I know are any yardstick.
After pitching viral ideas to clients for years as a cheap way for brands to engage consumers and collect data, I'm all of a sudden wading in to work each morning through a hailstorm of briefs demanding "online opt-in content".
Which you would think would be great.
Except the clients seem so eager to be involved the Next (or, more accurately, Last) Big Thing that they don't want to waste any precious time considering the consumer's point of view.
Viral communication - digital media stuff in general - is the ultimate opt-in media. That means you actually have to spend good money engaging, or even (shock, horror) entertaining your audience.
It means that the old "hypodermic model" of communication, where the consumer is seen as nothing more than a passive recipient of the message, is not just wrong (as it always is); it's demonstrably, conspicuously, tooth-grindingly obviously wrong.
If you expect people to endorse your communication enough to put their cred on the line and pass it on to their friends, it should be 98% fun. Relevant, brand-aligned fun, but fun nonetheless. Otherwise you just make them look like a gimp.
A point seemingly lost on one client, who said "Hey, that last piece of DM you guys did was great. Why don't we just turn that into an email?"
I just hope that when the inevitably miserable response rate stats come back, the response is "maybe next time we should listen to the agency and try something people will enjoy" and not "We tried viral. Doesn't work."
Or, God forbid "We just didn't include enough product benefits".