Challenge of Reaching the Masses

Going Viral is a Tall Order

Exhibit 13.13   The Old Spice commercial (“Smell like a man, man”).

The Old Spice commercial of 2010 (“Smell like a man, man”, Exhibit 13.13), the fastest growing online viral video campaign in its time, received 6.7 million views on Day 1 and 23 million by Day 3. On the net it has the benefit of remaining on the backlist and its views reached 50 million by 2014. The Blendtec viral video series “Will it Blend?” has crossed 300 million views since it debuted in 2006. Recent successes include Evian’s “Baby & Me” (96 million) and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” (65 million). Eventually there will be advertisements that cross the 100 million mark, within days instead of months or years.

Though impressive, 100 million viewers represent about 1.4% of the world’s population — too small a proportion for global FMCG brands that need to reach out to the masses. Advertisements moreover, rarely go viral.

Viral campaigns that people choose to view on their own free will, compete with all of the content that already exists on the web, as well as whatever continues to pour in! They can only do so by entertaining people in the manner they want to be entertained, or informing them about things that interest them. Moreover, it would only serve their purpose if in addition to the entertaining content and interesting information, they can effectively communicate the message they want to communicate about their brand.

It is a tall order. There can be no doubt that to reach out to mass audiences, it is much easier for advertisers to ride on the entertainment industry than to compete with it. Despite the ills of interrupt advertising, it presents a win-win. It is the only solution that marketers can rely on for mass advertising. They benefit from the reach, and the entertainment industry benefits from advertising revenue. From the consumers’ perspective, while ads interrupt their viewing experience, they do fund the entertainment industry, which otherwise would need to rely more on subscription fees to pay for content.

Online Advertising for Mass Marketers

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches that marketers can take to communicate online to consumers — inbound marketing, which relies on a pull strategy to channel the buzz onto their sites, and outbound marketing, which relies on advertising. Ideally marketers would like to rely more on inbound marketing to generate traffic, but advertising may be more effective for mass marketers to reach larger audiences.

The audience is spoilt for choice on the web. As users explore and discover their unique personal tastes amidst the enormous glut of web pages, media consumption on the net is shattered into numerous miniscule fragments.

1. Google 2. YouTube 3. Facebook
4. Baidu 5. Wikipedia 6. Yahoo!
7. Reddit 8. Google India 9. QQ
10. Taobao 11. Amazon 12. Tmall
13. Twitter 14. Google Japan 15. Sohu

Exhibit 13.14   The 15 most popular websites (Source: Alexa, April 2017).

There is also considerable consolidation on the web. The 15 most popular websites listed in Exhibit 13.14 attract the largest number of eyeballs, and the majority of these sites support advertising. The big three — Google, Facebook and YouTube — have crossed a billion unique viewers per month.

Website publishers are able to segregate their users into audience segments or personas based on their online behaviours, demographics, socialgraphics, locations etc. The ad servers can direct different advertisements to different browsers. This allows advertisers to finely target their advertisements to audiences based on their traits, thus increasing the effectiveness of the ad. Audiences are also likely to be more receptive to advertising that is aligned with their interests.

The web also affords a high level of transparency and controls on the reach and exposure of advertisements. This allows for better budget controls through a variety of pricing models based on impressions and clicks.

The high level of flexibility and transparency makes advertising on the web conducive both for niche brands as well as mass marketers.

The web is also ideal for testing advertisements before airing on relatively expensive conventional media, thereby greatly reducing financial risks. The Old Spice commercial for instance, was aired on the Super Bowl, after its YouTube success.

As it grows to contribute to a larger component of a brand’s communication mix, it is increasingly important that online marketing is well integrated with offline marketing. All marketing initiatives must be tightly interwoven to create a synergistic impact.

TV Remains Most Effective Medium for Mass Marketers

Consider the following statistics on some of the most watched TV broadcasts:

  • On average, 80 to 90 million people from the United States are tuned into the Super Bowl, and over 100 million tune into Super Bowl Sunday.
  • The clash between India and Pakistan, at the 2015 Cricket World Cup attracted over a billion TV viewers.  At the earlier 2011 edition, their encounter at the semi-finals was watched by about 988 million people.
  • Estimates of TV viewership of the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony varied between one and four billion.
  • Around 704 million tuned into China’s 2014 Lunar New Year extravaganza on TV.
  • On 20 July 1969, 530 million people watched the first humans ever to walk on the surface of the moon.

(Sources: Wikipedia, Adweek, China Central Television and The Hollywood Reporter)  


While it is the blockbusters that attract huge audiences, primetime viewership also remains high, in spite of media fragmentation. According to Nielsen the top 10 primetime broadcast programmes in the U.S. (April 2014) were watched by 17 million to 9 million viewers on the same day. The U.S. ratings (i.e. the percentage of TV homes tuned into television) ranged from 11 for the top programme to 6 for the 10th most watched programme. Ratings in India, a heterogeneous country with many languages and cultures, vary from 10 to 2 for the top 10 programmes. In comparison, ratings in a smaller country like Hong Kong range from 30 to 20 for the top 10 programmes.

These figures suggest that as far as reaching a mass audience is concerned, no other medium comes close to television. By placing ads on multiple channels and programmes, advertisers are able to reach a far greater audience on TV. It is the only medium that can reach over 100 million viewers over a few hours.

Yet, as internet download speeds improve worldwide, as the penetration of smart TVs increases, and as the influence of the present and future internet generations grows, online content will continue to swell. Its expansion will accelerate the erosion of offline media, including TV.

Even now there is clear evidence that the level of cannibalization is substantial and growing — while 704 million viewers tuned into China’s 2014 Lunar New Year extravaganza on TV, another 110 million tuned into the same programme online. Considering the pace at which mobile is growing, global online advertising spend should overtake TV by 2018.

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