Viral Advertising — Challenge of Reaching the Masses

Exhibit 19.15   Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”.

The Old Spice commercial of 2010, “Smell like a man, man”, 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 60 million by 2022. Some other notable successes include Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?”, Evian’s “Baby & Me” and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” (Exhibit 19.15).

These are relatively rare examples of ads that went viral. The vast majority of online advertising has an insignificant reach or impact.

Advertising campaigns that people choose to view on their own free will, compete for attention with the glut of content that already exists on the web, as well as the fresh content that continually pours in. To succeed, they must entertain or inform in a way that resonates with the audience, while effectively conveying the intended brand message. Even then, the challenge remains to be discovered and generate buzz among consumers.

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.

Global FMCG brands that need to reach out to the masses are unlikely to achieve their target purely through inbound marketing. Even if a campaign goes viral, it may not have the impact that mega brands need to quickly reach out to hundreds of millions of consumers. A multi-pronged strategy that includes both inbound and outbound advertising would be more effective in reaching out to a broader audience.

Despite the ills of outbound marketing, or interrupt advertising as is disparagingly referred to, it is the more effective solution for marketers who need to target mass audiences, and it presents a win-win. Mega brands 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.

TV Remains Most Effective Medium for Mass Marketers

Despite the increasing popularity of online content, TV remains the most effective medium for mass marketers. Statistics show that major TV broadcasts, such as the Super Bowl, the Cricket World Cup, and the Olympics, attract billions of viewers worldwide. Even primetime viewership remains high, with Nielsen ratings indicating that millions of people continue to tune in to television on a regular basis.

For reaching a mass audience, concentrated within a geographical boundary, television still offers the most efficient and effective means. By placing ads on multiple channels and programs, advertisers can reach a large audience quickly on TV.

However, with the rise of the internet and the growth of online content, the influence of digital media cannot be ignored. Online advertising spend has surpassed TV, and digital platforms are becoming increasingly important for reaching audiences. For example, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the first “streaming games”, was the most-watched Olympic Games ever on digital platforms, with 3.05 billion unique viewers tuning in to coverage across linear TV and digital platforms. In contrast, TV viewership declined, particularly in Europe and the US, where the time zone presented a challenge for broadcasters.

While TV remains a potent force, these comparisons reveal a clear downward trend in its viewership. As download speeds improve and smart TV penetration increases, online content will continue to expand, leading to further erosion of offline media, including linear TV.

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