"We are the World ... We Are the Polymerase Chain Reaction": Silly Science, Serious Leads

Viral video marketing has a special penchant for silliness. In fact part of the fun of covering this field is watching formerly buttoned down brands push the boundaries of their own typical messaging and brand comfort zones. Well, at least it is for me, but I am churlish that way.

Now if you are trying to go viral with media that promotes advanced DNA testing devices or "electrical impedance-based cell monitoring systems" (don't ask me -- I haven't a clue) then you're going to want to go way off the reservation to get a YouTube hit. That is exactly what B2B marketing firm CompareNetworks does for medical device clients like Roche or Bio-Rad. The results are campy weirdness like "The PCR Song."

Done as a "We Are the World" parody, the video shows scientists singing the praises of the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction -- but I had to look it up) technique of analyzing DNA. "There was a time, when they amplified DNA," it begins, "You had to grow tons and tons of tiny cells..." And so on. At some point we get a chorus of "PCR, when you need to detect mutation," which is the kind of inspiring line they just don't write anymore for charity chants. The video has been viewed over 600,000 times on YouTube. There are other videos, too, like an earnest big-hair power ballad group singing on behalf of a cell monitoring device. Strong backlighting and slo-mo stage leaps ensue.

CompareNetworks has made a cottage industry out of this model. The company is actually a B2B product search engine provider that has branched out into marketing services, including viral videos for science geeks. The best of their videos are collected at the flagship product finder engine The GeneTitan Saturday morning cartoon for a microarray processor (again, please don't ask) is especially fine.

But since this company is nano-targeting such a small slice of hard core lab rats looking for high-priced equipment I had to ask CompareNetworks whether a broad-based approach like this really netted the right people? After all, it seems like the perfect example of a viral video misfire. Make a clever clip that nets hundreds of thousands of people who aren't necessarily going to buy your product.

Not so, says Bruce Bergwall, VP Business Development. "They will pay $100,000 to $150,000 to have a music video and it will go live on our site and their site." Then they plant it on YouTube and leverage enablers like Tubemogul to help with distribution and watch the registrants some in at their landing pages. "They have been thrilled with the quality of the leads they get from this," he says. It isn't right for everyone but apparently a lot of lab researchers use Google to search highly technical terms that really do land them on these video, which they share with other birds of their feather. "It is remarkable how responsive clients have been to this different approach," he says. Even in medical device marketing they are looking for ideas that are bolder and more defining for their brand.

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