Commentary

Who Are Your Soldiers?

Viral marketing campaigns are notoriously unpredictable. Until you send an edgy piece of promotional creative out into the wild, or initiate a UGC come-on, who knows whether it will fall flat or "go viral." I was intrigued by the small scale success of mobile UGC campaign from 211(me) for a Dave Attell comedy show at the Showcase Live in Foxboro, Mass in August. According to 211(me) CEO Robert DeFranco, this use of mobile and Web for grassroots event promotion exceeded initial goals tenfold on some metrics. The client credited the mobile effort with having to adding a second show.

Because comedy show dates often are announced last minute, 211(me) had only five days to put it together. The mobile service offers users personalized mash-ups, where they can create and share their own mobile flyers, text, photos across phones, the Web and even email delivery. Ironically, the company leveraged other comedians to help drive awareness for the Attell show by creating a the Pay My Rent! Comedy Contest around the opening act. Fans could vote for their favorite struggling comic to open for Attell and get his rent paid. Comedians used 211(me)'s personal mash-up technology to create a unique keyword that fans could to vote for the comic via an SMS code. The comedians also got a widget for their social media sites that pushed users to the show and the mobile voting. According to DeFranco "Comedians are very active in working their databases." Nine minutes after launching the program, the first comedian registered and had a widget on his site to garner votes. The marketers were able to find the critical link in the club value chain: the comedians themselves, who not only had lists to work but a high level of motivation to do so. Even better, the creative for the campaign captured the spirit of homegrown, vagabond comics. As a result, these performers didn't just become fans sharing a passion. They became scores of individual pitchmen who promoted the Attell show by promoting themselves.

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In fact, 211(me) says that with an original goal of grabbing 20 comics and 2,000 mobile votes, Pay My Rent! registered 100 comics for the contest, who garnered 23,000 votes and clearly spiked awareness of the show itself.

By creating easy tools that let anyone craft mobile content and even call-ins, the model here turned a middle tier of performers into marketers. "We call them 'soldiers,' or individual marketers" says DeFranco. "In this model, if there are no soldiers, our value goes down. It isn't hard to build a brand widget. What is hard is giving the user an interface so anyone can create mobile content. It's really about the soldier." The brilliance of this campaign to me was that it aimed its marketing away from the headline talent and instead leveraged the surrounding smaller fish and their ambition to be a Dave Attell. These were the people who knew the people who come to the comedy clubs.

For some products like bands and celebrities, it is easy to locate the "soldiers," but where are the grunts in a movie promotion or a packaged goods launch? Marketing via social network is only beginning to take shape, but a critical piece of the engine is understanding when and why people even elect to share content at all. What is the motivation? Who in the chain is the soldier who is motivated to carry the message?

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