Is the epidemic of viral to be arrested?

AdAge is reporting results from a research by sociologist Duncan Watts that might challenge the growing faith in viral marketing.

Professor Watts is pretty much claiming that even if influencers may be particularly effective over otheer people, they are only able to do so to their immediate neighbourhood, and not much beyond.

This has spurred a wild controversy between supporters of buzz theories (namely Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping point) and others who have been waiting a good decadeto call it well-marketed nonsense.

As to me, I’m surprised by how easily the web is being flooded by passionate, yet meaningless arguments (yes, I’m thinking at blogging vs planning…)

It’s not a matter of qualitative theory vs math. It’s a matter of common sense.

Throught human history word-of-mouth has always worked, and it has done so depending on the subject of communication, the cohesion of the community and the means of communication.

Today there’s not doubt we have more means of communication. We can even pretend that we are more cohese.

So the subject of communication is key to how relevant buzz can be, because it implies how interesting the message is going to be, to how many and what people it will relate to, and how easily it can be transmitted from one to another.

Common sense tells us that a service like Skype can benefit greatly from viral, whereas in the case of goods with low involvment (toothpicks?), products aimed at little-networked consumers (dentures?) or complex messages it’s a little less so.

And in general… Viral for niche marketing: very good. Viral for mass marketing: less good (but growing steadily).

Final Burp: Viral is pretty much like a side dish. There’s cases in which it can be enough for a whole meal, but most times it needs to be served with a main course (even though the latter may be less tasty)


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