India yet to catch viral fever, but the symptoms are very much there

Viral advertising is beginning to pick up in India, however, compared to the US, virals have still a long way to go in India. So far, viral marketing is seen more as a fun element with no direct impact on revenue generation even as some see it help in brand recall, which could later translate into revenues.

e4m by Robin Thomas
Updated: Jan 13, 2009 6:51 AM
India yet to catch viral fever, but the symptoms are very much there

When people like something they tend to share it with others, and the Internet only adds value to this phenomenon. Viral advertising or marketing is more or less on similar lines. While it is still at a nascent stage, it has become quite popular among consumers. More and more brands are looking at this form of marketing to create brand awareness.

India undoubtedly has a long way to go to match the US. Viral advertising is more or less seen as a fun element in India, for instance, a viral by Webchutney for titled ‘Dilwale Dulhania Kaise le Jayenge’ and DesiMartini’s ‘Adventures of Makkadman’, which are both humourous in content.

How effective and popular is it anyway?

Atul Hegde, CEO, Ignitee, said, “Viral ads are certainly very popular. However, the challenge is that it needs to be a true viral and should not be created for the sake of it. Virals by nature are meant to be very disruptive and a lot more engaging to the consumers, and if done in the right manner, can be a very powerful tool, but again, viral needs to be used in a conjunction with a lot of activities.”

Rishi Khiani, COO, Web18, observed, “Viral advertising is very popular, especially for youth brands. Humour adds to the stickiness of the creative and creates traction amongst youngsters, who are keen to communicate with their friend groups. Successful examples are the ‘Ghajini’ viral for oktatabyebye, ‘Mahabharat 5 Pandavas’ and ‘Chevrolet Aveo’. ‘Pankaj Udhaas’ remains the pioneering viral in this category.”

Rahul Nanda, COO, Webchutney Studio Pvt Ltd, pointed out, “The popularity of the virals can be judged by the sheer number of virals being created these days. How effective they are is another story. In our experience, two-thirds of viral attempts actually do not succeed with the audience. Virals are definitely an answer for marketers to target an otherwise advertising saturated mind.”

Having a different take, Amar Deep Singh, Vice-President, Interactive Avenues, said, “Most virals in India have been restricted to creation of a film, typically a Bollywood spoof, so it is funny and advertisers feel that receivers of the viral will forward it simply because it’s funny. Quite a few people who receive such stuff do not forward them purely because forwarding such stuff is seen as ‘uncool’ and it really does not add any value to the person receiving it.”

Leroy Alvares, Country Head, Tribal DDB, noted, “Viral advertising has become pretty popular among the users and is the quickest way of getting across the brand message, thereby becoming a good tool for advertisers. It is the quickest way of getting a brand message in a very interesting fashion.”

Effects on revenue generation

According to Ignitee’s Hegde, “A good viral should ideally fulfil whatever be the objective, whether it is garnering revenues or even brand opportunity. It really depends on the task of that brand.”

Singh of Interactive Avenues said, “Virals can definitely help in revenue generation if done in the right way, be it aimed at more transactions, more sales, or whatever the revenue event is defined as.”

Khiani of Web18 felt that virals did not directly help in revenue generation, however, it did help in brand recall, which later translated into revenues.

Webchutney’s Nanda too felt that viral did not directly help in revenue generation. “We have seen virals that add subscriber base to social networking sites or an email service provider; increase traffic to a website, spread the brand message, even create buzz, but not really help in direct e-commerce or transactions,” he added.

According to Tribal DDB’s Alvares, “A successful viral can brilliantly give ROI because the cost of spend on making the viral is self-promoting by nature, which therefore brings good ROIs to the table. From a brand perspective, if a viral is effective, it leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the consumer. A viral is a good brand tool and not a direct sales tool, hence one needs to look at a viral on what value it adds to a brand and how effective it is. However, let me tell you that out of 10, only one is effective.”

Recipe for an effective viral

Hegde of Ignitee explained, “A viral needs to be as simple as possible. The best ideas in the world are the simple ones and the best features of communication are able to get you quickly, therefore keep you communication simple and you will always be able to get things right.”

Nanda pointed out, “The market in India is very different from the Western counterparts, of course an obvious statement. Virals from players like Jib Jab in the US are far ahead in terms of maturity and messaging. India will take time to reach that maturity curve. Right now, it’s a fun element to use. Get the basics (creative and copy) right, a viral needs to be compelling enough to spread.”

Khiani noted, “The need of the hour is to create contextual connects and irreverent humour to connect to your brand. One clear learning is over-explicit promotion of the brand just does not work; it has to be subtly integrated into the creative communication.”

Interactive Avenues’ Singh said, “For something to be viral in nature it needs to be “Viral” in the true sense and it should be so interesting that the receiver needs to immediately feel like sharing it with his or her contacts, who in turn would like to share it with theirs and so on. Once these two aspects are taken care of, the last thing that needs to be taken care of is seeding the viral to the target audience.”

Alvares explained, “A good viral should be in time and appeal to sensibility, it should be humourous and must strictly focus on its content.”

Future trends

Khiani observed, “More and more mainstream brands will be adding virals to their arsenals with launches and sustenance activities for brand recall. More customised variations, where you can upload your images, voice, etc., will be the way ahead. With 3G not far away, audio-visual virals will spread like wildfire, adding on to the SMS phenomenon.”

Nanda said, “Trends that I see are that brilliance in execution will be rewarded – copy, creative will continue to determine the success of the viral. Virals will become personalised – customised, Do-it-Yourself, individualised virals, and virals within social communities – use of social networks, Facebook Apps like SuperPoke, Kat-le to name a few will get popular.”

Singh noted, “Social media and mobile lend themselves very naturally to viral marketing because of their nature and the ease with which one can share it (the viral idea) with others. In the early days of viral marketing, it was restricted to creation of something funny, which advertisers felt would be forwarded, which more and more advertisers realise (after doing it once) does nothing for the brand. Advertisers have already started asking for genuine viral ideas and brand connect, this will force viral marketers to think harder, and as a result we will get to see games, applications, offers and so on with a definte brand connect.”

Viral advertising is certainly becoming a very popular and powerful tool that can help a brand convey its message much faster, however, experts believe it still has a long way to go. While some are of the opinion that viral advertising in India is restrictive, others feel that most of the virals are unsuccessful. Nevertheless, experts also believe that this form of advertising is growing rapidly and with the introduction of 3G technology, it will only spread like wild fire.

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