Success in viral marketing is a hit-or-miss proposition

A video of Kobe Bryant jumping over a speeding car while wearing Nike's new Hyperdunk shoes garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube

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A video of Kobe Bryant jumping over a speeding car while wearing Nike's new Hyperdunk shoes garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube. Despite debate over its authenticity, the video is drawing plenty of attention for Nike.

However, predicting whether a campaign will pick up online buzz can be difficult. In a recent New York Times article, Streeter Seidell, front-page editor of CollegeHumor.com, notes, "What is popular and funny one day could be clichŽd and boring the next."

The article mentions there are a few commonalities between the types of online content that catch on, such as being short and easily understood. However, aside from that, it's hard to pinpoint what the audience will love and what they will pass by.

Why does it matter?

A viral marketing campaign ultimately cannot be planned, and largely depends on good instincts. Still, there are a few controllable factors that play into whether or not it will truly go viral.

Chris Kooluris, senior media specialist at Ketchum, says it is important to focus the messaging so it truly connects with the target audience, but to also anticipate some bad buzz.

"There are a lot of very strong opinions that [will] come at your brand," he adds. "You have to be ready for those opinions."

Kooluris advises seeking out people from the target community to help develop the campaign and pinpoint ways to reach the desired audience. Viral efforts also require an edge.

"It needs to have some sort of uncertainty to it, so that it's exciting, but also a little nerve-wracking," he adds.

It's hard to tell which viral campaigns will catch on, so it is best to incorporate your efforts into a larger PR plan, says Rhonda Brauer, MD at Burson-Marsteller.

"Fundamentally, a viral campaign has to be part of a larger strategy," she adds.

Five facts:

1. According to statistics compiled by eMarketer, 89% of adults share content with friends and family via e-mail.

2. A viral video of YouTube sensation Tay Zonday singing "Chocolate Rain" has received more than 20 million views since appearing in April 2007.

3. More than $10 million of second-quarter campaign contributions for Barack Obama, who has employed an extensive viral marketing campaign, were made online.

4. Think.MTV.com recently launched a contest to develop viral videos demonstrating the ease of voting. About 100,000 people have visited the site in recent weeks.

5. A 90-second YouTube video, created as an extended version of a 30-second commercial for AT&T's new GoPhone service, has gotten more than 50,000 hits.

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