What the vuvuzela teaches us about buzz marketing

Several weeks ago, I developed an incessant buzzing sound in my ears. A trip to urgent care ruled out an inner-ear infection.

Several weeks ago, I developed an incessant buzzing sound in my ears. A trip to urgent care ruled out an inner ear infection. The culprit? Watching the FIFA World Cup with the sound on.

You know what I'm talking about: the vuvuzela (pronounced voo-voo-ZAY-la), that cheap plastic horn measuring about a meter long and available in wild colors.

I googled the subject and discovered the vuvuzela is an ancestor to a metal kudu horn blown to summon African villagers. In my hometown, Minnesota Vikings fans have their own version of the vuvuzela. It's a foot-long purple plastic horn designed as a miniature descendent of some 800-pound antler blown by ancestral Vikings to warn of impending pillaging.

No offense to soccer moms, but I don't follow the sport of futbol. Before the FIFA World Cup started, I couldn't name a single player on the US team, let alone tell you what a striker does.

Watching some of the FIFA World Cup, I couldn't help but think about the uncanny similarities between the vuvuzela and buzz marketing. After all, if buzz marketing were audible, it probably would resemble a vuvuzela and sound like a million agitated bees trapped in a tin can with only one queen to chase.

Like the vuvuzela, buzz marketing – also known as word-of-mouth marketing – only works when tens of thousands blow in unison for an extended period of time. Some consumers, like futbol fans, find the constant buzz interesting and appealing. They may even go so far as to join in the buzz. Others find it annoying and mute their volume. If blown individually without the accompaniment of thousands of others, the vuvuzela makes a rather unattractive, even embarrassing sound that attracts scorn.

Also like the vuvuzela, buzz marketing is not new. The practice of creating buzz has been around long before brands were socialized online through Facebook, Twitter, and other shared media. Inherent in buzz marketing is its social nature. Brands that enable consumers to grab the horn, press it to their lips, and blow until it hurts can create a buzz for the world to hear.

Doug Spong is president of Carmichael Lynch Spong.

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