By The Drum | Administrator

June 15, 2006 | 6 min read

All the world loves a good viral. It is one of the great Godsends of the digital revolution that the industry has finally developed an avenue for work that is (as yet) un-fettered by the prying eye and intrusive hand of the BACC.

Amongst other things, viral marketing enables the brave and foolhardy in our industry to go the whole way with their vision, safe in the knowledge that the client (and indeed everyone else who might have been responsible) can, in the event of the work not going down very well, wash their hands of the execution and claim ignorance. Certainly in the splendidly irreverent and topical VW Polo “Suicide Bomber” viral, this was the case.

In that instance the act of denial itself, simply attaches more of a cult or underground status to the execution, and thus to the brand. Even if the exercise only succeeds in getting the target market’s hackles up, then the whole thing may be treated as nothing more complicated or significant than a piece of brand research. Virals are cool. Or are they?

Every production company has no doubt been getting more and more scripts for virals, which should be a good thing. However, many of the scripts are so far off the mark, in terms of what is required of a viral, that it simply beggars belief.

Virals are supposed to be a cheap, fast and efficient way of getting the message out to a well-targeted group. The group then does the rest of the work for you, by disseminating the ad amongst its own peers etc.

This pre-supposes that the ad itself is SO funny/disgusting/dirty/controversial/painful looking that the group to whom it is sent feels that it simply has to send this to So-and-So down the road.

That’s the charm of it. Within that lies the fundamentally democratic nature of the Internet and all it is capable of.

The trouble is, agencies are offering-up the idea of viral campaigns to clients as a new media, and, of course, the clients are thinking “Hey, this is great....I am getting a bit of TV advertising for ten grand, when it normally costs ten-times that amount! Where do I sign?”

And therein, lies the fundamental mistake of it all.

Somebody, somewhere, has got the wrong end of the stick about all this.

What I’d like to say is, NEVER let the client ANYWHERE NEAR the project. The reason being that nine times out of ten, we end up with something like the following:

Client: “Oh goody, a TV commercial for a tenth of the price, my masters will think I am very big and clever, and I’ll never have to pay proper money for an ad again!”

Agency: ”So we’ve got this genius involves an old lady getting a bus stuck up her bum!”

Client: “ Oh dear me, no! No, I don’t think we can have that...couldn’t you try to bend the concept more in the direction of little children playing in the garden with their Mummy?”

Production Co: “Jesus, this is a crap script...but we have to do it, or we’ll put the noses of our agency friends out of joint and they’ll think we don’t love them.”

Audience: “What a load of shite!....Can’t believe I had to wait for nineteen minutes to download that piece of crap just to get at my e-mails! Must remember never to buy that stinking product.”

But perhaps I’m doing some a disservice. I’ve had the privilege to work with some ingenious and plucky clients in my time and – I hear you cry – without the client there is no money, without the money there is no film. Maybe what we’re simply looking for is stronger account handlers. Risk takers who are willing to instil their clients with some bravery when the market dictates. Let’s nurture clients who are willing to embrace all the possibilities inherent in an unrestricted medium.

You can see where I’m going with this, can’t you? If an agency has an idea that really IS so funny/disgusting/dirty/controversial/painful looking that they think it’ll change hearts and minds and win awards, then we need to show some balls and run with it.

If the shit really hits the fan once it’s out there (and that’s what we want, isn’t it?), we can always hide behind the delicious anonymity of the Internet.

Involving research groups, the client board and the opinion of Tom from recruitment is just weak. Down that path, madness lies.

As soon everyone has his or her two-penny’s worth, the whole endeavour becomes the exact opposite of the format. The (small) amount of money that will be spent on the production of the idea might as well be flushed down the toilet, or at least spent on beer and strippers. That money could be added-on to time spent polishing real commercials and making them better. Instead it is allowed to drift out of the yawning gap of our lives, where the draft-excluder ought to be.

Philip K. Dick, the genius science-fiction writer, once came-up with a horribly tangible concept for the future called the Ad-Fly. These were tiny robotic insects that would target innocent people at random and pursue them constantly, all the time hassling them to buy Coca-Cola or whatever. They were powered by their own little nuclear reactors, and simply wouldn’t give-up until their target succumbed.

I can’t help feeling that the way clients and agencies are using the viral format at the moment is not much better than that. More accurately, this new craze sits somewhere between the Ad-Flies and the mountains of spam in all of our inboxes. Like so many things, the reality has become the diametric opposite of the dream. These things have become so annoying, that they are having the opposite effect on their market.

If agencies want to use the accessibility of the format to help them look good and win awards, I’m all for it. That line of thought helps me look good and win awards too.

Let’s be creative. Let’s be brave. Let’s produce work that engages.

The wider advertising industry outside London has a desperate need to look more confident, and to produce work which is more charming and effective than our Southern competitors, otherwise we will keep on playing second fiddle to them.

Bluey Durrant is a director with The Gate Films.


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