Attention must be earned, and doing so is harder than ever, when
every business is competing for eye balls and ear holes against
Princes and Duchesses, Kardashians, and Trumps. Not to mention your
In our yearning for attention, we often decide that the best
approach will be to “go viral” and doing something so
uncharacteristic that it shocks the populace into diverting their
gaze to us. Celebrities and their publicists are great at this
gambit; Madonna perhaps best of all.
But companies can and do gain attention via virality. Tesla is
adept at this approach. As is Red Bull. And our client, Chiquita,
who claimed the 2017 eclipse was actually a “banana
The idea of these viral stunts — sometimes called “newsjacking” when they tie
into a current event — is that they will be noticed by consumers,
shared in social media, and then will rapidly leap into broader
consciousness via amplification by trade/traditional press.
A terrific, new example popped up recently when Hershey launched
a Reese’s Candy Converter Machine during Halloween week, setting
up shop at Union Square in New York City and allowing trick or
treaters to swap gobs of less interesting candy for peanut butter
— REESE’S (@reeses)
October 30, 2018
This stunt was exceptionally well timed and created significant
consumer and media attention. In the short term, it’s a win. But
long term, the impact is TBD.
What’s the Shelf Life of a Stunt?
Certainly, the Halloween candy season is a key opportunity
window for Reese’s, and creating significant attention at that
time is a very smart play.
However, considering this converter machine was in one location
for two days, it had essentially zero measurable
customer experience impact. Further, what is the memorability
duration of this stunt? Will we remember it next month? At
Christmas? Next year?
It is true that there are examples of viral marketing that
deliver benefits over the long haul, but I’d argue they are very
much the exception that proves the rule. The vast majority of viral
stunts — even those that are successful in garnering media
attention — have a short shelf life. That doesn’t make them a
bad idea, but it also doesn’t make them a
word of mouth strategy.
A Stunt Isn’t a Strategy
Newsjacking. Viral marketing. PR stunts. The objective of these
To create disproportionate media attention by circumstantially
varying your behavior and/or your offerings.
Here at Convince & Convert, when we think about word of
mouth strategy, we aren’t imagining a “big bang” stunt.
We’re not in the elephant rental business.
Instead, as a strategy firm, we’re always focused on
repeatable strategies that can reliably create conversations over
an extended time horizon, long after the shock and awe of the PR
stunt have faded away.
To us, the objective of a word of mouth strategy is:
To turn customers into volunteer marketers every day by
permanently varying your operations in such a way that customers
notice and discuss the difference.
The 3 Differences Between Viral Marketing and Word of Mouth
Viral is about creating media chatter.
Word of mouth strategy is about creating customer chatter.
The Impact Duration
Viral is about hitting a home run in a designated week.
Word of mouth strategy is about hitting a single, every day,
Viral is about doing something different one time that you’ll
probably never do again.
Word of mouth strategy is about doing something different every
time that you’ll do each day.
Two Days vs. Thirty Years: Imagine the Difference in Impact
The Reese’s candy converter is an amazing idea that was
executed well and had the desired effect in terms of creating media
Conversely, from the word of mouth strategy side, we’d look at
a brand like DoubleTree by Hilton, which has given away a warm
chocolate chip cookie to each hotel guest at check-in for 30
We studied this strategy and found that 34% of DoubleTree guests
have mentioned the cookie to someone else in the past 30 days. On a
related note, when is the last time you saw an ad for DoubleTree?
They don’t advertise much. The cookie — their word of
mouth strategy — IS the ad, and their guests are the marketing
Certainly, viral stunts can co-exist with long-term word of
mouth strategy, but too often companies want the excitement of the
former and don’t have the patience for the latter.
If we can help you with your
word of mouth strategy, let us know. And for more on this
topic, see my best-selling new book, written with Daniel Lemin. It’s
called Talk Triggers: The
Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.