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Viral Marketing Isn't Catching On With Consumers

A report from JupiterResearch found that in the past year only 15% of viral marketing efforts caught on with consumers and actually became viral.

Viral marketing isn't quite as contagious among consumers as advertisers would like, according to a new report from JupiterResearch.

The report, "Viral Marketing: Bringing the Message to the Masses," finds that in the past year only 15% of viral marketing efforts caught on with consumers such that those exposed to the contagion helped spread the word among friends and associates.

The result of this non-epidemic is that 55% of marketers plan to decrease viral ad campaigns that target so-called "influentials," the trendsetters believed to lead the rest of the consumer sheep, so to speak.

Part of the problem is confusion about viral marketing metrics, which aren't yet standardized. While tools exist to assist in measuring how viral campaigns fare, few marketers bother to use them.

As a consequence, 70% advertisers believe their campaigns are increasing brand awareness without evidence that their viral message is spreading. "[T]his confidence is completely unfounded because so few marketers succeeded with relatively more concrete indications of increased viral activity (e.g., increasing engagement, getting consumers to promote products and services)," the report notes. "In fact, getting consumers to promote products and services -- the very activity that defines viral marketing -- fared the worst of all success metrics."

Another part of the problem is that there are too many ads. The report says that ad impressions increased 90% from 2005 to 2006. And viral marketing efforts, which 40% of online marketers tried during the past year, are only adding to the ad pollution. "Consumers have therefore been inundated with marketing messages on social sites in the form of pseudo"user-generated-content (UGC) video clips, friend requests, and other tactics," said the report. "Viral marketers are aware of the growing clutter, citing increased ad clutter as one of the greatest challenges facing them within the coming year."

It is perhaps no coincidence that a report issued by Forrester Research late last year noted consumer use of pop-up blockers and spam filters had doubled in the past two years.

To help the industry save itself from consumer-driven inoculation, JupiterResearch proposes that viral marketers heal themselves by showing some restraint. "Regulating the spreading of viral messages is necessary to preserve reasonable response rates and ensure users do not abandon sites that have become too commercial," the report says. "Fifteen percent of online users have stopped visiting sites because the sites have too many ads. Much of the responsibility for controlling ad clutter rests on the shoulders of the Web publishers themselves."

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