Are TV Ads the New Viral?

by Paul Carpenter
Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency

Blame that bloody meerkat. You can look forward to a host of comedic frontmen flooding your inbox and cropping up on Facebook as companies look to emulate the general idea of having something cute/furry/fat/Italian as a kind of irksome but friendly pitchman for whatever product they’re hawking. I’m looking at you, ‘Gio Compario’.

Before the TV ads were even running, the viral campaign was seeded out and even cynical ol’ me took the “compare the meerkat” thing as an amusing spoof rather than a conduit for insurance brokers. It’s also well documented that everyone loves those cheeky little fellas with their crazy scorpion-eating antics. Combine those two facts with the fact that there’s a whole class of people who would forward on a piece of malware for planning genocide if it had a picture of a cat dressed as a cowboy attached and you’ve got viral gold.

But when the TV campaign broke cover, you get a trend graph that looks like this:

From an SEM perspective, it’s been pretty well documented that a PPC click for “compare the market” runs to around a fiver whereas a click for “meerkat” will only set you back around 5p. The ingenious double-whammy from a pure-play SEO perspective is that this essentially created a whole new search market overnight. As the TV advert went live around the end of 2008 there was a sudden surge in interest in meerkats. Around that time, the first bloggers and forums would have been finding the whole thing hilarious and linking the spoof site, meaning that in the hitherto uncompetitive field of meerkats the site will have begun to rank pretty much as soon as the nation went meerkat crazy.

Outside comparethemarket.com’s ad agency, it’s hard to know how much of this was conscious – agencies throw hundreds of viral ideas at the wall every week and very few of them ever actually stick. But if I was ensconced in my fancypants marble-floored offices I’d be looking long and hard at the lessons this TV campaign could teach me about how to reach online audiences.

There’s something new about this (using mass media to influence online behaviour) but also something very old: if you’re a bit creaky round the hipjoints like me you’ll remember the Shake ‘n’ vac song. In its quirky 70s way, this kind of thing reminds us that you don’t necessarily have to do something very obvious in an obvious market – you can create entirely new markets just on the basis of something campy and annoying. The internet has been rife with such crap for about a million years (dancing hamsters, “all your base are belong to us”, goatc.ex etc etc) but they have always been a product of internet culture itself. On the back of the meerkat’s undoubted success, the kind of guys who are more comfortable with TV formats will have had a Eureka moment if they’re half as clever as their dayrates suggest.

What does that mean for you, the humble SEO? If someone trains their guns on you from on high, they can redefine the marketplace with a few TV advertising slots in a way that all the authority backlinks in the world will be powerless against. It’s a sobering thought if your best marketing idea is “comment spam”. Anyway, to cheer you up while you dwell on that possibility, here’s a chick in a pleated skirt giving it big carpet cleaning licks in a 70s stylee.

Bronco - Digital Marketing Agency
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