Unleashing the Ideavirus (2000) provides a map for charting a successful marketing campaign on the modern media landscape. It argues that the rise of the internet and the decline of advertising as an effective way of reaching people dictate that we need to rethink radically the way we approach marketing. And this new approach should embrace the potential for ideas to go viral via peer-to-peer communication.
“Ideavirus.” The word is new, but the phenomenon itself goes back to the dawn of history. For as long as people have been talking, they’ve also been spreading ideas through person-to-person communication.
The idea of using this type of communication for marketing purposes isn’t new either. The concept of word-of-mouth marketing has been around for many decades. But something new is afoot. The internet has been a game-changer.
In the olden days, ideas spread by word of mouth, but the process was slow, and the effects were usually limited. Whether face-to-face or over the phone, people literally had to talk to each other, one by one. As a result, they’d usually spread a message to only a small number of friends, and a message would typically die out before it could go viral. But things are different now.
The key message here is: Thanks to the internet and our culture's craving for new products and services, we now have the ideal conditions for marketing via ideaviruses.
Today, one person can instantly share a message online with hundreds or even thousands of people at a time. And each of them can do the same. This sets the stage for word-of-mouse marketing. This type of marketing is essentially the same as old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing, but its reach is massive, all thanks to online communication. If you’re a marketer, it’s much easier to spread your message quickly and rapidly to a large number of people.
At the same time, people are also craving new products and services far more than they used to. Yesterday’s culture valued the tried and true; today’s culture values the cutting-edge. In the past, it was only the “nerds” who wanted to get their hands on the latest piece of technology. Now, practically everyone is interested. That’s why you end up with thousands of people lining up just to buy the newest cell phone!
This modern craving for new products and services is also a game-changer. When a marketing message is spread through word of mouse, what’s happening is essentially a form of digitally augmented gossip about a new product or service. People are basically saying to each other, “Hey, here’s something new.” In a culture in which people don’t value new things, that message is unlikely to catch on. But in a culture in which they crave innovation, they’re going to be much more receptive to it.
Our society’s receptivity for new things, combined with the connectivity of the internet age, creates the ideal conditions for marketing a product or service by unleashing an ideavirus.