Buzz marketing can be divided into three categories; unbranded buzz, campaign buzz and product buzz.
Product buzz is the most effective form of buzz marketing and has the greatest potential to engage customers and positively affect sales over the long-term. Carl (2006) defines buzz as “contagious talk about a brand, service, product or idea”. Buzz can be divided into two categories: organic– naturally occurring [such as idea buzz] and amplified– encouraged and enabled by marketers [such as campaign buzz and product buzz]. By choosing to amplify buzz, marketers unlock the natural talk-ability of a campaign or product.
Although achieving buzz of any kind may seem like a marketing success, it is widely acknowledged within the industry that buzz is only beneficial to a brand if marketers commit to predicting, facilitating and listening to the messages being circulated.
Unbranded buzz serves no marketing purpose unless it is efficiently harnessed and then built upon for a branded campaign. One widely discussed, largely unbranded, viral video campaign was by Ray Ban. The entertaining viral advertisement is recorded in a home-video style and shows a sequence of shots of a man catching sunglasses on his face. In the final scene, sunglasses are thrown at a moving car, landing perfectly on the passengers face. This particular campaign contains no branding besides the Ray Ban slogan, ‘Never Hide,’ which is subtly scrawled in dust on the car window in the closing shot.
Although the Ray Ban ‘Never Hide’ campaign had over 13 million views and over 500,000 Google search results, this is a measurement of the campaign as an entertainment piece, rather than a marketing entity. When asked about the effectiveness of the Ray Ban campaign, the agency president said that several store checks were conducted and that, “You got a sense that they [customers and salespeople] were getting it and that it [the viral campaign] was making a difference. So yeah, the brand does work itself in there. If the objective of this campaign was simply to generate buzz, then it can be considered a success, beyond that, its marketing impact is questionable.
Generating brand buzz is a valid marketing objective, but buzz is not marketing in itself, and serves no purpose if it does not carry with it an insightful brand message.
Many buzz marketing campaigns fall into the trap of simply entertaining their audience to increase pass-along; this type of campaign buzz makes up the majority of what the advertising industry considers to be buzz marketing, especially in the digital arena. Campaign buzz usually draws on some type of innovative creative idea, which engages its audience enough to stimulate word-of-mouth or pass along. In traditional word-of-mouth advertising “the intervening variable in the brand usage-output word of mouth relationship (the reason why it happens) is satisfaction or dissatisfaction. In this case, the focus of the buzz is the creative idea, rather than the product or service, and consumers that are ‘satisfied’ with the campaign are not necessarily advocates of the product.
The Australian buzz marketing campaign for the Mini Clubman presents the Mini vehicle as a cure for the disease, ‘Virus Normulus. The idea is that owning a Mini Clubman is the cure for a normal or boring life. One element of the campaign involved a Mini spokesperson making an announcement about the epidemic and its cure – The Mini Clubman – on a loudspeaker at a Brisbane university, whilst his counterparts handed out bottled beverages with Mini branded labelling. There is a common belief in the buzz advertising industry that “As long as consumers are interacting with your brand…that by and large that is a positive thing for a brand”. But this is not always the case. For example, the outlandish nature of the Mini Clubman stunt completely overshadowed the brand message, and the unprofessional nature of the presentation eroded some of the sophisticated Mini brand value. The audience was left utterly confused and all of the word of mouth to follow was focused on the strangeness of the campaign, rather than the product.
In most cases, campaign buzz uses material with a clear commercial intent, whereas product buzz is focused on genuine personal communication.
The idea that people inherently search for motives in the actions of others in order to decide how to relate to the given person corresponds to the consumer behaviour theory of attribution. Based on attribution theory, the assumption is that “…if the receiver thinks that the communicator is unbiased, the causal attribution is that the communicator really believes in the message; so then the message is accepted by the receiver”. The importance of this theory was taken to an extreme in the Ray Ban ‘Never Hide’ viral campaign which maintained a completely unbranded character in order to avoid recognition as commercial material. Ultimately, in buzz marketing only product buzz allows explicit product messages to be conveyed without the burden of a recognisable commercial interest.
Australian company Nudie Juice ran a competition to unearth ‘Australia’s Biggest Nudie Addict’ and collected over 80,000 entries via SMS and online. In doing so, they collected a database of information on their brand advocates, a website full of passionate product reviews and even a photograph of their chosen biggest fan in a bath full of Nudie Juice. On the interactive Nudie Juice website, hundreds of Nudie Juice fans enter regular competitions such as this one, which cost-effectively enables Nudie Juice to harness positive product buzz and to facilitate and listen to the brand messages being circulated. This information about brand evangelists can be used to seed future buzz campaigns. The product buzz campaign used at Nudie Juice is not only effective in the sense that it encourages people to engage with the brand, but in that it explicitly promotes the product.
Product buzz is the most time-consuming and expensive type of buzz marketing to execute, it carries the greatest risk of a hostile consumer response and it only works for superior products; but when it works, it is extremely effective and cost-efficient to manage.
By facilitating product buzz over the long-term, marketers have the ability to pinpoint their brand advocates, communicate with these people, and provide them with a platform on which to spread their voices. “It has been proven that 100,000 engaged evangelists will influence nearly 4,700,000 people over a 12-week period [online and offline]”. This staggering statistic demonstrates why there is so much newfound enthusiasm in the advertising industry at the perspective of tapping into this buzz marketing cycle. To create product buzz, marketers must surrender some control of their brand, so that consumers can impact the brand, and feel a level of belonging in the brand community.
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company. It’s not what YOU say it is. It’s what THEY say it is.
The traditional disruption/interruption advertising model is being challenged by television recording devices (that cut out advertisements), the convergence of new media and the increasing level of consumer control over content. In most buzz marketing consumers actively seek or at least engage with the brand message, and this represents a new class of permission marketing. Product buzz is the holy grail of buzz marketing; it carries an explicit brand message, it is highly trusted (due to the theory of attribution) and it can be effectively harnessed, facilitated and built upon over the long-term.