Recently viewing an interesting TV special about real versus fake online videos got me thinking about going viral. I’m not talking about some infection you picked up from your sick colleague but generating the type of media that is forwarded on to many to receive tons of hits on the web (infectious nonetheless)—à la Charlie Sheen’s recent “winning” interviews and the many parodies in turn. Basically, any online media that can stay relevant and get someone to “share,” usually by evoking emotions like tugging on heart strings (a good example from the special being the video of the two guys who had a lion they released into the wild to then return to which was found to be real), generating a good laugh (so many examples of this, try watching an episode of Tosh.0 for some) or generally upsetting someone (another example from the special being the security camera video of an office employee lashing out which was actually staged by the director of the movie Wanted for some buzz) . Sounds like a concept free-for-all, right? But you may encounter a large hiccup when trying to incorporate this phenomenon into your marketing mix now.
According to an article on AdAge.com, on March 1st the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) began regulating not only paid-for online advertising, but all online marketing communications. Ok, so what does that mean exactly? Well, it will be quite an undertaking as from the ASA’s site the “online remit now extends to cover companies’ own marketing claims on their own websites and in other non-paid for space they control.” It is the latter that is the kicker; this would mean content on a company social media page (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc) must adhere to the “legal, decent, honest, truthful” code of the ASA.
Shouldn’t we always be adhering to those standards anyways? Sure doesn’t seem like a hard task, but some attempts at viral marketing could be called into question. Would ads that were formed on a lie (think Burger King’s Whopper Freakout when would-be Whopper purchasers were told on candid camera they were discontinued) be considered a break of the ASA code? How about when on the 2010 ESPY’s a spoof of the “The Decision” in which Steve Carell chose Outback Steakhouse over Chili’s induced a quick and clever response (reminiscent of Dan Gilbert’s) on Chili’s facebook page claiming Chili’s menu items as “bolder and tastier than those of the self-titled ”steakhouse king’?” Steve Carrell and others may argue that is a dishonest claim. How about microsites that are ambiguously advertised and upon clickthru come to find the brand behind the true meaning? Will people feel they were deceived? See the IWantMyVacation.com commercials.
We must continue developing these out-of-the-box viral campaigns. Though those aforementioned campaigns and maybe yours may not fall under U.K. ASA’s regulation, I urge you to watch as precedents are set by this code or as similar ones are set by others like the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Self-regulation by these organizations has been fending off strict legislation for years, but when these advocates must start tightening their grasp it makes one think a higher power is looming.