March 7, 2008
Crossing Over: Viral Marketing and Alternate Reality Games (2 of 2)

Five Key Components of Viral Marketing and ARGs

You can certainly have a viral marketing campaign without an ARG, but I've been thinking that leveraging the common elements of viral marketing with the concepts behind an ARG while executing the campaign could really engage audiences and create significant buzz in the popular press, especially when the field is becoming more crowded and the ideas less novel.

There seem to be five key components shared by successful viral marketing and ARGs:

  • Community: Both viral marketing and ARGs rely on an active, participatory community of people around them to shape the play or diffusion - without the actions of the community to pass along information, talk about what they've discovered, and promote the content to their friends, neither strategy can be successful. The social element of community also helps keep people involved in the game, and passing along content.

  • Cross platform: Whether intentional or not, the really high profile viral marketing campaigns and ARGs I have seen to date had a multi-media, multi-platform component. For ARGs, this seems to mean that aspects of play are found in various media, on- and offline, and sometimes in "real life" with physical objects. For viral marketing campaigns, making content platform agnostic and providing ample opportunities and means to pass it along can help build momentum and establish consumer preferences.

  • Discovery: One of the reasons that I think viral content and ARGs are so intriguing is that there is a sense of discovery in finding information that puts you in a sort of inner circle, a satisfaction of feeding it back to the community, and a desire for the social capital that it builds. The more social capital you build, the greater your incentive to stay involved and repeat the behavior that got you there.

  • Authenticity: Both viral marketing campaigns and ARGs are planned, sometimes very carefully, but the message - the invitation, the content, the testimonial, the clue, the messenger - all need to seem authentic. People are intelligent - they know that a game is a game and in many cases that there is advertising behind it - but suspension of disbelief (i.e. that this is video I'm not supposed to see or a clue I'm not intended to find) is also necessary to enjoy the discovery. The community that facilitates discovery is also important here, as the act of passing along the information by a trusted friend or community member makes it feel more personal, relevant, and trustworthy. No paid announcement can do that - discovery and community need to fuel one another to get there.

  • Delight: It may sound obvious, but viral marketing content (and often the central product or property being marketed) and ARGs really, REALLY, need to capture and hold the imagination and interest of the audience, without trying to hammer the message home with paid advertising. As we have seen, time and time again, in marketing literature, the popular press, and in our own experience, people will pass along information/content or participate and invite other to join in an activity that resonates with them. In an increasingly crowded media landscape, leveraging both audience interest and the concepts of community, discovery, authenticity and delight are vital in getting and holding onto share of time and audience engagement. Repeating ads is not the way to maintain engagement - the community is the ultimate authority on the reach viral marketing and ARGs can garner.

I'm looking forward to seeing, over the next few months, how Find the Lost Ring fares on those fronts, and if there are other elements common to viral marketing or ARGs that I have missed.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments about this post, please email me at

And stay tuned...