Firms, which operate in the film industry such as Hollywood, are now embracing social media and viral marketing to create publicity and high prospects to their audiences even before releasing their films.
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This paper investigates the effectiveness of viral marketing strategies through social media in the film industry by analysing and criticising Adam Mills’ article titled Virality in Social Media: The SPIN Framework.
Informed by the case study of the success of Old Spice Brand’s viral marketing strategies with the aid of social media that was integrated in traditional platforms, the SPIN model proposed by Mills (2012) establishes a theoretical architectural framework in the development of effective social media marketing campaigns.
In the evaluation of the impacts of social media and viral marketing on the movie industry, the paper defines social media and viral marketing in the context of application of the terms in marketing before critically analysing the SPIN model. In the last section, it addresses the influence of social media and viral marketing on various stakeholders in the film industry.
Social Media and Viral Marketing
In the context of this paper, social media refers to any Web 2.0 application that permits the two-way interaction between people, organisations, or a combination of the two in an online environment through which an intended audience has the capacity or no capacity to make modifications or even design and produce marketing contents before transmitting them to other people, organisations, or even groups of individuals.
This case suggests that the effectiveness of social media in marketing depends on mass collaboration of the participants in social conversation through Web 2.0 social media platforms (Olauwuyi & Mgbole 2012).
These platforms include MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube among others. The degree, rate, and extent of spreading marketing information over these platforms define the viral nature of a given marketing advertisement.
In the medical and computing world, viruses refer to ‘things’ that are capable of regenerating and spreading rapidly without necessarily requiring the efforts of their creators. In viral marketing, an advert is designed to simulate a virus as understood from computing and medical context.
In this sense, viral marketing can be defined as a form of advertising through unpaid internet-based platforms for sharing ad’s information between people who are connected through one social media platform or interconnecting through different social media platforms.
From a medical or computing perspective, viruses are capable of spreading from one host (a computer, person, or an animal) to another through media. This situation underlines the relevance of incorporating social media in the definition of viral marketing as the term applies in the context of subsequent sections.
Analysis of the SPIN Model
The success of marketing campaigns depends on their architecture and/or proper selection of media to increase the chances of reaching a massive number of the intended audience.
A marketing campaign needs to have various components, which while organised well, can enhance the capacity of a campaign to attract a large audience (Freshwater, Sherwood, G & Drury 2006; Farris, Neil, & Pfeifer 2010; Hill & Ettenson 2005; Woerndl, Papagiannidis & Bourlakis 2008).
This theoretical perspective inspires the SPIN model that was put forward by Mills (2012) when it breaks down the stages that are necessary for viral marketing of a brand whose marketing campaign has the highest probability of going viral.
The SPIN model has four main stages, namely ‘Spreadability, Propagativity, Integration, and Nexus’ (Mills 2012, p.166). Upon considering the Old Spice case study, the model is convincing. However, it is challengeable since not all brands, which have acquired immense success in terms of viewership over social media, have undergone all stages.
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For instance, WestJet Airlines marketing advertisement featuring Sata chatting with passengers at Ontario, Toronto, and also Hamilton airports in December 2013 gained 2 million views within only 2 days, yet it did not have to go through these suggested stages such as integration and nexus. This raises question, ‘what exactly makes a marketing campaign for brands go viral?’
The creator of any ad has no control over the spreading of his or her marketing campaign over social media. Therefore, insights into how a marketing campaign can be developed in terms of likability and sharebility to enhance ‘spreadability’ as proposed to the SPIN model are important.
However, no single organisation rests assured that its campaign would become viral (Kaplan & Haenlein 2011). Even Mills (2012, p. 165) criticises his own model when he asserts, ‘there is no one way to understand why, how, and when things go viral’.
This highlights the importance of evaluation and determination of the factors that compel people to spread information over social media, which Mills considers sparingly.
By analysing 102 firms adverts in the UK and the US, Southgate, Westoby, and Page (2010, p. 349) concluded, ‘advertising pre-test measures such as enjoyment, involvement and branding, which predict the ability to generate offline TV advertising awareness, can also predict the ability to generate viral viewings’.
This confirms the contribution of likability aspects that are developed in the SPIN model in influencing ‘Spreadability’ of marketing ads over social media.
Dobele, Lindgreen, Beverland, Vanhamme, and van Wijk (2007) believe that viral messages spread not because the audience likes them, but due to the immediate emotional appeal developed upon viewing them. This appeal can range from a good emotional appeal to a bad emotional appeal.
As the SPIN model suggests, whether positive or negative, there must be a motivator for sharing viral messages so that people can freely determine how to propagate the message.
In the propagation phase of the SPIN model, Mills (2012, p. 167) identifies the ‘ease and speed of propagation, network size and type, richness of content and proximity of content’ as essential factors determining propagativity of viral messages.
However, this list is perhaps incomplete since the ‘size of social network’ for individuals and the relationships between persons interacting over social media determine the selection criteria for a person to whom one sends a particular message.
It is unlikely that a male viewer for female products’ ad would send it to another male viewer. De Bruyn and Lilien (2008) support this assertion by adding that likeness in taste, values, and attitudes between the sender and the intended receiver of a viral marketing message constitutes a major parameter for arriving at a decision to propagate a message irrespective of whether it means switching between various social media platforms (Choi, Kim & McMillan 2009).
This implies that acquaintance is an important aspect that determines the decision to spread a viral message irrespective of the design of an ad to promote ease of propagativity. The SPIN model identifies integration as an important aspect for effective viral marketing.
However, Subramani and Rajagopalan (2003) claim that people send messages over social media to create awareness or even create humour over a topical issue of public interest.
Although integration of traditional media in viral marketing is important, running commercials over TV or even radio may create the perception that everybody in one’s social media network list is aware of a brand (Watts & Peretti 2007).
Perhaps this claim may explain why most organisations leave out integration and nexus stage in the development of their viral marketing ads. Although they are important, the stages erode the cost effectiveness objective for marketing over social media.
Impacts of Social Media and Viral Marketing on Stakeholders in the Film Industry
Viral marketing through social media presents an incredibly big opportunity for the film industry. It can help to attract large numbers of people in buying film products together with viewership tickets at theatres. Traditionally, marketing depended on one way (monologue) marketing media (Kerr, Mortimer, Dickinson, & Waller 2012; Chiang & Chung-Hsien 2011).
Under media forms such as print, TV, and radio, the designer of an ad has control over what the audience can homogenously acquire as the intended message. However, with the emergence of social media Web 2.0 application, the control was eroded from the ad’s designer immediately the first recipient acquired it (Porter & Golan 2006).
The concerns of stakeholders in the film industry may then focus on establishing a mechanism for ensuring quality and preciseness of promotional information as it changes hands while in the manner that it was first released or upon modification by different senders and recipients over social media.
The case of the United Airlines and Nestle discussed by Mills (2012) provides evidence of some of the negative implications of viral spreading of negative portrayal of an organisation in the social media community.
In particular, the United Airlines suffered a drop of 10 percent in stock price, which amounted to a loss of $80 million, due to poor handling of customers’ luggage (Mills 2012).
Deploying this benchmark in the film industry is important for stakeholders to evaluate the content of films that are promoted through social media to ensure that they do not draw criticism from culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse social media society.
While issues of stereotyping in films were tolerated in the traditional society, in the social media multicultural society, stereotyping or negative portrayal may amount to a dangerous virus, which can threaten the survival of filmmaking organisations.
However, this does not imply that the film industry should not embrace viral marketing. There are numerous success stories for promotion of entertainment products through social media.
The music industry encountered a shock in 2012 when gangnam style, a song by Psy (a K-pop musician), went viral. It topped the list of the most watched videos over YouTube by exceeding 1 billion views by December 2012 (Ramstad 2013; Siho 2013).
In the film industry, social media has the impact of attracting a large viewership similar to that of gangam style. For instance, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild movie garnered $54million in the movie’s opening weekend through tweets (@WhatTedSaid by its screenwriters).
Hollywood and other firms in the film industry are also moving from the old tradition of billboard ads to new releases and creation of the new film anticipations.
In South Korea, upon release of K-pop songs, the songs are simultaneously uploaded to the YouTube and aired in national TV (Siho 2013). Before accomplishing this mission, several promotions of the incoming releases, referred to as comeback, are conducted in the bid to create mass anticipation and excitement.
Indeed, viral marketing of K-pop has made the culture reach global platforms. Thus, the bottom line to deployment of viral marketing and social media in creating mass appeal and consumption for film products rests in the design architecture of the promotional campaign and the nature of the product promoted.
Nevertheless, it is important for stakeholders in the film industry to understand that a large viewership does not translate to the actual purchasing of products (Twose & Smith 2007). Where large viewership associates a film product positively, it only indicates that a promotional campaign has reached a large number of potential consumers.
Viral marketing and social media can produce both negative and positive effects on the performance of an organisation’s brand. While the goal of every organisation is to ensure that the target market segment receives its brand positively, causes of negative profiling should be a key concern to brand positioning managers.
For managers in the film industry, ensuring that products do not possess any mainstream or themes portraying probable audience negatively comprises a major step for mitigating the challenge of the negative effects of viral marketing.
Managers need to note that even if mainstreaming and stereotyped characters may encourage a large viewership, this situation may only reduce to a hot debate only at social media level without translating into sales. This case undermines the principal purpose for marketing.
When organisations are sure that their products are free from any negative virus, the next challenge becomes how to translate one viewership to millions or billions of viewership instances. One approach to resolution of this problem is the exploration of the reasons why people share information over social media.
Hence, considering emotional arousal, featuring of celebrities and enjoyment among other aspects in an ad is important. SPIN model encompasses the second approach to developing an effective ad with high probabilities of going viral over social media.
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