Planned Viral Marketing? No Such Thing

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If only viral marketing worked on command. The creators of one of the most successful viral e-mails, "Whasup Super Friends," are preparing to launch an animated site called GalaxyDefenders.net. And they are realistic about their chances of duplicating the success of "Super Friends": slim and none.


"We wanted to find a way to repeat the phenomenon, but you can't do it," said Philip Stark, co-creator of "Super Friends" and a writer for "That '70's Show."


The beauty of viral marketing is that all a marketer needs to do is create a message and e-mail it to a relatively small list of names. If the message is appealing enough, recipients will forward it to their friends, perpetuating the chain of communication, for free, practically indefinitely.


The clip, which featured Superman, Aquaman and other Super Friends mouthing the now-famous Budweiser commercial, initially went out to seven people before reaching an inestimable number of people and becoming world famous.


Such success has marketers drooling.


"People have said if only we could get people who saw the clip to go to 'sodapop.com,' " Stark said.


The problem is "as soon as people smell they're being sold to, it takes the fun out of it," he said. "It's very nebulous. It's not like traditional advertising. You have to get people on board, not just make them sit through a commercial at the end of 'Friends.' "


Stark and Graham Robertson, his partner on "Superfriends," have joined forces again to create GalaxyDefenders.net, which will feature short animated clips based on three superheroes and their roommate Cathy. "It's 'Superfriends' meets Friends," said Stark.


The irony is that although virtually everyone with a computer and Internet access has seen their handy work, Stark and Robertson remain largely unknown.


"We are not viral marketers. We're a couple of guys who made something funny. We didn't have a goal in mind like certain amount of hits or a site that was tracking it. We had no idea it would go out like gangbusters."


The send-off was so popular it has had almost a dozen imitators since featuring animals, elderly ladies, the characters from South Park and even Elian Gonzalez uttering, "Wazzup."


The only clip that has met with any opposition was the Gonzalez spoof that featured the Associated Press photograph of armed government agents seizing a terrified Elian Gonzalez. Wooden-like lips superimposed on the mouths of those in the photo mouthed the words to the Budweiser commercial. The Associated Press threatened legal action and the clip was taken down from a number of sites where it was featured.


In the midst of the controversy, an e-mail message with a link to Newgrounds.com, one of the site's where the Gonzalez clip was featured, netted the site 198,535 page views and 110,865 visitor sessions during the roughly 48 hours the clip was up. In spite of their fears, Stark and Robertson received nothing but support for their efforts.


"Inside sources at Bud said they dug it," Stark said. The Cartoon Network didn't have a problem with the spoof either. And, months after the clip's circulation, the author's names were placed next to the clip at AdCritic.com where it can be found now.


In the meantime, Stark and Robertson have been sending out e-mails with the GalaxyDefenders.net URL as well as putting up stickers to promote their new venture, but the site has received only about 500 visits.


Stark and Robertson are looking to syndicate their GalaxyDefenders clips at an entertainment site, although nothing is definite. "We're exploring a lot of different avenues. There are a myriad of possibilities," said Stark.


One given, he said, is that "there will definitely be T-shirts."
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