Sunday, June 10, 2007


If the Internet can be described as a phenomenon, then Hotmail can be referred to as its more famous and truly phenomenal child. Hotmail transformed communication and helped create a buzz in marketing circles. Hotmail was described as a revolutionary new pathway for marketing success. The buzzword called VIRAL MARKETING was born with Hotmail.

When Sabeer Bhatia’s brainchild Hotmail was launched as a pioneer free e-mail account; the concept spread across the Internet as a wildfire. Hotmail became a household name globally.

Google too grew exponentially through viral marketing or word-of-mouth route. G-mail, Google blogs, and other products are adding to the spread of the Google message virally.

Viral marketing

Simply put viral marketing is a phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass on a marketing message. Viral marketing is an avatar of word-of-mouth marketing that is one of the avowed objectives of every marketing endeavor. Hence, viral marketing is also described as word-of-mouth marketing.

Hotmail and the Internet made word-of-mouth (or viral marketing) very powerful. Internet makes it easier to pass on messages. The marketing message is spread at an exponential pace. The greatest potential for marketing through the Internet, mobile/ 3 G handsets and convergence technologies, is that they lend themselves to faster and seamless message transfer. Viral marketing transcends barriers such as geographies, language, gender, prejudices and preoccupation of the recipient, ensuring effective and speedy message transfer. In fact, viral marketing helps discover unknown prospects and speeds conversion of prospects to customers. The reach and durability of message transfer through digital viral marketing is truly awesome. This is something that human media and print media cannot achieve.

Digital viral marketing

Pharma marketing approaches mainly involve the HUMAN MEDIA (mainly the Medical Representative force) and the PRINT MEDIA (literatures, flyers, visual aids, and other print materials used by MRs and the advertisements in printed media). The DIGITAL MEDIUM for putting out marketing messages to inform & persuade prospects and customers is mainly thanks to the Internet. Web 2.0 has added traction to the digital medium format. Today blogs, wikis, interactive message boards, and other interactive user created web spaces are rewriting marketing concepts of messaging. So in essence we have three media for marketing & communication activity in pharma: HUMAN MEDIA, PRINT MEDIA and DIGITAL MEDIA.

Viral marketing in the digital space is not just about passing around e-mail messages. Vlogs or video blogs lend a new dimension to viral marketing. The cyber community created by Linden Labs – Secondlife – a virtual world has a great scope for messaging to 71 lakh members. 71 lakhs is about the population of Bangalore city. Further, such virtual worlds are growing. Can marketing honchos in pharma and non pharma space risk ignoring this audience? The fact that we pharma guys are slow to adopt innovative marketing methodologies cannot reduce the importance and downplay the potential of such digital spaces for digital viral marketing.

Types of Viral marketing

Viral marketing is normally value type. In this marketing campaign the marketer tries to share quality experiences of users. In guile viral marketing the marketer provides inducements or incentives for increasing consumption of products or services. In vital viral marketing experiences are shared with the help of products. In spiral viral marketing one shares funny and interesting experiences. In vile marketing negative experiences are shared.

In viral marketing the efforts are to induce prospects and customers to get talking about the product or service and share the experiences with each other. That is a word-of-mouth endeavor.

Viral broadcasts

Viral broadcasts are a type of viral marketing where marketing messages are broadcast to millions of recipients like members of a community or special interest group. For eg. Imagine a viral broadcast of an e-mail newsletter containing an article on stress and related advertisements on an adaptogenic herb like Ashvagandha Himalaya. In fact, such an approach to REVITAL (a Ranbaxy product), the 31st largest pharma brand in India, would work wonders considering that the promotional format for REVITAL is OTX (over-the-counter plus prescription business model).

In essence viral marketing is in tune with the web 2.0 developments and convergence technology since viral marketing gets people talking about products and experiences with each other.

Viral marketing in pharma

In the pharmaceutical and healthcare fields, viral marketing is still in the nascent stage. One can use viral marketing for creating the buzz in the following ways:

1) Buy some cyberspace on Second Life and create a virtual health counselor who will encourage discussions on cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases while subtly promoting a product.

2) Host user created thematic videos on health aspects and the video film to feature a pharma product. Best videos can be rewarded suitably by the company. For eg. A baby care products company (like Johnson and Johnson and Himalaya) can create a video contest for public to put out beautiful videos on baby life and featuring the company products. On a You Tube like format they will enjoy millions of hits. After all who wouldn’t enjoy seeing bonny and beautiful babies.

Companies like Ranbaxy having REVITAL can launch customer created and co-created video blogs on stress and quality of life themes. Sub themes like humor in stressed life can also be video produced.

The viral buzz around such promotions will no doubt be exponential.

3) Obesity is a worldwide concern today. Viral videos and e-mails such as motivational e-mails forwarded by viral routes, to motivate individuals for caring about what they eat will certainly find takers. Products can be subliminally promoted.

4) Pneumococcal vaccine from Wyeth can take the viral route to pass around facts and figures on pneumococcal infections. In fact, it is said that pneumococcal infections cause more mortality worldwide than Hepatitis infections.

5) Bupropion the anti smoking drug can adopt viral messaging techniques by showing vivid images of oral cancer and motivating people to kick the smoking habit through use of bupropion.

6) In the USA viral marketing through sms, e-mail and the virtual worlds can work wonders to boost consumption of quality low priced generics for off-patent drugs. For eg. DRL fluoxetine lifts my moods. Pass this message to any fluoxetine consumer. OR Cipla’s anti retrovirals are not an economic burden to AIDS patients. (One could tag some AIDS patients photos and basic facts about AIDS along with Cipla’s viral messaging).

7) Ayurvedic medi-tourism can get a good boost through viral messaging. For eg. Kerala Govt can start a viral sms, e-mail (tagged along with photos) and video on You Tube or video blogs campaign on ayur tourism.

8) Emerging businesses like branded retail pharmacy chains can gain a boost through the viral marketing buzz. Imagine Manipal Cure and Care starting a 'viral pass this e-mail to your friends' on the DO’S AND DON’T’S ON MANAGING HEAT WAVE RELATED HEALTH PROBLEMS. Today, New Delhi is reeling under a heat wave.

Viral marketing and demand contraction

One of the greatest examples of an early demise of a drug thanks to viral messaging is Avandia. Perhaps in pre-Internet days Avandia could have survived for a longer time in the global market place. Viral messaging across national frontiers has ensured the early demise of Avandia.

One could probably apply viral demarketing techniques for the two topper brands in India namely COREX AND PHENSEDYL. How about passing this viral message around to the medical community and pharmacists by sms and e-mail: CAREFUL DON’T ENCOURAGE ADDICTION TO COREX AND PHENSEDYL. SHOW THAT YOU CARE, PASS THIS MESSAGE ON TO FIVE FRIENDS.

The endnote

Viral marketing is like MIT’s innovation - the WITRICITY that seamlessly passes electrical charge to resonant devices. Viral marketing seamlessly transfers messages to resonant minds (well it is almost like that!)! It is high time that viral marketing principles are exploited by pharma, healthcare and wellness organizations for better business results and societal benefit.


Sunil S Chiplunkar said...

In the above link we can see how viral marketing works.

rajamanickam said...


Sunil S Chiplunkar said...

Thnks Rajamanickam. Your viral comment is encouraging.

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