Viral Videos: The Next Wave In Online Advertising

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There’s nothing strange about creating a focus group to learn about your product even if you chose people outside the target demographic. Letting them sample the product fits within the paradigms of normal research. Recording their reactions still isn’t out of the ordinary.

However, the minds behind EA Games, communications agency Draftfcb and advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy came up with a new idea they called “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2” to promote the new title. Using a focus group of mothers, they created a montage of the most graphic moments from the video game and showed it to them. Instead of using the responses for their own research, the team went into the process knowing they would make a viral video from the reactions.

“Social media is just absolutely in most of our plans and is a really important component of all of our marketing campaigns,” EA Games VP of Advertising and Media Shawn Conly to Techland.  “It’s the best kind of connection to our audiences if we can turn them into advocates versus just us telling them. When you have an idea that is as different as this idea is and potentially polarizing it has the potential of viral pickup.”

Banking on the success of viral videos, many companies are opting to use social networking and other Internet sites to promote their product. Volkswagen’s recent Super Bowl ad featuring a young Darth Vader using the Force was launched online days before to gain buzz, where traditionally a company would wait to unveil their biggest campaign until the main event. Kevin Smith created podcasts of audience reactions to his film Red State where you could hear their reactions to certain scenes without being able to see them. With sites like Buzzfeed, URLesque and The Daily What helping aggregate popular content and how easy it is to share interesting things on the Internet, creating a viral ad campaign can not only be cheaper but can reach more people than traditional ad campaign can. It also can speak easily to a younger demographic, and when dealing with things like video games, can be a perfect way to get your message out.

EA Games knew they wanted to promote the game as a action horror game that grew on the success of the first game and added to the things people loved about it. For  the“Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2” campaign, EA worked with a company that recruited people for focus groups to find 200 Moms. The only stipulation was that the mothers had to have children over the age of 18 since Dead Space 2 is rated M and intended for an 18-34 male  audience. They didn’t tell the test subjects that they were going to be in an ad campaign, they simply showed them the video and sat back to look at their reactions. After sorting through the best shocked expressions, they made a short video and contacted the mothers they used for permission. Luckily everyone said yes, so the experiment worked out.

“They were surprised that we wanted to do an advertising campaign,” Conly explained. “We gave them the option to opt out of it but didn’t have a single mom opt out. Some of that is probably getting some TV time and being compensated for that. They saw that we were just kind of shinning a light of this human truth of parental disapproval.”

The problem with getting a viral audience, especially in the video game world, is alienating the original fans that enjoyed the title before it was popular. Dead Space, although critically acclaimed, really resonates more with hardcore gamers who like the horror and violence aspects of the game. In order not to turn them off, they released the “Your Mom” campaign to that audience first. “I think they’re fine with it as long as they know about it first so when it goes broader they can say, ‘Oh yeah, I knew about it first,’” he said.

The video was a hit and made the top of the Buzzfeed charts and shared on sites like and without EA having pay them for additional online promotion. EA and the team has launched into the broadcast and print campaign phase now and are in talks with some of the featured moms for further Dead Space 2 ad campaigns, but the viral video has been one of their most successful ad campaigns.

Conly points out that retail sales probably has a lot to do with how well the game was made – it has a score of 88 on Metacritic – but the video helped get the word out. Needless to say, the whole gamble was one viral success.

“There’s no greater form of compliment,” Conly said.

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