28th November 2007

Viral marketing: it worked for Europa, could it work for you?

Many companies question the effectiveness of online marketing, yet events supplier Europa International embarked on an audacious internet viral campaign earlier this year. Ian Whiteling finds out how successful it was and why the company decided to pursue

We all get them popping up through our email – entertaining little online videos that put a smile on our faces during the busy working day, forwarded on from a friend or colleague. Many emanate from YouTube and, in fact, they have become a bit of a phenomenon. But have you ever considered whether there’s a business application for this kind of internet activity? Well there is, and no doubt you’ve heard of it – it’s called viral marketing.

A campaign of this type involves a company producing a video, forwarding it to appropriate clients and prospects, as well as posting it up on a popular ‘open’ video website like YouTube. If it has the same impact as one of the online videos that keep us entertained at home and at work, then it will get forwarded on, and you can imagine the huge exposure it will receive, as it spreads like – you guessed it – a virus.

Although viral marketing is on the increase, many companies are nervous about using it, perhaps feeling that it’s a little intrusive or too flippant. However, approached in the right way – as is the case for any form of marketing – it can have real impact, especially at a time when it’s still only used by relatively few businesses.

In fact, I’d never heard – or expected to hear – that an events industry contractor had shown the marketing foresight to take the viral plunge until during the Rugby World Cup, when a wonderful short video popped into my inbox showing a bunch of furniture deliverers doing their version of the New Zealand team’s Haka dance. Intriguing, engaging, entertaining, clever, innovative and creative, it had all the hallmarks of an excellent viral campaign – and from a company, Europa International, that specialises in chairs, hence the title Swing Low Sweet Chairiot. So why did the company do it, has it worked and could the rest of the industry learn from the experience?

“The aim for Europa International was to show ‘who’ we really were; to communicate the personality of the Europa brand by bringing it to life, rather than through printed marketing material,” explains the company’s events and marketing manager Helen Cole. “Enjoying life and work are incredibly important to us and the people we like working with. The campaign needed to demonstrate the passion that we have in such a demanding environment for being able to turn client requests around quickly and deliver on time.”

So brand fit is incredibly important when organising a viral campaign. Get it wrong and the video that’s touring the global online community could cause irreparable damage to your corporate image. Get it right, though, and you’ve delivered your visions and values to millions. But why was the Haka included as part of Europa’s video, other than the obvious relevance to the Rugby World Cup?

“The team performed their version to show the fact that, just like the All Blacks, we energise ourselves to prepare for the delivery of each event we attend with our furniture or panel hire,” says Cole. “The opening shots showed our MD encouraging his team to prepare for the next delivery and shows how the team spirit of the organisation is paramount. This was then followed by numerous vehicle images showing our corporate livery.”

The viral campaign was sent out as part of a dedicated HTML initiative, which was further supported by the video being uploaded to both a dedicated website at www.europasweetchairiot.co.uk and also to YouTube. So what has the reaction been like?

“We received an almost immediate response – one of the strengths of this particular types of marketing,” reveals Cole. “It really helped us to engage with our audience, and we received an overwhelmingly positive response to the campaign from clients within hours of it going out from all over the country and the world! International we certainly are!”

Europa decided to launch the viral campaign because no other contractor in the industry had embarked on this style of marketing. Cole also says she felt that more and more people and organisations want to find services quickly without having to search through a magazine.

So what does Cole think was the key to the campaign’s success?

“Planning is crucial. The Europa viral campaign was over three months in the making – from generating the initial concept, to refining storyboards and production planning,” she replies. “It's also important to decide what 'look' you want to give your viral, in terms of production quality. This is one of the big plus points of viral marketing – although we used a professional production company to produce an end result that had reasonably high production values, viral campaigns can be just as successful (sometimes more so) if you just use a handheld camera. It all depends on what you're aiming for.”