Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Simpsons and WORDLESS Word of Mouth Marketing

I was fascinated by the book Word of Mouth Manual II by David Balter. When word of mouth (WOM) marketing works it's as if the advertising campaign comes alive. Exciting stuff. The book cited the iPhone and Tickle Me Elmo as examples of successful WOM campaigns. These cases got me thinking about a WOM campaign which successfully engaged me and my friends without anyone uttering a word. The campaign was the SimpsonizeMe campaign which promoted The Simpsons Movie in the summer of 2007.

My first exposure to the campaign was a TV commercial. The commercial featured animated aliens from The SimpsonsTM working in a Burger King® who were turning live-action actors into popular animated Simpsons characters. It was a cool gag. You can watch the commercial below:

As you can see the commercial only spends the last couple seconds on direct messaging. Three of those seconds are devoted to a URL and only the last two seconds are spent on the "Burger King" and "The Simpsons Movie" logos.

After watching the commercial I didn't go to the link. I thought it was a fun yet strange ad but I didn't think any more about it. A few days later something interesting started to happening. I noticed that many of my friends had changed their Facebook, gMail, and AIM profile pictures to Simpson-like versions of themselves. One of my simpsonized friends posted a link to on his profile page and explained that at the site I too could easily generate a Simpsonized version of myself.

This Simpsons/Burger King strategy is a great example of Balter's "Collective Shared Experience" form of WOM as discussed in chapter I.3. (pg. 18). The personalized images got people talking with each other about their personal Simpsons portrait and whether or not it actually bears any resemblance to the real life person. The site even garnered a fair share of websites complaining that it doesn't work very well. (Of course, each critical article included a Simpsonized version of the author). It turns out the only real problem the site had was keeping up with the overwhelming web traffic.

What's so smart about the campaign is that it takes advantage of social media. The site was successful because people shared their Simpsonized images. Without the web 2.0 infrastructure (social networks, buddy lists, blogs) this campaign couldn't have existed.

The final product (to the right) looks nothing like me. (At least I don't think it does). But to anyone familiar with The Simpsons the style is unmistakable. The SimpsonizeMe campaign was a unique WOM campaign because it was able to get people to communicate to their friends "I like The Simpsons" simply by changing their profile picture. While the images would inevitably lead to a real discussion this WOM campaign is unique because of its ability to silently get those conversations started.

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