Steve Rubel takes on Jack Trout over WOM, and everyone loses

Last month Jack Trout published a column for Forbes taking a swing at WOM marketing. Many blogs quickly jumped on him for his fossilized push-approach to marketing, and BMA was one of the first blogs to pile on. Here's the telling quote that shows that he has no idea what a huge role WOM, viral marketing, and blogs can play in promoting a product:
Now for the really bad news. There's no way to control that word-of-mouth. Do I want to give up control and let consumers take over my campaign? No way.

Well yesterday, Steve Rubel decided he was going to take a crack at setting ole Jack straight on WOM. Steve gives his same canned replies concerning 'reaching evangelists', and 'getting down with the people'. His Edelman mate Rick Murray steps in to tell Jack about some successful viral/WOM campaigns, and references Burger King's Subservient Chicken and Oprah giving away G6s to the audience on her show. Jack quickly responds that neither case resulted in extra sales of chicken at BK, or G6s for Pontiac, and Murray admits that's right (actually Trout even referenced the Oprah G6 episode and how it didn't help sales of the car in his Forbes article. Way to do your homework there, Rick.)

Then Murray mentions an online viral campaign they created for X-Box 360 prior to its release, the ''(sorry if that's not how it's spelled, since I'd never heard of this.) They created a secret website designed to bring hardcore gamers together, and Murray noted that over a 6-week period, they eventually had 115,000 gamers coming to the site to play games. He then noted that the same promotional video that debuted on MTV for the X-Box 360, was shown 30 minutes earlier on this site, and downloaded over a million times in the first 24 hours.

Impressive stats, which Murray then ruins with this illogical leap:
Does it work, does it not? X-Boxs were selling for 4 times retail on eBay within an hour of X-Box being available.

That's great Rick, but PS2s were going for $5,000 on ebay 6 years ago when it first debuted. Any next-gen console is going to sell for several times retail on eBay until supply meets demand.

Jack then asks Steve how you reach out to these communities without making them think they are being 'hustled'. I waited for Steve to say something smart like you join their community, but instead he said that you figure out what the community's 'unwritten laws' are, and follow them.

The sad thing is, I think Jack came across as the one that made more sense. But even he was off, because he repeatedly said that the main point of his Forbes article was that WOM worked, but that it was simply one of many marketing tools available to use. No Jack, that's NOT what the main point of your article was, the main point was to attack the effectiveness of WOM and viral marketing. The fact that Steve and Rick never called you on this, again makes me think that neither of them had read your Forbes article. Which would be funny, because I believe Steve blogged about it shortly after it came out.

Listen to the podcast for yourself. If you can hear any salient marketing wisdom from any of these guys, please share with the class, because I missed it.

Oh and Steve and Rick, the next time anyone asks you for an example of a successful WOM/viral campaign, for the love of Thursday, please respond with 'Hotmail'.

And when some fossilized marketer like Trout follows with 'but how did that increase sales?', ask them what Hotmail sold for.

posted by Mack Collier @ 12:37 AM,


At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Ryan Anderson said...

It's good that someone is thinking critically about word of mouth marketing. Personally, I think viral marketing is a brilliant way to disseminate an idea, but it all goes back to the quality of the product being sold.

A great advergame (which is totally where my head is lately) can make me laugh and clap my hands, but it's not going to make me buy something that sucks. If what you want is brand engagement, go viral. If you want quick sales, spend your money elsewhere.


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