JULY 25, 2011

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What Makes Online Content Go Viral?
Why do some ads or videos spread through the web like wildfire while other online content fizzles out? A recent study sponsored by the Marketing Science Institute tried to find out. The study found that although reciprocity does play a factor (“I send you interesting or useful things in the hope that you’ll send me interesting or useful things in the future.”), emotion is the prime driver of whether or not we press “send.” This is a concept that has been debated for a while: which emotion works best- positive or negative? There are schools of thought on both sides. This study found, however, that it may not be a question of good or bad, but strength of emotion that dictates action in this case. In other words, it’s not always what you feel, but how deeply you feel it that pushes your finger to the “send” button. The researchers discovered that stories and images that inspired awe were most likely to go viral, regardless of whether or not they were positive or negative. Stories of intense hope (“‘Rare Treatment Reported to Cure AIDS Patient’) were just as “contagious” as stories that were highly alarming or deeply disturbing. Sadness and tragedy, however, seemed to have a depressant effect on virality, suggesting that scare tactics could be more effective than heart-wrenching stories. These findings are a bit counter-intuitive and remind us that popular wisdom, advertising “taboos’” and other unexamined beliefs require frequent and thorough reality checks.
So what? For marketers and media companies who play in the social media space, this study provides new and interesting perspectives on how to best drive evangelism and engagement with their brands.
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Web Tools Put Buyers In The Driver’s Seat
After getting hit hard during the recession, the auto industry is coming back. According to J.D. Power & Associates, vehicle sales in 2010 were up 11% over 2009 and 1st half 2011 sales are up 7% over the same period last year. A recent report by eMarketer examines how technological advances and economic factors have drastically changed the way we now shop for vehicles. In addition, the increasing availability of auto information online is providing unprecedented levels of choice and transparency for consumers. It is also making it easier than ever for them to shop for vehicles on their own terms. They are consulting a widening array of online resources to help them do everything from researching model specs on their PCs to accessing real-time dealer inventory via smartphone. Broadband and mobile networks are becoming faster and consumers are gravitating to images and videos of the actual vehicles they are considering. In addition, consumers are utilizing social networks to consult with peers to share experiences, opinions, and recommendations. At the same time, lingering economic uncertainty and waning consumer confidence have increased buyers’ price sensitivity, put a dent in brand loyalty and lengthened the sales cycle as cost-conscious shoppers more carefully consider their purchases and consult a more exhaustive list of resources. They are taking longer to research, longer to decide on makes and models, and longer to buy.
So what? What resonates most effectively with auto purchasers today (mobile, social networking, and online video) plays well into the strengths of marketers and media companies who remain on the cutting edge of innovation.
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Yankelovich: The QR Code Is Not A Fad
QR (Quick Response) Codes, the two-dimensional bar codes that, when scanned by a camera phone, link the mobile user to more information (videos, websites, email addresses, phone numbers, etc), are all the rage. Although the US was initially slow to adopt this technology, QR codes are now in magazines, newspapers, on TV, on cars, and even on gravestones (Bragging rights: Condé Nast, with the help of Tony Turner and team, implemented the first ever QR codes in a consumer magazine back in a 2008 issue of Golf Digest). Some expect QR Codes to be a short-lived digital fad; the Futures Company/Yankelovich thinks otherwise. According to a recent paper, they maintain that QR Codes provide unique opportunities to both consumers and businesses. For consumers, access through the code can provide product information, reviews, and even input from their friends. For businesses, the codes are an opportunity to provide targeted messaging, high-quality customer support, and the ability to cross-market other products and services. Yankelovich believes that marketers who leverage these codes to their potential will benefit greatly now and for years to come.
So what? As noted in a previous CNtelligence article (see 4/25), 72% of smartphone owners recall ads that use QR codes. Smart marketers will take advantage of the explosion of smartphones in this country and look to implement QR codes whenever and wherever possible.
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Apps Or Broswers? Who Will Win?
As noted in previous CNtelligence articles, a major debate within the publishing industry is whether apps or browsers will become the dominant form of distribution in the long term. The outcome will have profound implications not only for how publications are distributed and consumed, but on business models as well. According to the most recent iMonitor report, many of those favoring the browser-based approach are advocates of business models that are solely dependent on ad revenues. The authors of the report are strong advocates, however, of an app-based model for three major reasons, all of which are related to the potential for broader interaction between the consumer and branded content. First, apps offer a more immersive experience than the web that creates better value for advertisers because of higher levels of engagement and attentiveness. Second, the recession has taught us that it is important to monetize media content and have multiple revenue streams (aside from advertising). And lastly, apps offer a more efficient and pleasurable way of marketing and delivering publication content.
So what? The web may or may not be dead, but one thing is clear: apps and browsers offer different experiences and publishers need to stay on top of what consumers prefer.
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Another Way For Luxury Marketers To Enhance Brand Experiences: Sound
Luxury marketers have a long history of using human senses to enable consumers to experience their brands and thereby entice purchases. The print medium has always powerfully delivered the senses of touch and smell, but digital marketing is allowing a new sense to emerge: sound. According to a recent Luxury Daily article, many luxury marketers are now strategically incorporating sound into their online and mobile app ads. “The more senses that you can engage, the more possibility you have to trace your brand into their mind,” said Jack Burke, president of Sound Marketing Inc., Branson, MO. Automakers like Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes are currently using sound extremely effectively by allowing consumers to hear revving engines, the sound of passing other cars at high speeds, honking horns, etc. Other types of luxury marketers are using sound more subtlety to enhance the digital experience. For example, on Christian Dior’s website, consumers can “pull” on the bow of a fragrance package and hear the gentle thump of the box hitting the table and its contents rolling out. “By indulging their senses, we are able to captivate them on different levels,” said Andrea Bertola, owner of The New York Website Designer. “By doing so, the brand is offering a more memorable experience that will leave a lasting impression.”
So what? A smart cross-platform campaign can enhance effectiveness by using sound, touch, and smell to engulf luxury consumers and provide them with a full sensory experience.
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Quick Takes
Apple Is The Fastest Growing Retailer In U.S.
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The Evolution Of Apple's Business
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CHART OF THE WEEK 1: The Striking Collapse In The Growth Of PC Notebook Sales
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CHART OF THE WEEK 2: Despite Android's Rise, It's Losing Developer Support
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Condé Nast
Feedback, questions, ideas for future issues? Please contact:

Phil Paparella
Condé Nast Research & Insights | Associate Director
1166 6th Avenue, 14th fl. | NY, NY 10036 | office 212.790.6044 | philip_paparella@condenast.com

Tamar Rimmon | Senior Manager, Digital Analytics
Robyn Hightower | Manager, Research & Insights