What is in-character viral marketing?
An in-character viral marketing campaign is an interesting way to engage users with your products or services by establishing a fictional spokesperson who will represent your brand. This strategy requires that you create a personality behind your brand, which should be interesting and directly tailored to the target audience. In addition to demonstrating your brand's commitment to engaging users, a successful in-character marketing campaign will demonstrate your brand's imagination and that you are embracing social media.
Down the rabbit hole
Before diving into tips for creating this type of campaign, I'd like to illustrate the concept more thoroughly. Have a look at Disney's ongoing campaign for the upcoming film, "Alice in Wonderland." As part of its in-character promotion strategy, Disney created Facebook accounts for The Loyal Subjects of the Red Queen, The Loyal Subjects of the White Queen, and The Disloyal Subjects of the Mad Hatter, thus translating Alice's universe onto the social media realm.
The status updates on these three accounts are always written in character which, due to their idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, offers for a fascinating read and material that a user can engage with. At the same time, updates include promotional elements, also written in-character, which helps soften the pitch. For instance, Disney released some of the new posters on the Mad Hatter Fan page after fans complied with Mad Hatter's request to "like" a status update 9000 times. The campaign has been successful for Disney, with the Mad Hatter account gathering over 70,000 fans to date.
In another example, Samuel Goldwyn Films brought to life the Soul Storage Company from its comedy "Cold Souls," in which people can remove and store their burdensome souls. The film's marketers not only created a viral site for the fake company but also a Facebook fan page, and established Dr. Flintstein, one of the film's characters, as a spokesperson on the account. The movie had a limited release, and the viral campaign did not gather a lot of fans, but it did gain enough recognition to ean an OMMA award nomination in the Best Viral Campaign category.
How to make in-character work
There are three lessons you can draw from some of the already existing in-character campaigns. First, in their context, personality matters, and creating a captivating character is essential. Second, as counterintuitive as it might sound to some, the strategic priority for these campaigns should be to entertain the user, not to sell them anything. Social media strategists should be first entertainers, second marketers. Third, and most obvious, is that interactivity is the key.
Having established these three guideposts as a framework for the "in-character" campaigns, let's take a look at some tips for executing them successfully.
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