The eruption of Viral Marketing

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 3952 , Published on 05 October 2011
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Sometimes people experiment with things which are no way close to being for entertainment purposes. And one such entertainment experiment, which created a huge buzz throughout the world was the Coke-Mentos experiment.

To most people, Steve Spangler was yet another physics teacher – till he appeared on 9News in 2005. It took him an unwrapped roll of Mentos and a two litre bottle of Diet Coke to drench one of the anchors and catapult himself into stardom. Yes, the Diet Coke-Mentos geyser had arrived.

 

The idea of a soda-candy eruption was not new by any stretch of imagination. In 1999, a physics student Spencer Tyler and a chemistry professor Lee Marek had demonstrated the same on two different TV shows. Spangler himself had been demonstrating the experiment since the 1980s as an elementary school “magic of science” trick and had showcased the same on 9News itself back in 2002. However this soda-pop eruption could not take off (pun intended) in pop culture at that time.

 

This was about to change in 2005.  A video of the eruption which was placed on the news website and an accompanying blogpost on the same by Spangler caughts the eyes of two different sets of people -  David Kestenbaum and Michelle Norris of National Public Radio (NPR) and Steven Voltz and Fritz Grobe of EepyBird.com.  While Kestenbaum and Norris went the old-school journo way of blogging about the same, after trying it out on their own, Voltz and Grobe decided to take it a step further by preparing a 101 bottle experiment to create a model of the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.

 

After five months of experimentation, their big day had come: April 29, 2006 in a small field in Buckfield, Maine. On June 3,2006 the video of the same went up on EepyBird.com. The only person who knew about the site was Voltz's brother David.

 

Somehow, the video found its way to a newly launched video sharing portal – Youtube. On this site, any search results related to NPR would inevitably link the user to a video of two guys creating a gargantuan fountain using Mentos and Diet Coke bottles in the middle of a field.

 

By the end of that day, the video had 14,000 views. A day later, Voltz and Grobe were invited to perform their piece on the David Letterman show. Two days after that, All Things Considered aired an interview with EepyBird. Within that week, Perfetti Van Melle (the makers of Mentos) extended their support for what was being referred to in popular circles as the Diet Coke-Mentos geyser.

 

In nine days after its launch, the video reached a viewer count of two million. Within one year, twenty million viewers had seen it and 12,000 had tried to replicate it to whatever extent possible and posted their results on Youtube.

 

And that was just the beginning of it. In 2006, the science entertainment program Mythbusters carried out the experiment on their show and in a rare departure from their safety warnings stated that this was perfectly safe for viewers to try back at home. With the use of a nozzle, they created a 34 feet high geyser which holds the Guiness World Record height for a soda-candy explosion.

 

The impact it had on the advertising world was immense. While Advertising Age's Agency of the Year described the experiment as “the most important commercial content of 2006”, Media Magazine wrote that it is “a textbook example of how a company can harness the power of viral video”. Times Online described the video as among the few “adverts so good that people choose to watch them” while Vh1 listed EepyBird at number 12 on their list of top Internet superstars. The video won both the critic's and popular choice Webby awards for Viral Video and was nominated for the Online Video Emmy Awards.

 

EepyBird's success story was ,however, in no ways individual but highly inclusive. Within ten days of the launch of the video the Wall Street Journal reported that Mentos had received an equivalent of $10 million worth of publicity from it. In the first nine months, there had been 215 million mentions of Mentos in TV, print or on radio leading to a 20% spike in Mentos sales – the biggest in the company's history. Along with EepyBird, Mentos would go along to orchestrate four world records for the most simultaneous soda-candy geysers over a  period of four years in Cincinnati (Ohio), Breda (Netherlands), Leuven (Belgium) and Pasay City (Phillipines).

 

Coke would go on to register a 5-10% spike in the sales of its 2 litre bottles – a segment which, in general, found the least takers. In the fall of 2006, a video contest which EepyBird promoted for Coke along with their second viral video “The Domino Effect” received 1.5 billion impressions.

 

Steve Spangler turned into a celebrity overnight and his company Be Amazing Toys! signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Perfetti Van Melle to launch the Geyser Tubes - a series of patented devices which use the Mentos-soda reactions to allow kids to reproduce the geyser which can “twist, turn,fly,scream, power other devices and trigger chain reactions.” In Spangler's own words , the Mentos eruption is not his best trick but his most notorious and hence, most successful, trick.

This was the first large scale viral video campaign of sorts on Youtube and the success of the same led not only to the growth of similar campaigns but also the rise of video sharing sites such as MetaCafe and DailyMotion. About a year after the launch of this video, Google acquired Youtube for $1.65 billion in stock. On a smaller scale, NPR and Mythbusters managed to garner high TRP ratings for themselves piggy-backing on the geyser phenomenon.

 

What turned an unexpected and unsponsored demo into an Internet phenomenon, spawning an unbelievable number of page views and copy cat videos? The answer lies in viral marketing. The soda-candy geyser campaign opened everyone's eyes to the potential power of viral videos and the platforms which share them.  What worked in the favour of both Mentos and Diet Coke is that the geyser craze showcased the very character that they embodied and targeted the exact market segment they wanted to reach out to – the free thinking youth.

Call it content or advertising, viral marketing guarantees a brand saturation media coverage at almost no cost. The mantra is clear – reach out to the customers with something cool or crazy (or both) and the customer will reach out to you. The likes of Orkut and Makemytrip.com will testify to this fact.

 

This article has been authored by Avishek Basu Mallick (IIM Ranchi)

Avishek Basu Mallick is a pass-out of NIT Durgapur and presently studying in IIM Ranchi. His hobbies are blogging,reading,quizzing,debating and cooking. He can be reached on  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . He also has a blog http://d-tux.blogspot.com/.


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