In the region of 89% of North Americans willingly share humourous content with each other on a frequent basis, according to the results of a recent U.S. survey of adult Internet users. The research by U.S. based web agency Sharpe Partners Inc. gives a variety of interesting results, but for my money the most notable are as follows:

  • Humour and jokes were by far the most popular form of content distributed to friends and colleagues; scoring 88% compared to only 56% for news and articles, with other topics like health, hobbies and religious content being forwarded by less than one third.
  • The study reported that 63% of the respondents share content at least once a week, and 25% share daily or almost daily.
  • E-mails are usually shared with more than one person, with some 75% of respondents forwarding content to up to six other recipients.
  • Finally, and here’s the real money shot, only 5% would refuse to share content that carried an overt brand message, and in fact a whopping 19% responded positively to brand messages associated with the content.

It’s no wonder then, that today many brands and big brands in particular are taking viral marketing (or W.O.M.M.) very seriously. Many are investing in research, others are hiring gurus, and digital agencies are spinning off specific arms to deal with this emerging market.

So, if humourous content is most likely to get pandemic results, the question is; how many brands can laugh at themselves? Clearly, certain consumer goods can afford an irreverent approach, and some in particular, for example certain beer brands, actually specialise in it.

However it’s not all smiles for everyone, particularly Coca-cola of late, who might have done well if they’d had a feel for my final point above. A recent campaign in Australia to launch Coke Zero, The Zero Movement, got more than a few backs up by creating a fake 5 month blog, replete with made-up comments in typical blog prose style. The site was completely unbranded (although this has been added latterly) which completely confused a large number of people, and has now produced a significant online outburst of resentment at the tactic and, not least in the backlash, a highly defamatory renegade version of the site The Zero Coke Movement.

It’s clear that humour wasn’t the key to this promotion, but it serves well to demonstrate a point of caution; whatever the long-term outcome for Coca-cola in this case, and indeed I hadn’t heard of Coke Zero until now, in spite of the tremendous cost benefits of viral marketing, there are no guarantees. The risks associated should be an equally serious consideration, if not more so, for all brands.