Big Seed Marketing

Something about this post from the Influx Insights blog bothers me.  It's an excerpt from an interview that Professor Duncan Watts [Sociology at Columbia] did with Harvard Business Review. In it he speaks of his belief that:

"… marketers go beyond the analogy of viral, where current thinking demands that viruses start with a small number of people. His recommendation is not to replace traditional marketing with viral, but introduce viral elements to traditional programs.

Watts used Procter and Gamble’s launch of Tide Cold Water, as an example of Big Seed Marketing in action. P&G wanted a true viral effect, but in tests campaigns generated “reproduction rates” that were significantly less than 1.

Procter then sent the campaign to its mailing list of 900,000 people and discovered that it took 20 people to infect 1. Although the impact wasn’t as viral as they had hoped for, they still added 40,000 people for no cost. Importantly, they didn’t start out small hoping to seed the idea; they started with almost 1 million people.”

So here’s what bothers me … P&G – one of the most savvy and storied marketers in the world – sent a communication to their 900K list knowing that somewhere around 95% of them wouldn’t be interested. That sounds like a national TV buy mentality.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to further segment their list so that only those with a high degree of measured interest would receive the communication?  Not only would this save money, but would also help prevent burning out the list.  Isn’t hyper-targeting one the most attractive thing about digital marketing?

I understand Watts' theory, but in my opinion the great viral campaigns grow organically.  If something needs to be blasted out to the entire world in order for some kind of viral effect to happen, then the content is probably not up to snuff.  There is a time and place for big email blasts – but in my opinion it’s a tactic best used to communicate information, not to build buzz.