We’ve come to an age of acronyms.

 

OMG, LOL, NSFW–they started out as easy lingo in chats and instant messaging. But they’ve become keywords for much broader phenomena. What were once simplified conversation tools are now overt flags for Internet rubbernecking–signals for things we want and need to see and watch.

 

And though some of these hyperlinks and embeds turn out to be nothing more than laughing babies and cute kittens, some are more–they’re advertisements that have spread like a beneficial kind of wildfire across the blogosphere–at low cost and great benefit (i.e. high return on investment) to the company which generated them.

This is cheap PR! This is infotainment! This, bottom line, is viral marketing, folks. And when it works, it works well.

In March, we published a blog entry with tips for and examples of successful viral video campaigns.

I’d like to take it a step further.

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll embark on thorough case studies of viral marketing, examining a handful of the most wild successes and most notable failures in Internet advertising history. By the end, I aim to scale this breadth of information and content down to a level small businesses can adapt.

I am certain that small businesses can find a cozy spot on the “Old Spice to Keyboard Cat” spectrum, but strategy is key.

I’ll begin, in that case, with a brilliant, multi-sensory marketing campaign launched by the Grasshopper group, a company that provides Advanced Phone Numbers to entrepreneurs.

For what better way to cater to entrepreneurs than to inspire them with the entrepreneurial spirit?

Grasshopper created a marketing sensation through intrigue and mystery. It FedExed five chocolate covered grasshoppers, a link to this video, and little else to 5,000 influential Americans:

And in doing so, Grasshopper generated something priceless: buzz.

Using off-the-map tactics, the company ushered its targets into the media. Suddenly, across major tech sites, television stations, and social media outlets, the company became a topic of interest. People were discussing the project, sharing the video, and even uploading images of themselves eating the grasshoppers.

It all paid off. According to a case study published by Grasshopper, for example, the web site experienced a 10,255% increase in visitors referred by Twitter by the second month of the campaign.

A creative campaign with an emotional connection to its audience that also encouraged interaction left Grasshopper with an enormous spark in publicity. And without a doubt, every aspect of this project can be adapted successfully on an even smaller scale.

Appealing to the pathos of a viewer in a way that compels them to share a message can be the core tactic for your viral videos. Encouraging participation from viewers and customers can generate unsolicited buzz for your advertising campaign. And creating enough curiosity for your customers to seek information on their own time can be the push you need to make your brand stick.

Though, for everyone’s sake, you might want to leave the insects out of it.

For more information on the Grasshopper campaign and other tips for small businesses, visit http://blog.crowdspring.com/2010/09/5-great-viral-marketing-campaigns-and-what-small-businesses-can-learn-from-them/