Marketing With Viral Images

The best marketing is when other people do it for you! It’s amazing how fast viral images and stories move through the internet. Years ago, in the heyday of MySpace, I wrote a fake article that claimed Tom, from MySpace, was actually dead and had died just after FOX Newscorp had bought MySpace and all rights to images and characters involved and was using the familiar image of Tom for announcements and such, as if he were Aunt Jemima or Colonel Sanders.

I wrote that Tom’s family was distraught every time he appeared, speaking to users as if he were alive and well. 24 hours after I posted the story to the web, it came back via sources that were not on my network. Every now and then, I find it, or one of the articles that picked up on it in a Google Search. The important lesson I learned was that you can’t trust the news and people just love posting anything to the internet.

Of course MySpace is a past fad and brings chuckles when people still post their profile URL to their “about me” pages on other sites. Add in the current availability of Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Twitter and other time-wasting network communications, there is even more chances to introduce fake dead business people.

Remember These Images?

Although the event was of tragic proportions, you may remember the infamous “911 Guy.” A photo that was alleged to be of a tourist at the top of the World Trade Center when a picture was snapped seconds before one of the planes hit the tower.

It turned out to be a Photoshopped hoax but it took the internet by storm. “911 Guy” started showing up in some odd places. Spoofing current events is a fast way to have images that gain attention. While it may not have been the first meme, it was certainly one that the average person with photo-manipulation software could join in and see their creation spread over the world wide web. A part of viral history!

The recent Photoshopping of the police officer spraying mace on people at the Occupy Wall Street protest became the hot meme to be mean. Once again, no one seems to be tagging his or her creations. Legally, one might be held accountable for libel in creating a false image of a live person. Although the spoofing law in the U.S. has some leeway for public figures, those who are public servants, such as this police officer, may not fall into the same category. By the same token, after a teen suicide brought on by cyber-bullying, new laws have been enacted, so Photoshopping a person into an embarrassing predicament can bring harsh and swift legal penalties, aside from the personal moral issues one might have.

While these a great ways to show your work, they are also terrific ways to show political messages. Many say that Barack Obama was the first political candidate to use the internet for fund raising and issue awareness. Just look at your Facebook or Google+ page and you’ll see dozens of examples of viral messages posted over and over again. They are more then examples of your design abilities—they are also examples of your social media know-how and that’s important in marketing yourself to clients these days.

The College for Creative Studies knew what they were doing when they created this hilarious spoof of anti-drug ads for a campaign to gain enrollment…of drug-addicted art students. Naturally, the ads found their way onto Facebook and Google+, so why pay to have them printed in a magazine or pay for click-thrus on web sites?

The Viral Ecard

Whether a friend sends you the wonderfully weird JibJab cards or you see people post the simple but biting SomeeCards or Bluntcard on Facebook, chances are you’ve sent some sort of ecard yourself. It’s easier than one would think to create and send ecards. Certainly a simple JPEG with an interesting image and engaging copy will suffice nicely as a reminder. With the simplest Flash programming, one can make a fun, interactive card. Post a special video to YouTube and just send the link to contacts. The key is to reach out and keep in touch.

Aside from the free marketing a viral image will provide, there are ways of monetizing images. For example, someecards.com may sound familiar. If you like the images, you can buy them on products, too!

While I suggest it’s better to use an image that promotes your own business, just putting your name in front of people is highly effective for marketing. Think about other forms of social media (sending cards are the original social media).

You’ll see that Someecards and Bluntcards contain no special programming. Any site with share functions will allow you to distribute your work. As with an article I wrote on viral images, with people sharing your ecard all over Facebook and Pinterest, you’re sure to gain notoriety!

It’s easy and fun to create your own ecards. People love sending them as well as receiving them. You can, from your own site, create an opt-in list and email directly or use a service such as Constant Contact as an email method that contains opt-in/opt-out functions to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.

Sending should be limited to no more then once a month and keep your subject line recognizable, short and make it stand out so people will open your mailing. Perhaps make it a calendar for the month so people will use it as a desktop background?

Also, don’t forget to add your information to the image data in Photoshop, which will identify it as yours and make it easier to track. A viral image can move across the web very quickly and end up in the strangest places.

Found vs. Bought Images

As mentioned above, using a news event with a copyrighted image of a person or place is best used anonymously, which defeats the purpose of gaining marketing through viral means. It also limits future income that can be generated through putting the image on products or in a collection in a book.

A friend of mine (xomiele, as he’s known on his personal blog), who represents photographers and illustrators, was amazed at the number of hits a piece he created for fun was getting on the internet. He took a few Smurf figures and some household props and made a tribute to “The Last Supper.” To his delight, it was selected by Bit Rebels as “One Of The Best Parody Illustrations of The Last Supper.”

The problem with any commercial use is the image of copyrighted and trademarked Smurfs in the photo. Notoriety that does, however, live on!

Stock images offer legal usage for your viral creations and have flexible rights if you decide to evolve the image into products or publishing. Stock sources like GL Stock Images offer images for as low as $1.00. Use them as a background or make a derivative work from elements within the images but keep the final piece legal!

Check out GL Stock Images cool Free Facebook Timeline images for the Fourth of July! More images added for future holidays and events.

Whatever avenue you take with viral images, keep a marketing plan in mind, keep at it so you are always in front of people and in their minds. With a little tempered self-editing (political and religious messages can polarize your audience and, hence, your client prospects), you can be all over the web and that’s advertising money can’t buy. Well, it can but you have to be Apple.

Speider Schneider

Speider Schneider is a former member of The Usual Gang of Idiots at MAD Magazine and has designed products for Disney/Pixar, Warner Bros., Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon among other notable companies. Speider is a former member of the board for the Graphic Artists Guild, co-chair of the GAG Professional Practices Committee and a former board member of the Society of Illustrators. Follow him on Twitter @speider

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, we hear a lot about viral marketing but rarely is there any advice on how to do it. I suppose you could say most viral marketing happens by accident, but that doesn’t mean you cannot actively plan it with a little thought.

  2. >Dzine grrl June 25, 2012

    This is very true! I did an image a while ago and it has gone all over the web.

    I need to make this work for me in business and now I know how, thanks to this article.

  3. Microgynon July 22, 2012

    I thought I knew a lot about this subject, but it seems we are never too old to learn..;)

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