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Viral Marketing Meets Good Old-Fashioned Storytelling

April 26, 2012, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea? 

As Silicon Valley startups race to develop the next generation of online marketing tools – new software based on sophisticated algorithms that will leverage the information of Facebook’s soon-to-be 1 billion users to put products in front of just the right consumer at just the right moment, it’s instructive to note the success of Thinkmodo – a viral marketing firm that films all its videos on iphones, does no market testing, and doesn’t even mention the name of the product in its campaigns.  

It isn’t that Thinkmodo doesn’t use cutting-edge technology. Without YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, viral marketing wouldn’t exist. What’s interesting is that their success relies as heavily on ancient storytelling elements – humor, surprise, suspense, wonder – as it does on the power of the internet. Its campaigns are carefully orchestrated happenings designed to engage people’s natural curiosity.  

Case in point: a recent campaign for the film Limitless, built around a technological hoax – a guy who claimed to be able to control all the video screens in Times Square with a device he’d built for his iPhone.  

Thinkmodo's "Times Square Hack" video that went viral on YouTube (3.5 million views and counting...)

What’s the Significance? 

Often what “humanizes” technology most are the creative uses people put it to. Twitter, for example, has been divisive among writers – some, like Jonathan Franzen, claim that it’s the embodiment of a culture of total distraction and want nothing to do with it. Others, like novelist Teju Cole and Filmmaker Tim Burton use it to create unique works of interactive art.  

Those of us who prefer to play with plot lines or smoked paprika than with Flash, Java, and HTML5 should keep in mind that the launch of any new technology is just the beginning. Some of the most powerful and enduring uses of new tech come about when smart, creative, technological outsiders aren’t afraid to experiment with the new toys in ways their creators never dreamt of.


From life-saving apps to cutting-edge military defense, Humanizing Technology will explore and expand the boundaries of what it means to be human, today and far into the future. 

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter


Viral Marketing Meets Good ...

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