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All your base are belong to us!

If you played video arcade games in the late 80's, even early 90's, you might remember Zero Wing -- a game in which a battle takes place in the year 2101, where you must defend the planet Earth from an alien invasion led by the dreaded warrior Cats.

Zero Wing may have been a favorite among teenagers, but like the Cabbage Patch doll the fad faded ... Until Sega Genesis came out with their version of the popular arcade game in '98, giving Zero Wing new breath. But this time, one is offered an animated introduction in preparation for the space battle ...

"In A.D. 2101, war was beginning." And a dialogue between the ship's captain and Cats ensued, offering these priceless gems:

  • "You Have No Chance To Survive Make Your Time."
  • "All Your Base Are Belong To Us."
  • "What you say!"
  • "Someone Set Up Us The Bomb!"
  • "Move 'Zig' For Great Justice!"

Obviously, this poor Japanese-to-English translation has made a few people grin. But in the summer of 2000, "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" started to make its rounds in message forums and email. Then graphically-altered pictures started to invade the ether: Outdoor billboards, road signs and even Bill Gates, donning "All Your Bases Are Belong to Us" insignias, populated the Internet (see http://hubert.retrogames.com/history.htm).

"All Your Base' spread from office to office like a benign virus," writes Chris Taylor in a recent Time Magazine issue. This benign virus to which Chris is referring is a rock video (developed in Shockwave Flash), which is, essentially, a mini- slideshow consisting of "All Your Base" pictures (download it at http://planetstarseige.com/allyourbase/download.html).

Then the "All Your Base Are Belong to Us" phrase, or AYBABTU, started popping up in the real world: Shopping mall windows, city building rooftops, even regular websites, you name it.

According to PlanetSeige.com, the 'All your Base' craze, which started as a tiny inside joke, has now become "an explosively popular Internet phenomenon." National newspapers, such as the Ottawa Citizen, USA Today and San Fransisco Chronicle, wrote articles about the "conspiracy." Even an online retailer sells AYBABTU memorabilia (see http://www.cafepress.com/basestuff/).

Is it really a conspiracy? No. Is it just a fad? Maybe. But one thing's for sure: It's brilliant viral marketing since it uses, as its springboard, one of two essential ingredients:

Curiosity or controversy.

Online, using viral forms of publicity can become tremendously effective -- the news can spread very quickly and effortlessly if done right. If your online business is unique, focuses on a niche or is the first in some category, the knowledge of your existence will spread almost naturally. But using the Internet as a way to automate, leverage and increase the spread of that message can help to multiply your marketing ... Exponentially.

For example, viral marketing, which is merely word-of-mouth, is called such because it propagates via the web. Also called "word-of-mouse," viral marketing often uses small files (such as freeware, ebooks and even videos, like AYABTU), which can be easily downloaded, copied and spread around online. It can also be web-based (such as traffic generating scripts, like referral systems, affiliate programs and greeting cards).

But one question remains: Is viral marketing limited to the electronic realm? Does it need to be web-based? Not really.

Word can spread online with results that are faster and more far-reaching than any other form of word-of-mouth advertising. Add an element of curiosity or controversy, and your "message" will populate emails, message forums, newsgroups and websites -- as if on their own, like a virus. Thus, if you can create a "buzz" about your business, site or product, or even any kind of buzz through which you are visible, you've got it made!

No files. No web-based scripts. Not even a website.

Here's a case in point. Nearly half a million people a day were calling a New Jersey investment firm's voice mail just to hear the sound of a duck quacking. Their automated reception, which began with those typical corporate prompts, such as "To request a new account kit, press two," included as its last option: "If you would like to hear a duck quack, press seven."

The brokerage firm, which has a mallard as its mascot, decided to throw in the sound of a duck quacking as an option on their toll-free line -- it was a joke at first. Being the last in a series of seven message prompts, they thought that nobody would notice or even care. But in a very short amount of time, people started calling the line to hear the sound of the duck, tying up the brokerage's phone system in the process.

According to an article in Canada's National Post newspaper, writer Robert Thompson reported that, at the end of the first week, only eight people listened to the quack. But word spread so quickly that, with the phone number circulating throughout the Internet and particularly by email, more than 270,000 people called the number by the end of the first month. "We didn't do anything," said the brokerage's CEO. "We just left it on our voice mail -- the Internet took care of the rest."

In a recent interview with Mike Bartlett of NewsBytes.com, one spokesperson said that, while the company did not do anything to promote the duck, the exposure the popular fowl has brought to the company is estimated to have resulted in a 75% increase in the number of new accounts opened in each of the past three weeks (see http://www.newsbytes.com/news/00/157697.html).

Nevertheless, the first step in viral marketing is to develop your unique selling proposition, or USP. Aside from all the other steps, if you master this one you will create word-of- mouth advertising as a natural byproduct, without effort.

But if you want some help, then in order to springboard your viral marketing you should add an element of curiosity to your efforts. (By the way, why do you think most "how to" types of information products are sold on the basis of "secrets" they contain? People are just plain curious -- it's human nature.)

You can generate curiosity by adding a sense of mystery or the unexpected to your message, even an oddity or incomplete story -- one that only you, your product or your site can complete.

Then leverage your marketing by using tools that can help the viral process -- and you will multiply your visibility quite rapidly. In addition to referral traffic generators, strategic alliances and affiliate programs, these specific tools can be used to stimulate both curiosity and third party referrals.

Write an ebook. Program a mini-app. Offer a checklist. Record a sound byte. Digitize a video. And distribute them freely ...

... It just might "set up your site the traffic."

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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