Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing is the newest buzzword, so it seems. Michael Stelzner devoted a column to it in Social Media Examiner today when reviewing location-based social networks like Foursquare. And no less an authority than McKinsey, the consulting firm, has carried two articles about WOM in recent months.
Social networks are providing a natural platform for marketers to try out coupons, contests and giveaways to generate buzz and sales. You’d think that they had invented something brand new.
I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the woman who virtually invented WOM, or viral marketing, way before the Internet enabled legions of communities on Twitter and Facebook to spread news around the world at the speed of sound.
In the 1980s, Linda Pezzano got the assignment to promote an obscure board game, called Trivial Pursuit. Linda was a friend, and before her untimely death in 1999, she showed me a presentation that she gave at marketing forums about how she reinvented the way games are marketed through viral marketing. Selchow & Righter, which bought the rights from the Canadian inventor, couldn’t afford traditional advertising. On a PR budget of $40,000 (about $88,000 today), Linda developed a program that generated sales of 1 million sets in the first year – an astounding and unimaginable number – without a penny spent on advertising.
The Story of How She Did It
What she did then is commonplace now, so let me tell you the story of how she did it. Linda convinced the company to let her send the game to the 70+ Hollywood stars mentioned in the game, such as Gregory Peck, James Mason and Pat Boone who liked playing it so much they sent her letters of thanks, which she then proceeded to use in her promotions.
She also sent teaser mailings to 1,800 top buyers who would be attending the industry’s major trade show, the 1983 New York Toy Fair. Then she sent sets to radio talk show hosts and staged game-playing events at parks, bars, restaurants and ski clubs to get WOM going. The rest, as they say, is history, with Trivial Pursuit becoming one of the most successful board games ever launched.
I just want to point out that many of the marketing techniques in use today in social media aren’t new. We are standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Linda Pezzano, in viral marketing, John Caples in direct marketing, and Edward L. Bernays, long recognized as the “father of public relations.” They achieved great things without the Internet, proving that original ideas are still the currency of successful marketing campaigns.