Viral Marketing has been a powerful meme the last few years. Now Douglas Holt is taking a shot at it by saying it is a short-sighted strategy.
In sum, the viral approach presumes that consumers—not marketers—create identity value. Consequently, identity branding has turned into the task of stealthily seeding brands with the right customers so that they will take up the brand and develop its value. The company takes a back seat to consumers in forging what the brand stands for.
As we will see with Snapple, while viral processes are (as always) important for the diffusion of branding efforts, viral branding itself is not a viable approach for building an iconic brand. The primary source of Snapple's identity value comes from the company's marketing activities, not from its consumers. And, like Corona and Coke, Snapple's efforts created a potent identity myth.
First off, I think Snapple is way overused as a case study in business. In my opinion, Snapple hasn't been a homerun in the long-term, and their success in the short-term was due in large part to the non-existence of competition. They were category leaders because they defined a new category. As for viral marketing…well I have to give that some more thought. It still seems like a good idea for cash strapped startups that can't afford expensive marketing campaigns.