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Thursday, October 19, 2006


The Best Viral Marketing Story Ever

It happened at Columbia University in the early 1990s. You can hear the story on This American Life "Recordings for Someone." It comes just after Ira Glass's introduction.

I'll retell it here so we can cut to the moral.

During the year of "the best phone message ever," Columbia had a phone system that allowed students to forward their messages to each other after they attached a short introduction. Students regularly forwarded stupid messages they received from parents, friends, siblings, angry significant others, you get the idea.

One night a student received a message from his angry mother. He sent her on a goose chase and didn't honor his end of the commitment. When she called him back late in the evening, she was ticked. Imagine Oedipus' mother was a crackhead from New Jersey.

(Quick Lit Tip: Oedipus' mom was named Jocasta. Instead of leaving an angry message for her son, she hanged herself.)

Instead of gouging his eyes out with his mother's toga pins, the Columbia student forwarded the message to several of his friends. Who forwarded the message to their friends. Who forwarded the message and forwarded the message.

This one doesn't have any meat--unless you're a college student feeling guilty about the numerous ways you are betraying your heritage by carving out your own independence. But it's hook is raw emotion.

And, of course, an angry mom who tells the Little Mermaid what she can do with herself.

Do yourself a favor and listen to the first few minutes of this week's This American Life. (It's a little off color, but they bleep the bad words.)

I wonder. Could a blogging writer create this kind of viral phenomenon intentially?


Surely someone has already done something this powerful with blogging.


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