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If you played video arcade games in the late 80's or 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.

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, which started with: “In A.D. 2101, war was beginning.” And a dialogue between the ship's captain and the dreaded warrior Cats ensued, offering these priceless gems:

  • “You Have No Chance To Survive Make Your Time.”
  • “What you say!” “Someone Set Up Us The Bomb!”
  • “You know what you doing. Move ‘Zig' For Great Justice!”
  • And of course, “All Your Base Are Belong To Us.”

The result became a viral phenomena that spread quickly, first among early adopting geeks, then to mainstream media. It has become so pervasive that it inspired a new generation of websites showcasing bad translations, and the explosion in fail blogs.

Now, what does a video game have to teach us about copywriting?

Obviously, this poor Japanese-to-English translation made a few people grin. But this once little-known inside joke began appearing all over the place, from graphically-altered photos to actual billboard signs, TV news broadcasts, even comic strips.

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 popular software programs — it also became a hacker's favorite way to deface websites.

Just like the recent crashing squirrel meme, photos — some altered and some not — of road signs, store windows, product packaging, public landmarks, celebrities, and even politicians donning “All Your Bases Are Belong to Us” insignias, invaded the Internet.

“It spread from office to office like a benign virus,” writes Chris Taylor in Time Magazine. But this virus may have had some help. In 2000, a part-time DJ decided to produce a rock music video, which is essentially a mini-slideshow of “All Your Base” pictures.

Before the days of blogs and video-sharing websites like YouTube, the video was originally created as a standalone Flash movie. As a result, the “All Your Base Are Belong to Us” video file started to make its rounds in message forums and email…

One person even capitalized on the phenomena by selling AYBABTU memorabilia.

Ultimately, what started as a tiny inside joke among geeks has grown so rapidly and became so ubiquitous that it was dubbed, according to several national newspapers such as USA Today and The San Fransisco Chronicle, a worldwide “conspiracy.”

Is it really a conspiracy? No. Is it just a fad? Maybe.

But one thing's for sure: whether it was intentional or not, it was brilliant viral marketing since it used, as its springboard, one of three essential response-boosting ingredients:

Curiosity, scarcity, or controversy.

Online, using one of these three elements can dramatically boost both your readership and your response. And viral forms of publicity can become tremendously effective — the news can spread very quickly and effortlessly if done right.

If your storyline is unique or has a unique twist, if the offer focuses on a niche, and if the copy utilizes one of these three elements above, not only will it increase conversions but also the knowledge of your existence will spread almost naturally.

And using the Internet as a way to automate, leverage, and increase the spread of that message can help to multiply your marketing… perhaps even exponentially.

Take some of the recent product launches in the Internet marketing space. Sure, some of them used a variety of strategic marketing processes such as affiliate marketing.

But to help create anticipation and propel the buzz, they used things like “spy photos,” social media, blogs, videos, reprintable product reviews, social proof, special reports, contests, sample trials and demos, interviews, teleseminars, white papers, you name it!

And people's curiosity glands were kicking into overdrive.

They were not all positive, either. A few, such as certain reviews, were not as flattering. But good or bad, the most controversial ones were the most magnetic in terms of traffic.

But let's take a look at viral marketing for a moment.

Viral marketing, which is merely word-of-mouth, is called such because it propagates from person to person. Online, it's also called “word-of-mouse,” originally coined if not made popular by my friend Dr. Ralph Wilson several years ago.

The reason is, viral marketing often uses links, content, pictures, and multimedia, which can be easily downloaded, copied, and spread around online. It can also be in the form of applications, such as scripts, referral forms, toolbars, bookmarklets, quizzes, etc.

But videos, especially controversial ones (either by their very nature, or by piggy-backing on the coattails of a news item or certain recent event, while it's fresh on people's minds), are powerful because they engage all the senses.

And the more senses you engage, reported by a University study, the greater the retention, comprehension, and interest levels. Even as much as 224%.

Nevertheless, one question remains…

Is viral marketing limited to the electronic realm?

Yes, it is true that word can spread online with results that are faster and more far-reaching than any other form of word-of-mouth advertising. But it can start offline, as well. If it contains any of the three elements, the Internet will take care of the rest.

And today, with the help of social media and its incessant growth, both meme creators and viral marketers have found fertile ground through which they can spread quite easily and rapidly. Take these astonishing statistics, for example…

Simply add an element of curiosity, scarcity, or controversy, and your message — and therefore your visibility — will populate emails, message forums, newsgroups, social sites, and blogs. So 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. Back in mid-2000, 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 phone reception system, which began with those typical corporate prompts, such as “To make a claim, press one, to make changes to your policy, press two, to talk to one of our representatives, press three,” etc, included as its last option…

… “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 several prompts, they thought nobody would notice or even care.

But in a very short amount of time, people started calling the line just 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 web and particularly by email (remember, this was before the term “social media” was even coined), more than 270,000 people called the number during 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.”

Was this little, seemingly innocent joke at all profitable? Several years ago, in an interview with Mike Bartlett of NewsBytes.com, which is now part of the technology section of The Washington Post, one spokesperson offered this interesting insight.

He reported that, while the company didn't do anything to promote the duck, the exposure the popular fowl brought to the brokerage firm resulted in a 75% increase in the number of new accounts in each week of the first month alone.

Nevertheless, the easiest way to create buzz — although, admittedly, the process in itself may not be that easy and may require a lot of brainstorming — so that you can leverage it through viral marketing is to develop your unique selling proposition (USP).

People are insatiably curious about something that's new, different, or better. They have an unquenchable appetite for the newsworthy, the intriguing, and the sensational.

So find something unique about you, your product, or your business, or give it a unique twist in some way. And then include it in every one of your communications. Make it obvious. Make it clear. Make it the focal point. And then watch it take off.

If you do this effectively, you will generate word-of-mouth advertising as a natural byproduct. Readership will go up. Interest will go up. And of course, sales will go up.

Once you do, then in order to springboard your viral marketing you should add an element of curiosity, scarcity, or controversy to your efforts. It's such an intrinsic part of great copywriting that I've dedicated an entire chapter on it in my latest DVD course.

Now, I don't mean you need to create fake controversy or, worse yet, lie. People will see through your attempts and you will lose credibility as a result. But you can, however, manufacture real controversy in the way you communicate your USP.

(Why do you think most “how to” types of information products are sold on the basis of the “secrets” they contain? People love secrets. And curiosity is part of human nature.)

Scarcity is to make something time-sensitive or limited in some way. People don't know how much they want something until it's about to be taken away from them. I'm not talking about limited-time offers. I'm talking about the gist of your message.

Make your message time-sensitive, event-based, news-related, or quantity-bound.

Finally, you can generate curiosity by adding a sense of mystery, intrigue, or the unexpected to your message — even an oddity, a secret, or an incomplete story that only reading your copy or buying your product can complete or reveal.

You can create controversy — or ride the coattails of an existing one — by debunking popular myths, revealing shocking information, exposing little-known mistakes, clearing up misconceptions, challenging misinformation, telling riveting stories, or making bold claims — of course, all properly backed up in your copy or product.

Then leverage your message or its exposure by using resources and tools that can help stimulate curiosity, buzz, and third-party referrals. For instance, write an ebook. Conduct a survey. Pen a white paper. Code a application. Offer a mini-course. Record a video.

And don't forget to distribute them freely on blogs, forums, and social networking sites, as well as through email, press releases, and of course, good ol' article marketing.

If you do, you just might “set up you the sales.”

Michel Fortin

Chief Experience Officer at Supportibles, Inc.
A copywriter and consultant for close to 30 years, Michel was instrumental in selling millions worth of products and services. His most notable success is a salesletter that sold over a million dollars online on launch day. Today, Michel is a best-selling author, in-demand public speaker, and highly sought-after marketing consultant. Get his free report, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," at Supportibles.com.

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