Zombie Marketing: How to use Combined Relevance to Go Viral

If you like my stuff (or zombies) please, nominate me for a Shorty Award, thanks.

I’ve given my science of social media marketing presentation a few times now, and one of the points that has stood out as an audience favorite has been a tactic I call combined relevance.

I did a survey a little over a year ago where I asked people why they shared content online, both one-to-one (as emailing or IM’ing a link to a single person) and broadcast (like Tweeting a link to thousands of followers). In both cases the faraway most common answer was relevance. Respondents often said things like “I saw some­thing and it made me think of one of my friends,” or “It seemed right up my friend’s alley.” When talking about broadcast sharing, the answers were similar: “I knew my audience would find it interesting.”

And if you take a second to think about why you send links to people this seems pretty obvious, but how as a marketer can we capitalize on this?

The answer is Combined Relevance.

Way back in early ’07 when I was doing Digg marketing type stuff, I had a weird little idea in the shower one morning. What if I mashed up a USB device and an absinthe spoon?

Absinthe, of course is a supposedly hallucinogenic alcoholic drink from the turn of the century. Its pretty gross actually (being very potent and anise flavored), and in order to make it more palatable, you have to put sugar in it. Absinthe spoons are these fancy slotted spoons that are placed on top of a glass of the green liquor, you put a sugar cube on the spoon, drip water onto it and the absinthe gets sweeter.

So I whipped up a quick site, USBAbsintheSpoon.com (it was far more sparse back then) and added a photoshopped image of a USB connector attached to an absinthe spoon along with some cryptic text “They said we couldn’t do it, but we did… Tell us why you want one.” Very few details about what the thing even did.

In a couple of hours it was on the front page of Digg and mentioned by a ton of sites, including mega-gadget blogs Gizmodo and Engadget. In under 24 hours there were over 500 comments on the site declaring their love for my creation. I ended up fielding calls from small town TV news stations who wanted to run “weird gadget” segments on it (I politely declined). And months later it was still being mentioned in articles like the world’s dumbest USB gadgets.

Why did it “go viral?”

It combined two seemingly distinct interests, gadgets and Victorian era intoxicants. Picture a Venn diagram. On the face of them you wouldn’t think there was much overlap, but as it turns out, there’s a lot of geeks into absinthe. And everyone who saw it and knew one of those geeks sent it to them, because holy-crap-this-is-right-up-so-and-so’s-alley.

I’m really into zombies, big time zombie nerd. Movies, books and I even used to have a studio where I painted them. I’m also into marketing. So if anyone who knows this ever saw an article about marketing to zombies, you’d better believe I’d be sent the link a hundred times.

By combining two apparently unrelated niches you can create a piece of content likely to go viral with people who just happen to be into both things. Give it a shot and let me know how it works out.

Oh and by the way, you know what the best social media marketing lesson we can learn from zombies is? Friends and family are the most contagious.Digg

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Social Media Birmingham January 14, 2010 at 9:08 am

Great meeting you at #sofresh. Love the presentation. Keep up the great work you're doing.

Paul O'Mahony (Cork) January 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

Yes, yes, yes. I like it. Putting together two powerful chemicals and sending it to someone as a statement always words

katie stensberg January 14, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Love the insight. Surprised that humor is so low though for a sharing motive. Thanks for the post.
Katie Stensberg

Chris Haddad January 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm

I'd like to say that I've stopped doing 1:1 sharing, but just yesterday posted two links onto people's walls to make sure they saw it. Really, that's the only reason behind me doing a 1:1 share anymore.

When I go 1:M, I'm not saying “I think my audience will like this”, I'm thinking “I liked it, and people following me like me, so maybe they also think like me and would like this”. The intersection for a given 1:M post that I make will always fluctuate, but if one person found something interesting, then the tweet was worth it in my eyes.

John Haydon January 15, 2010 at 4:26 am

Brilliant, Dan. Looks like my choice to name my consulting firm “Inbound Zombie” was not sure a bad idea… :-)

Christina January 15, 2010 at 7:23 am

very well presented…you gave me an idea, glad I found your blog.

What is yournetbiz January 15, 2010 at 10:46 pm

I think we all could kill for at least one idea like that. Instead we are stuck reading about yours:). Should I take showers more often?

Great article and idea.


Mark McCulloch Success Coach January 15, 2010 at 11:31 pm

I just want to say that even though I am over 9 years now full time making money on the internet I am extremely impressed with the information you are sharing here on your blog and believe it or not I am learning from you.

Mark McCulloch

satria nugraha January 16, 2010 at 6:13 am

hi i think your post is cool and the concept that you describe so fresh. I think the name of zombie marketing is eye catchy

Hani January 17, 2010 at 2:13 am

Hoomygod! I LOVE zombies! Well, not love in the sense like love my mama, but rather a healthy obsession with them. If ever there were a product on how to market to zombies (and this would be totally necessary in a zombie apocalypse) I would buy it!

Also funny how you have a whole article on marketing and the only bit I got out of it is the one paragraph about zombies – not that the article wasn’t great, just that zombies are greater..

BenEubanks January 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm

I realized a while back just how popular zombies really are. :-) One of my top blog posts ever was a list post of reasons to hire zombies! http://upstarthr.com/10-reasons-to-hire-zombies/

Promotional Products January 20, 2010 at 12:48 am

I tried Absinthe for the first time recently…. terrible! Never try it again!
Thanks for posting this fun article!

MAtt Adamo January 23, 2010 at 3:51 am

I just laughed pretty hard at the absinthe spoon. But it just proves that going viral is an art and must be mastered.

Great post


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They also display many of the content patterns common in other oral traditions including personification, and hyperbole.

socialmediaexpert258 February 11, 2010 at 11:24 am

To be successful in viral marketing campaigns, it is necessary to create a healthy curiosity about your products, so that people will be persuaded to transfer the information about your products or services to others.

annejaa February 13, 2010 at 10:15 am

Well interesting!I was not aware of this zombie marketing and its importance.Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are helpful people who share information for the help of others, it must be helpful for others.Good job.

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cashdoodle March 6, 2010 at 9:43 am

The thing missing from this post is HOW this got up to the front page on Digg.
For anything to go viral, it has to have some eyeballs in the first place.
I can't imagine how anyone would be searching for such an absurd item, where did the initial attention come from?

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