Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Tivo: The great failure of viral marketing (and Naked Conversations?)

Posted by Tom Foremski - March 24, 2006

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

Viral Marketing.jpgI was sitting in Harrington's chatting with Julie Crabill and her colleague Khristine Valdez from Shift Communications Thursday evening, and we were talking about this and that, and viral marketing came up. And it struck me that viral marketing was a huge failure when it came to Tivo.

Tivo received a tremendous amount of viral marketing--I heard about it from enthusiast friends of mine for several years before I bought one and became a convert, and a viral marketer. Yet, despite my friends/colleagues passion for the device, and despite the fact that they are peers (high on Edelman Trust Barometer)--I didn't "get" Tivo, until I got one.

To put it another way, I didn't dig it until I got it.

That's not the way viral marketing is supposed to work, I should have become a customer years earlier. And I know many others who are late to Tivo despite massive amounts of positive viral marketing.

And this is a phenomenon that i see a lot. Viral marketing is not all that it's supposed to be. It is usually hailed as the holy grail in marketing because it is free marketing. Yet viral marketing also can produce an opposite reaction, sometimes conscious and sometimes not. It can cause a determination not to buy. For example, going to a movie or reading a book or seeing a TV show that everyone loves.

Is it equal parts positive to negative when it comes to the benefits of viral marketing? I would guess a 70 to 30 per cent split in favor of positive. What would you say?

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BTW, Tivo could have become the Netscape web browser to the TV--instead it thought it was a box maker.

Most recently, it has switched to an annual subscription/commitment model instead of month-to-month payments. Why would someone hand over an annual payment or make a year-long commitment to a company struggling to find its way? Shouldn't Tivo remove obstacles to gaining customers and make it as easy-as-pie to be a subscriber?

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