Saturday, June 7, 2008

How Sporting Portugal Went Viral

It's hard to predict what type of message or content will go viral. There is no secret formula, but there are some smart choices you can make. First, understand the audience's attitudes. Second, make sure to strike an emotional chord. 

I was eyeing Marketing Sherpa's Viral Marketing Hall of Fame 2008 list. My personal favorite is Sporting Portugal's campaign that uses the soccer team's Web site to draw the audience into the team's experience as the new season starts. Fans who visited the Sporting Portugal site would watch the video of a nervous Paulo Bento, the team's coach, calling a fan and telling him to get down to the stadium as the game started. Then they could submit their phone number on the site and get a 'personal' phone call from Paulo Bento asking them to come and support the team at the stadium. 

The campaign drew more than 610,000 people to the site in two weeks and the team hit all-time season ticket sales record on the first day of the season (1,500+).  That's pretty successful, especially considering the country is about 11 million people. 

Having grown up in Turkey, where soccer is by far the most popular sport, I can attest to Mediterraneans' passion for their soccer teams. People develop para-social relationships with the players and the coaches through the media at a level that goes remarkably deep. When everything else is so-so in your life, your team's success means the world to you. When they win, you gloat. When they lose, your week is ruined. (Think Superbowl excitement that lasts as long as the season.) Soccer is the leading topic of conversation among buddies. Children need to play soccer to make friends in the neighborhood. 

You always discuss how the team "could do this to you!" And you have a few bits of advice to give to that player or coach. The Sporting Portugal campaign broke through the mold and heightened the excitement about the beginning of the season, because it held the phone to the fans' ears and had a real voice at the other end of the line. All of a sudden, the para-social connections became real. 

And if Mr. Bento has made a personal effort to call you, how could you let him and the team down? After that point, it's a matter of honor (and fun.)

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