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Viral Marketing Alert!

E-mails bearing ads are starting to raise consumers' temperatures

As viral marketing gains momentum, I sure wish I could get a flu shot. It's a deceptively simple concept: Create a message, send it via e-mail, and make it so compelling that recipients want to pass it on to everyone in their address book. Advertisers are hot on the tactic, and the idea of putting consumers to work spreading the word about a brand or service seems sound.

But like most good ideas, viral marketing has its drawbacks--and we may see them very soon. Just like banner ads and portals, viral marketing is being hailed as the Next Big Thing. So expect thousands of such campaigns this year, says Marc Feldman, an analyst with marketing consultancy IMT Strategies. "Marketers are definitely jumping on this bandwagon," he says.