Marketing buzz or simply buzz—a term used in viral marketing—is the interaction of consumers and users of a product or service which amplifies or alters the original marketing message. This emotion, energy, excitement, or anticipation about a product or service can be positive or negative. Buzz can be generated by intentional marketing activities by the brand owner or it can be the result of an independent event that enters public awareness through social or traditional media such as newspapers. Marketing buzz originally referred to oral communication but in the age of Web 2.0, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are now the dominant communication channels for marketing buzz.
Some of the common tactics used to create buzz include building suspense around a launch or event, creating a controversy, or reaching out to bloggers and social media influencers. Social media participants in any particular virtual community can be divided into three segments: influencers, individuals, and consumers. Influencers amplify both positive and negative messages to the target audience, often because of their reputation within the community. Therefore, a successful social media campaign must find and engage with influencers that are positively inclined to the brand, providing them with product information and incentives to forward it on to the community. Individuals are members of the community who find value in absorbing the content and interacting with other members. The purpose of the marketing strategy is ultimately to turn individuals into the third group, consumers, who actually purchase the product in the real world and then develop brand loyalty that forms the basis for ongoing positive marketing buzz. The challenge for the marketer is to understand the potentially complex dynamics of the virtual community and be able to use them effectively.
Development of a social media marketing strategy must also take into account interaction with traditional media including the potential both for synergies, where the two combine to greater effect, and cannibalism, where one takes market from the other, leading to no real market expansion. This can be seen in the growing connection between marketing buzz and traditional television broadcasts. Shows monitor buzz, encouraging audience participation on social media during broadcasts, and in 2013 the Nielsen ratings were expanded to include social media rankings based on Twitter buzz. But the best known example is the Super Bowl advertising phenomenon. Companies build anticipation before the game using different tactics that include releasing the ads or teasers for them on-line, soliciting user input such as Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl competition where on-line voting between consumer created ads determines which will air during the game, and purposefully generating controversy, such as the 2013 and 2014 SodaStream ads that were rejected by the network airing the game for directly naming competitors.
For advertising to generate effective positive buzz, research has shown that it must engage the viewer’s emotions in a positive way. Budweiser’s Super Bowl advertising has been the most successful at generating buzz as measured by the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter survey over its 26-year history, a testament to its masterful use of heartwarming stories, cute baby animals, majestic horses, and core American values to stir the positive emotions of audiences across a wide range of demographics. Using controversy to generate marketing buzz can be risky because research shows that while mild controversy stimulates more buzz than completely neutral topics, as the topic becomes more uncomfortable the amount of buzz drops significantly. The most buzz will be generated in a “sweet spot” where the topic is interesting enough to invite comment, but not controversial enough to keep people away. There is also substantial risk of generating negative buzz when using controversy, for example Coca-Cola’s 2014 It’s Beautiful ad that aired during the Super Bowl and generated substantial backlash.