Viral marketing is a buzz word nowadays with corporations jumping on the bandwagon of publicizing through word-of-mouth. They are increasinly wooing bloggers and online citizens who seem to have oodles of time to talk about anything that remotely interests them. Books, software, web services, and movies have successfully used such online partnership to create a buzz.

Few months ago, I was surprised to see the sci-fi movie, Serenity being talked about a lot in the blogosphere. I didn’t know why the sudden interest in a movie which I hadn’t heard before. Later on, I realized it was a consious effort by the movie publicists to reach out to bloggers. It worked quite well for the movie although it didn’t generate a Pirates-esque phenomenon. After all, it was an experiment in viral marketing. Same goes for Snakes on a Plane squib.

But earlier this week, Universal Studios, the entertainment company still stuck in the stone age of movie distribution decided to go the other way. It isn’t weird that they decided to do so but rather in the way they did it. They decided to go after the fans that had helped promote the movie, Serenity in the first place and all this for some lousy t-shirts that they claimed exclusive copyright over. As Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (where I first read the buzz on Serenity) says, “The Serenity PR people sent me lots of images and art, with the obvious expectation that I’d use them in publicity.” He also adds that when you put something online, it is bound to filter out and become increasingly difficult to control. I have a ‘copy-left’ for the content on this blog; same goes for my pictures on Flickr. All I expect is credit via links or other means if you use my work. I am often asked permission to use my Flickr pictures on other sites (heck, I use others pictures on my blog too) and I readily give it to them as long as they credit me. I understand that if I choose not to, some of them might do it anyway and the chances of finding that out are remote so why make a fuss?

So companies wishing to use viral marketing should ease up on the whole ‘protecting our grand royale trademark that will help us retire in riches’. You cannot have it both ways. Universal has effectively burnt its bridges with its loyal fans. A scorned fanbase is something that a corporation can do without. They are already feeling the heat as the fans turn the tables on them [via]. I am not condoning trademark or copyright violation but it is important to understand their implications. As long as information dissemination and innovation & creativity is not impeded, such restrictions are merely counter-productive. Of course, it does not help in the goodwill department too.

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