Viral Marketing – or Spam

Update: Goowy responded to this very quickly, commenting on the various posts, changing their sign up and posting an apology on their blog. They’ve recognsied the problem and corrected it; It was still a fundamental mistake to make in the first place though.

Marketeers love the concept of viral marketing. Brand teams and agencies talk about getting websites and ads to ‘go viral’: ‘how can we make this go viral, what do we do to make it spread’ is a very common question. Many think there’s a magic set of circumstances that will guarantee the success of a campaign. There’s a lot of things that can be used to encourage concepts to spread, with seeding in appropriate places, using buzz agents, getting press in a variety of ways to just get enough critical mass to hopefully start the snowball and get all these people talking about the ad/site and therefore the product. Great marketing for a lesser spend – get advocates to do the work for you.

But there’s a commonality that I see – the ‘product’ (marketing material or some other kind of stuff that everyone spreads) has to offer something to the person spreading the word. Marketing has to be good – has to strike a chord, get people involved, make people happy to share with their friends. If you share something, you’re putting your reputation on the line, not the creative agency’s.

But virality cuts both ways – do something monumentally stupid and that will spread as well. Sony learnt that to their cost. And goowy are doing their best to to get there.

Goowy is a “rich experience site which helps you manage your digital lifestyle” according to their homepage. Someone in that organisation had obviously heard of the concept of viral marketing. Great idea I can hear them saying – let’s build it in, let’s make it part of the product. As part of the sign up process, it offers you the option to import all your contacts from your email client. On the page, there’s an option to let your contact know about the service. And it’s checked as default. So if you don’t read everything really, really carefully then it will send an email to every single person in your contact list, with a recommendation to sign up. And some people will and miss the tick box again, spreading the spam. Adriana got caught like this at an early hour this morning; there’s more comments from Ben, David, Barry who got caught in the fall out.

And it is spam – unsolicited and in most circumstances unlikely to be actually recommended by the person it seems to be from. It is such bad practice to have these options set to yes; opt-out is not the way to do it. Even opt-in in this case would be a poor choice – how many people in your address book do you actually know enough to recommend a service? Especially as you appear to be recommending something before you’ve tried it.

I wonder if one of their performance indicators is number of invites sent out and not just sign ups?

Reading their FAQs I find this interesting nugget – they’re addressing spam from their users so it appears that they may have had this question before (they’ve also never read Hormel foods position on the term spam). If I had no idea about email headers, I’d read this as telling me I should consider the emails I got this morning as someone else’s fault, not as a result of their shoddy marketing practices.

I received SPAM from one of your users. Make it stop!
In most cases, a message which you consider to be SPAM, even though addressed from a is not actually sent from our servers. If the message is not sent from our servers, there is nothing that we can do to prevent this message from being sent. Any messages sent from our servers will have the following as one of the headers:
X-Mailer: goowy mail –
Please note that this can be forged as well, but if this is not present, it was not sent from us. If this is present, please take a look at the received from header, and find the IP address in that header. If you find that we are registered owners of that IP address, please submit the complaint to us at – otherwise, please submit it the abuse department of whatever organization is the registered owner of that particular IP address.

4 thoughts on “Viral Marketing – or Spam

  1. We are very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. This was not at all our intent and we thought we made it very clear during the process (the invite font was big and red).

    Since a few people have had a problem with this we have changed the process so that this will not happen in the future.

    Again we are very sorry for any inconvenience this has caused and appreciate your understanding and support.

    You can see our posting about this on our site @

    – goowy team

  2. It was very evident to me to uncheck the box. I think Adriana, Ben, David, Barry and all the other illiterates need to learn how to read. Goowy is great. They account for what their users ask for.

  3. There’s 2 points of concern here.

    The first is the design of the sign up process. At least 2 people, both of whom could be described as web-savvy, missed the opt-out option. That’s a concern.

    The second one, about it being opt-out in the first place, is the bad marketing decision that should not have beenthere inthe first place, especially with the focus on preventing spam. That has now been corrected.

    BTW, if you comment and cast aspersions on others, leaving a name is only polite. Especially when you are trying to recommend the product.

  4. Indeed. However great Goowy may be, one certainly would not expect to be asked to notify (read spam) one’s contacts about it at a sign up!

    Also, I was lulled into a false sense of security as I believed that Dennis was somehow associated with it and so wasn’t expecting any such ‘tricks’. I do read everything I sign up for to avoid precisely what happened with goowy.

    Nicole Simone blogged about it here: