Re: Seth Godin's new book

From: Keith Gillespie <>
Date: Fri 28 Jul 2000 12:08:53 -0400

> Keith seems to have taken a rather antagonistic view of
> the Ideavirus. I have to differ and after having read
> the book, which I found to be rather enlightening, I
> did not quite notice any contradictions.

My main problems with "ideavirus" are that...

1. Godin lacks any ability to clearly define what he
means by "ideavirus"--which seems rather intellectually
upsetting, since he's smack-dab in the middle of a
discussion about ideas...

2. ...that he appears to be basically saying "create a
big idea that catches on quickly and that everybody
goes crazy about (Gee--wish _I'd_ thought of that ;-)
...and, "we've got the Internet now, so information can
spread faster than ever before, beyond a marketer's
influence (Hey--I hadn't noticed that either ;-)" ...

3. ...he does, in fact, contradict his terms quite often,
which seems beneath the the man who wrote "Permission
Marketing," which actually coined a term, explained its
insights clearly, and provided a pathway to follow.

Let's briefly examine Godin's Fast Company article on
ideaviruses, which you can find at:

> Think of an ideavirus as a big idea that runs amok across
> a target population. It's the fashionable idea of the
> moment that propagates through a section of the
> population, teaching and changing everyone it touches.

> Word of mouth dies out, but ideaviruses keep growing
> and spreading.

So which is it, "the fashionable idea of the moment" or
something that keeps "growing and spreading?" Define
"moment"--a month, a year, a century? Define "keeps
growing and spreading"--again, how long? Define "big
idea" vs. "fad" while you're at it.

Is Velcro an ideavirus? The Pet Rock? The lightbulb?
Democracy? The Macarena? Elvis Presley? The theory
of black holes?

They can't all be ideaviruses, unless your definition
is so elastic that it means nothing--which is what I'm
suggesting is ultimately the case.

> In the new economy, consumers have built up antibodies
> that resist traditional marketing. That's why we need
> to stop marketing at people, and start creating an
> environment where consumers can market to one another.

> Is an ideavirus a form of marketing? Absolutely!

> It doesn't take much to kill off word-of-mouth marketing.

First Godin defines an ideavirus as a big idea. Now he
defines it as a form of marketing where "consumers can
market to one another."

Having two distinctly different definitions for the
same newly-coined term is patently ridiculous. The thing
and the marketing of the thing cannot be one and the same

Second, he says we need word of mouth marketing to succeed
(which, by the way, we can't control, which puts our
success in the hands of fate)...and then says it doesn't
take much to kill word of mouth marketing. What are we
supposed to do with that information, even if we believe
it? What's the logical next step? I have no idea...

Third, he fails to define (at least for me) the role of
PR/media-driven hype in all this. In my mind, "traditional
marketing" includes hyping the heck out of something in
newspapers, magazines, and TV under the guise of reporting
or "covering a breaking story." Word-of-mouth is influenced
by words-on-paper-or-screen that very often influenced by
marketers behind the scenes.

Last, he says we need to "create an environment." What
the *@^! does that mean? Is releasing a new song
"creating an environment?" Is infiltrating discussion
groups with cloaked marketing hype "creating an environment"
(and isn't that just a particularly slimy form of
interruption marketing)? How can we, as marketers, create
a new environment if the "word-of-mouth people" have taken
over the environment, as Godin suggests? It's just
circular nonsense.

> For instance, Seth's reference to Macarena pertained to
> "viral marketing" and not "ideavirus". Macrena used
> viral marketing inadvertently only in the sense that
> one needs to teach it to a friend and thereby Macarena
> inherently spurs word-of-mouth. By definition,
> Macarena is an ideavirus since viral marketing entails
> being an ideavirus but not necessarily vice versa.

OK, now _Gil_ is giving me the same headache I got from
Godin :-)

In the beginning of the paragraph, Gil says "Seth's
reference to Macarena [did not] pertain to ideavirus."
At the end of the _same paragraph_ he says, "By
definition, Macarena is an ideavirus." !!!!

Godin, in fact, _does_ say that the Macarena is an
> Sure, some ideaviruses are organic and accidental.
> They happen and spread without overt action or intent
> on the part of the person who creates them: Contrary to
> what you may think, the Macarena was not an organized,
> sinister plot; it just happened.>

Do the logic: some ideaviruses = accidental... the
Macarena just happened... therefore Macarena =
ideavirus. That's precisely what Godin is saying.
(And Godin also does say, in so many words, that an
ideavirus entails being viral.)

> So where is the contradiction? Macarena is indeed a
> "big idea" and a creation that spread very quickly by
> virtue of word-of-mouth.

(1) A dance fad does not equal a big idea, except in a
hind-sight sort of way. It's more like winning a lottery.
Ask any children's toy or game inventor. I don't believe
that popularity necessarily makes an idea big at all--
particularly immediate popularity. Take da Vinci's vision
of a helicopter, for example. An ideavirus? A big idea?

(2) The contradiction lies in the mangled terminologies
and sloppy definitions and observations Godin sprinkles
throughout his book.

In some ways, I believe he's trying to re-fashion the
Vardi Paradox...
but I could be wrong about that.

(3) My displeasure with the book simply comes from my
feeling that Godin is wasting our time coining a phrase
that he can't adequately define and that leads us to no
particular action steps. I may have been a little harsh
in calling him a Tom Peters wannabe, but it feels like
that to me--like he's trying to be a business-idea-guru,
but failed, with this book, to bring any clear or
actionable ideas to the table.

I'm sure Godin wanted to be thought provoking. Well,
he provoked me.

To me, the e-mperor has no clothes, that's all.


Keith Gillespie
CEO (Client Enthusiasm Officer)
Client Help Desk, A Division of QLM Marketing
p: (609) 683-1177, ext. 555 f: (609) 921-8847
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Received on Fri Jul 28 2000 - 11:08:53 CDT


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