Kilroy: The First Viral Campaign?

September 20, 2010

Have you noticed my Gravatar?

Some recognize it.  Most do not.

I’m fascinated by the story of Kilroy.  My dad was a good ten years older than my friends’ dads and with that came stories and memories much different than theirs.  Add this to the more international background that informed my home life and you’ve got the makings of a major weirdo.  Me.  Well, that’s how it seemed then, but I’m eternally grateful now.

Where was I?

So Kilroy was a story my dad shared with me.  As the mighty Wikipedia points out, the origin of Kilroy is debatable but consensus seems to be that a WWII shipyard inspector named Kilroy marked his work with the original symbol.  Troops were baffled, adopted the practice, and Kilroy became the symbol of a “US super-GI who always got there first – wherever GI’s went.”

I adopted Kilroy as my Gravatar because it represents my nerdy, historically-inclined brain and because it’s unique.  I turned down a guest-blog opportunity because they required me to change my Gravatar to a photo of myself.  And I’ve decided that my first tattoo will be of ol’ Kilroy peeking over my shoulder or near some naughty area to intimate that he got there first.  Gross.

He’s perfect for Foursquare too, by the way.  Get it?

Some say that viral campaigns began with the interweb.  Not true.  They were only promulgated and perpetuated by it. Anytime word of mouth has helped an underdog book, tv show, product or service emerge from obscurity, viral marketing deserves the credit.

It all comes back to content that intrigues.  If the stories are to be believed, Kilroy wasn’t an intentional campaign but how often do we come across a fabulous restaurant that does zero advertising and yet thrives from day one?  Ina’s comes to mind.

These days, we source the material we share.  But the obscure can live on in infamy. It seems to me that if we approach our intentional campaigns accordingly, magic can happen.  I came across ol’ Kilroy today during the credits of my favorite show, Community (I had a Season 1 marathon in anticipation of the new season).

Score one for obscurity.

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9 Responses to “Kilroy: The First Viral Campaign?”

  1. Tim McDonald Says:

    Great reminder that social media and the internet do not create a viral campaign. They only help it spread faster.

  2. Jon-David Says:

    I love your views and comments on social media. Your history and sense of story make it all relevant to me. Kilroy has come alive again. And I can’t wait to see the tattoo!

  3. Javier Labbe Says:

    I remember that Kilroy thing from my early years in grade school. What I didn’t know then that I know now, is it had a name.

    It’s a great day, when you can learn something new. Especially, when it reminds you of your childhood.

    Thanks for giving me a smile. =)

  4. Tom Rubin Says:

    Great post, Felicia! I could not agree with you more. Viral marketing was not created by the internet. The internet has simply amplified it.

    Great idea for a tattoo as well!

  5. Luke Says:

    Just because everyone is ‘discovering’ viral techniques now doesn’t mean they weren’t done before. Phenomenal example Felicia. 🙂

  6. john smith Says:

    haha just saw that at the WWII memorial 2 days ago
    pretty cool


  7. Love this post because in grade school one of the boys slapped Kilroy on the window of the class rooms then ran like hell. They caught him eventually, practical joker, kept us laughing! Even the teachers liked the history of Kilroy. Brilliant gravatar.


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