ON24’s sexy-and funny-media win

Last week, I’ve been following a media storm of coverage surrounding ON24, a virtual events company.

A couple of years ago, I covered the company, as well as its competitors InXpo and Unisfair (now InterCall), because — like many — I was confused by the term “virtual events.”

So I still have Google Alerts on for their name, and receive all their press releases.

But really, this whole space is a non-story, as far as I’m concerned. What these companies basically do is take a Web meeting — a video feed, some PowerPoint slides, some text chat — and multiply it into “event” with a some background graphics of a conference hall. When there’s big news it’s typically something like the addition of a Twitter feed, or LinkedIn profiles. Sure a million people can “attend” these events but they’re attending in much the same way as, say, people who watch a YouTube video and Twitter about it in real time.

Doesn’t this look like an immersive space? (Image courtesy ON24.)

Well, they were a non-story. Until last week.

What happened was, ON24 commissioned a survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, to find out what people thought about business travel. The press release itself buried the good stuff — you had to read almost to the end to see that 66 percent of respondents thought that attending business conventions leads to extramarital affairs.

Now the story hit two of my top ten topics for a press release — sex and statistics. And it went big. The story was picked by the New York Post, The Huffington Post, Forbes, The Globe and Mail, Fox Business, and the Los Angleles Times. And that’s just to start with — the juicy numbers will probably be quoted in dozens more stories over the course of the year, each story with a mention of ON24.

ON24 then followed up on the success of this tactic with a standup comedy contest, where you can vote on your favorite bad travel story.

In retrospect, their marketing campaign was a no-brainer. After all, their biggest competition isn’t other online event companies, but traditional, physical events.

The genius of their approach is that all their competitors are probably sitting there, in torment — on the one hand, they’d love to piggyback on all this attention and get in on the business travel bashing boom. On the other hand, if they do, they’d be helping promote ON24.

But that’s not an issue for immersive event companies, of course — ON24 isn’t a direct competitor at all, since the platform is designed more for large-scale virtual events than for small, immersive, more personal events that virtual world platforms offer.

There’s nothing wrong with piggyback campaigns. After the Old Spice “Smell like a man, man” campaign went viral, other companies have copied it or parodied it. And the Las Vegas tourism board wasted no time after Prince Harry lost his underwear with their “Know the code” campaign.

An immersive virtual events company could — and still can, there’s plenty of time — take a cue from ON24. For example, a campaign could feature all the unsavory behavior that happens in Second Life, and offer customers all the same benefits of an immersive environment — but without all the virtual sex and gambling.


Maria Korolov