Keen followers of developments on the web will be no strangers to the concept of viral marketing. Hardly a new concept but one that has of late enjoyed something of a resurgence in as much as a buzz word can. Viral marketing represents the rapid and insidious process of advertising a product in ways that reach a massive audience in a relatively short space of time. Under ideal circumstances a product of viral marketing will propagate itself finding an outlet whenever and wherever it can.

YouTube was born to it.

Let me give you an example of viral marketing in action and how it led me on a merry dance across the Internet when I had some time to kill. I regularly get a copious amount of junk email that for the most part finds itself in my junk box. However as is the nature of email and it’s relative filtering systems there are occasions when the odd piece will beat the odds and land in your inbox.

I found myself looking at a link to something called the Mylie Cyrus show, not being a member of generation “What-evurrrr”, the name didn’t ring any immediate bells. The clip begins in very much the manner of so many YouTube offerings, you can find American teens broadcasting their angst across the bandwidth without too much difficulty.

This one was a bit different though, sure it started in an innocuous teen bedroom but straight away you are aware that Mylie and her friend have a little bit more camera nous than you would expect from people that are just playing show and tell for a potential audience of millions. Hell, these two were even mildly amusing to boot.

The premise of the clip was a spoof on Madonna’s new single ‘4 Minutes’ complete with lip synchs and suitably appropriate dancing. I was fooled, but then a relatively brief trawl across YouTube can find no shortage of imitators who aspire to gain an audience that will last longer than the sub one minute par of shows like Pop Idol (and you’ll save on train fair as well).

I was well and truly caught out, the clip might start with the down at heel homespun values of a traditional YouTube offering but suddenly before you know it you are faced with something that moves decidedly upmarket in it’s execution with dancing that in all fairness would make a peak of his powers Michael Jackson blink and smile with appreciation (if his face muscles could stand it).

The twist here is that Miley Cyrus is already big news in the States. Famed for her appearance in the Hannah Montana as the lead character she has already released albums as the Hannah character and under her own name. Her annual earnings were to the tune of three million US dollars by 2007 and although she isn’t a particularly well known commodity in the UK the presence of her viral campaign across the Internet has shown yet again that the web knows no boundaries when it comes to searching for a large demographic.

Cyrus has to all intents and purposes played the “unknowns” at their own game, creating content that at least in it’s fledgling stages could have been made by anyone. It only starts getting out of the realms of possibility when the production values start to rise and the level of dancing becomes a whole lot more frenetic. It’s interesting to note that a good deal of Cyrus’s success can be attributed to Disney, they are responsible for the creation of the Hannah Montana character which has technically led Cyrus to lead something of a double life promoting albums made as herself and her character. Not to mention the persona that has doubtless been tweaked for the purposes of the YouTube shorts. Oh and her father is none other than the infamous Billy Ray Cyrus who some of the more seasoned veterans might remember as the author of ‘Achey Breaky Heart’, it would seem his career back home in the States didn’t burn out as it did over here when said song left the charts.

Although Mylie has the backing of one of America’s most famous brands in the form of Disney she is by no means the only artist who knowingly or otherwise has been the subject of such marketing. All it takes is an enthusiastic fan base with a relatively basic level of technological competence and before long you have a revenue of advertising that involves zero financial outlay.

You might see any number of crudely put together film clips that have little of merit but one thing many of them have in common is the fact that they will use an established artist for the soundtrack. So regardless of what you actually see, on one distinct level you are proving to be a reciprocative audience to someone’s latest chart hit. Another plus from the artist’s perspective is that with services such as YouTube may allow you to view a clip but there are no immediate methods of downloading (yes, there are ways around this if you want to nitpick but then the same could be said of anything).

Another example of YouTube’s (of course this name could be replaced by any other provider of video content on the web for example Google Video to name but one) can be seen to great effect with the current release of the new single by Wiley (which was reviewed in the last batch of singles, and favourable it was too).

A search for the video revealed no less than thirty different instances of content that could be considered promotional for the new single. Of course there was the true promo video courtesy of the label, but from that point in you could find no shortage of home made hacks, reinterpretations and in some cases remixes. They all shared one common theme however in the sense that they were free advertising for Wiley and his label. A free gratis ride which might show the song in a different light but at the end of the day still shows the song which is of course why we are all here after all.

The recording industry might have found itself at a loss in some quarters as legitimate music sales fall with increasing rapidity but they are at least clawing back some of their losses in other areas and in many cases it is the erstwhile fan that is helping them achieve it.