By Alba Fraile, on 01 March 2021
Every day we hear about viral marketing, a new viral video or other content that spreads at the speed of light. But what exactly is it? And how did it get to be viral? Is it due to a viral product or viral advertising? Or is it simply luck that randomly makes something such a big hit?
This type of content usually has a well-designed viral strategy behind it, but virality is also due to luck, creativity, and preparation. To break down this concept, we'll explain the definition, how a viral campaign works, the advantages of viral marketing, and show you some examples of successful viral marketing.
Viral Marketing: What Is It?
Viral marketing generates interest in a brand or product (and therefore potential sales) through messages that spread quickly from person to person. The idea is that the users themselves choose to share the content.
Due to their speed and the fact that they make sharing easy, social networks are the natural habitat of this kind of marketing. The most widespread example in recent times is the creation of emotional, surprising, funny or unique videos on YouTube, which are then shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other channels.
However virality can be a double-edged sword. It's important to remember that in this type of campaign, a large part of the control falls into the hands of the users and there is a risk that the message can be misinterpreted or parodied. On the other hand, a successful viral campaign can work miracles for your brand’s results.
How a Viral Campaign Works
In theory, a viral marketing campaign is very simple to carry out. You create a video or another type of content which is attractive to your target audience, put it on the internet, and promote it. Form there, all you can do is wait for the fuse to light and for users to start sharing like crazy.
In some cases, virality happens by accident. For example, when a video is uploaded by a private user that all of a sudden becomes popular and begins to circulate all around the internet.
As for the dispersion strategy for brand videos, there are two types: the shown or the concealed. In the former, the user is aware from the first moment that they are viewing advertising or branded content, while in the latter the participation of the brand is only revealed later.
If you apply concealed marketing techniques, it is important to be very careful that the user does not feel tricked, cheated, or deceived since this could turn the viral campaign against you.
No matter what strategy you choose, remember to never ever become "spammy" or go overboard while sharing the content. Instead of repeating your message over and over again, the best strategy is to find a good place and time and let the “viral fuse” light itself.
Advantages of Viral Marketing
- Low cost. What characterizes viral campaigns is that the users do a significant part of the work for the brand, which drastically cuts down the costs of distribution. It is unnecessary to buy advertising or media space.
- Potential of great reach. A viral video on the Internet has the ability to reach a huge international audience without having to invest a ton of money or make an extra effort. Due to this, a small company or even a private individual can go viral.
- It is not invasive. In viral marketing, the social media user is the one making the decision to participate and share content, so it lessens the possibility of the brand coming across as invasive. Because of this, the perception of the brand and the interaction are significantly better, compared to more typical forms of advertising.
- It helps build up your brand. If you really hit the bull’s-eye in terms of creativity, you create content so incredible that users share it and develop a personal connection with your brand. It is without a doubt an extremely powerful tool when it comes to branding and awareness.
Examples of Viral Marketing
Here are some of our favorite examples of inspiring viral marketing. We hope you enjoy them as well! Some of the examples below are examined more thoroughly in our free ebook The Secrets of Viral Marketing.
IHOP or IHOb
In 2018, with one single tweet, IHOP caused online pandemonium when they suggested they were changing their name from IHOP to IHOb. But no one knew what the “b” stood for.
For the next 7 days, the whole world was left guessing as to what the b could possibly stand for. Their social media accounts played along with the speculation and fueled the fire online, creating further confusion and speculation. Finally, they revealed the hidden meaning: b stood for burgers.
This speculation caused IHOP to receive over $113 million in earned media and increased their burger sales. While this campaign was slightly controversial at the time (some users felt the reveal was overhyped), there is no denying that it was a success.
Dumb Ways to Die
In 2012, Australia’s Metro Trains wanted to find a way to encourage people to act safer around trains. Instead of going the traditional route of scary and off-putting ads, McCann Australia decided to add levity to Metro Train’s ads, delivering us the instant hit Dumb Ways to Die.
The video was shared world-wide and received over $60 million in media impressions in 2013. But most importantly, the message of the video caused people to be more aware of safety issues around train, resulting in 20% reduction in rail-related accidents.
Some of the best viral content comes from seizing the moment. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Oreo’s “Dunk in The Dark” tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl.
While content like this can’t be planned, it's the quick thinking and quick-wittedness that made this tweet so popular and so frequently cited by marketers.
The Ice Bucket Challenge
In 2014, The ALS Association launched the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise both awareness of the condition and funds for medical research. The challenge was to film yourself pouring a bucket of ice water over your head and then nominate three other people to follow suit.
Millions of people around the world participated, including celebrities like Oprah, Bill Gates, and Donatella Versace. The challenge was a great success, getting 115 million dollars in donations