Viral Marketing Initiatives: Science, Luck, or A Little of Both?

Have you ever wondered why some select marketing initiatives go viral, while many other otherwise successful initiatives seemingly fall by the wayside? Is it science, luck, or a little bit of both?

While I’m no expert on social media and marketing initiatives, one thing is for sure, there are definitely certain characteristics that are present in most, if not all, of the most wildly viral marketing initiatives. Below are five characteristics that stand out immediately.

Be Unique

In order to break through the clutter in social media, just as in traditional marketing, the initiative needs to be unique. A normal, mundane idea will never go viral. You need to think “outside-the-box” and create a new and exciting idea. Keep in mind, this idea doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, simplicity often brings better results. For instance, Evian’s “Baby and Me” campaign is a simple idea, but at the same time, very unique.

Be Visual

People remember 80% of what they see, 20% of what they read, and only 10% of what they hear. It should come as no surprise then, that in order to go viral, an initiative should be highly visual. This goes to show why most viral initiatives are in the form of pictures and videos. So, if you want your campaign to go viral, focus more on visual aspects, and less on copy and sound.

The Ram trucks “Farmer” initiative really focuses on visual elements in its campaign. The video utilizes beautiful images of farms and farmers to get their point across. Notice how the sound in the video takes a backseat to the visual elements.

Evoke Emotion

One of the best ways to create buzz around your initiative is to evoke a strong emotion amongst your audience. This can be done with a variety of emotions; however, it is best to use strong positive emotions, especially humor. Humor is one of the best ways to get your message across; however, it is important not to insult people in the process. Kmart’s “I Shipped My Pants” campaign was witty and humorous, and teetered just on the edge of offending. The shock and awe of a traditional business going so far out on a limb helped make it the success it was.

Be Shareable

One of the most important things to consider when creating an initiative is making it highly shareable. A campaign can’t go viral if it can’t be shared. Therefore, it’s very important to provide the audience with the ability to “spread the virus” via social media. You can create a Call to Action within your campaign to entice the audience to spread the message.

Be Engaging

Another characteristic of viral initiatives is that they are highly engaging. Not only must the campaign captivate the user, but it should also provide a way in which the audience can affect the campaign. Ikea had a very successful and engaging viral campaign in which they used Facebook’s Photo Tagging feature to promote a new store opening. Each time a photo was posted, the first person to tag themselves on an item in the photo, won the item. The engagement involved (along with the reward) helped the campaign go viral, very quickly.

So, is viral marketing science, luck, or a little of both? I would say, it’s definitely a science with a bit of luck. How about you? What other characteristics do you see in successful viral marketing campaigns?


Posted on March 23, 2014, in Social Media Basics. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. These are all great initiatives! I specifically like the one about evoking emotion, Dove did an ad a few months ago about how women truly view themselves compared to how other people view them. It was quite an eye opening ad that I found to be very emotional because from what I got from ti was that most women find themselves to be naturally less attractive than others do. This ad definitely evoked some emotion, in me at least! Great job!

  2. Uniqueness is certainly a factor that can weigh heavily on the outcome of a viral campaign. The Evian baby campaign is a great example of a unique campaign that uses humor and cute babies to grab the audience. Nice post! Thanks for sharing.

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Lauren Kiser

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