When most businesses think about high engagement metrics, the first solution they turn to is a viral ad campaign.
But why is viral content such a big deal? And what does it have to do with marketing exactly?
Truth be told, viral marketing isn't a sure science – it changes with the times. Still, if you can harness the power of a great viral marketing campaign, then your business will be playing in a whole new ballpark.
What Is Viral Marketing?
Any strategy that promotes the mass spread of a marketing campaign from one consumer to another counts as viral marketing.
Exposure is the defining trait of anything viral. How many people did it touch and how much influence did it have?
The term "viral" sounds like it has negative connotations, but it calls upon the fast spreading nature of viruses, where the strategy multiplies in popularity rapidly.
Viral content is usually in reference to online content, but offline, you'll probably hear the same concept referred to as word of mouth or buzz media.
Advantages of Viral Marketing
A viral campaign isn't the easiest to create or execute, but when you nail it, it has some serious benefits that can skyrocket your business.
Here are just a few key advantages of viral marketing:
It's Cost Effective.
One of the best parts about a viral campaign is that your audience does most of the work for you by promoting shares between one another.
Your business doesn't have to invest in a huge budget for advertising or media space. It gets distributed for you.
It's free brand awareness!
It Boosts Brand Awareness.
Viral content is usually passed from one consumer to at least two others in their social circle, and the pattern is repeated. As it circulates, more and more people are introduced to whatever product or service is the focus.
A great deal of them will likely create some sort of personal or emotional connection with your brand, raising your brand awareness substantially.
Some marketing campaigns can come across as pushy or forceful, often annoying audiences. Occasionally, it backfires on a brand and pushes leads away rather than bringing them in.
With viral marketing, it's the consumer that makes the decision to participate in viewing and sharing the campaign. The circulation of content has less of an impact on the brand since it's by user choice.
Elements of Viral Marketing to Consider
Every viral marketing campaign needs to be four things in order to be successful:
People, especially online, are fickle beings.
Trends rise and fall. Memes go in and out of style. Preferences in content style and form constantly change.
On top of everything else, a viral campaign has to be relevant. And in order to be relevant, it needs to feel current and timely. If it feels outdated or exhausted, then it will never gain any traction.
Marketers should be aware of current hot topics and events that their target audiences will be tapped into and find interesting.
If you're still trying to use old trends that have long since been retired, you'll be seen as out of touch and have your credibility docked.
Audiences can clock a forced campaign a mile away and they won't let it get far if they can help it.
It's kind of like an inside joke. It's not funny and will never stick in your friend group if it feels inorganic or forced. There has to be a sense of authenticity to it.
Basically, you can't come across as if you're trying to be viral.
Sure, every company secretly wishes that every single one of their marketing campaigns will become a worldwide hit, but how disingenuous would that feel? No one would ever pay attention to ads ever again.
Good content will spread organically, so your campaign will have to be creative enough to stand out on its own and speak for itself.
If it's worth sharing, people will share it.
You can try to make it a bit more enticing by creating a campaign that feels socially relevant.
Go big or go home.
Well, don't go so big that you risk damaging your reputation or standing, but you'll definitely want your campaign to possess some degree of auspiciousness and pizzazz in order to garner attention.
The key to mastering this element is to make sure you work creatively and work to align with your own brand.
If you're a toy company, you might not want to make an edgy commercial. But if you're a tattoo parlor launching a social media campaign, soft content may not appeal to your audience.
It's important to note that bold does not necessarily mean controversial. Always make sure that your campaigns are in good taste or else you run the risk of failing and hurting your brand.
Naturally, in order for a campaign to go viral, it has to be easily found, easily shared, and easily relatable.
If the content is gated or has no share functionality, how are people supposed to find it or pass it along to their friends and family?
Becoming accessible can be as easy as creating a social media profile or as complex as updating your website for a better user experience.
Either way, your campaign won't go far if no one can get to it.
5 Viral Marketing Examples You'll Love
There have been hundreds of great marketing campaigns over the years, and many wind up going viral simply because they're just that good. Not every ad functions the same as a Super Bowl commercial.
Still, it's always fun to see what consumers are considering share-worthy these days. Here are five viral examples to help inspire your own campaigns:
1. Apple: Shot on iPhone X
The coolest aspect of this campaign is that it wasn't even the intended marketing strategy at first.
With the launch of the iPhone X, Apple put out its "Selfies on iPhone X" campaign to promote just how amazing the new cameras were. The company knew people loved looking at themselves and sharing photos, so they focused on the "selfie" aspect of social media.
After it had a short run, Apple saw another opportunity. iPhone users were definitely taking selfies, but they were also filming and creating content while offering kudos to the company for such a great product.
"Filmed on iPhone" became a viral hit among creators.
With user permission, Apple compiled all of this content into an iPhone X film series to further highlight the new phone and shoutout all of the creators out there who were using their product in cool ways.
Their commercials featured everything from nature shots to cool stunts to even music videos for well known music artists!
2. The ALS Association: Ice Bucket Challenge
Some campaigns go viral because they've got so much heart and goodwill in them.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge started in 2014, but didn't really start losing steam until recently. The ALS Association challenged celebrities and normal patrons alike to raise money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis awareness and research.
The challenge was to dump a bucket of ice water on your head, challenge three other people, and make a donation to the organization.
Simple enough, yeah?
That simplicity may have contributed to how quickly this campaign took off. Participants posted videos of them dumping ice water on themselves, their friends, their bosses, and others in mass. These videos were everywhere.
A great deal of fun for a worthy cause.
3. Dollar Shave Club: Our Blades are F***ing Great
DSC was virtually unknown until they started investing in viral campaigns to spark conversation. Their challenge was to make something as basic and mundane as shaving seem engaging.
Why not make it a bit edgy? (Excuse the pun.)
Their first video ad was so funny and unconventional that it earned millions of views on YouTube through thousands of shares on social media platforms.
It was a risky shot, being so pithy, but it paid off in the end. Their customer subscriptions skyrocketed after the campaign was launched, making it one of the most successful viral campaigns to date.
In fact, it did so well that the "self-aware" nature of their advertising was quickly adopted by other major brands, like Wendy's and IHOP.
It's become the status quo for ads to be humor-focused nowadays as a result.
4. Always: Like a Girl
Always took a more socially conscious approach to their viral content.
They filmed a video that calls out just how many commonly used phrases actually come at the expense of young girls' confidence and self image.
Men and women alike were asked to perform acts "like a girl." Most didn't react in flattering ways. But when young girls were asked to do the same thing, they showed confidence.
Viewers were forced to address just how often society uses female-oriented language as an insult.
Always made a move to turn that around with the #LikeAGirl and encouraged audiences to uplift and inspire girls to view themselves as strong and valuable.
5. Extra Gum: The Story of Sarah & Juan
Many have probably watched the love story of how Juan wooed Sarah with a series of drawings on gum wrappers. It's incredibly relatable to watch them go through the ups and downs of a relationship.
The ads were touching and the feelings audiences felt were organic and real.
And the fact that the product wasn't the center of everything made it that much more easy to appreciate.
Remember what we said about non-intrusive advertising? Extra gum is in the commercial (re: gum wrapper), but Extra's creative team made it a part Sarah and Juan's story. It was their thing. We all have a thing with our significant other.
As a consumer, this was adorable and heartwarming. As a marketer, this was an ingenious play on relatability and emotional marketing.
And it didn't end with Sarah and Juan. It sparked a whole series of sweet interactions between strangers as they shared chewing gum with one another.
Now that you are familiar with some of the best viral marketing campaigns, you'll probably asking yourself, "How can I increase engagement with my content?"
The answer is simple, really.
You have to show the value, not tell.
The landscape is cluttered with meaningless slogans and pushy sales pitches. You simply need to give your customers something they can feel and offer a compelling reason why they should choose you over the other guy.