Viral Marketing Initiatives

Since the day Viral Marketing was coined, many a marketers have lost countless hours of sleep pondering how they too can make a campaign go viral. Dr. Ralph F. Wilson defined viral marketing as, “any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message’s exposure and influence”. Used correctly it could make a company rich and famous. However, as many people who have tried to harness this power have realized, it’s not easy. Below are five characteristics of viral campaigns that one must understand in order to achieve that elusive virus.


This one is geared towards larger companies who want to help put a face on a brand. IBM did so with their “Art of the Sale” video series where they created a mockumentary style video of their sales lessons. This was unexpected because IBM is viewed by many as stoic corporate juggernaut. However, with these videos they were able to show their personality and let the world know that there are actual genuine real people working there. As of this date the video has been watched on Youtube over 350,000 times!



In 2006 Office Max launched the “Elf Yourself” Campaign which allowed people to upload their faces onto the elves as they danced around.  The initiative was simple (you just had to upload a pic of yourself) and fun (who doesn’t like to see themselves dressed up like a little elf dancing around on computer?). Note that Elves have nothing to do with Office Max, but that’s beauty of viral marketing—if it’s fun, people will share regardless of who is behind it. The initiative was so successful that more that 470 million people uploaded pics since its launch in 2006. Now that’s market awareness!

Call to Action:

Regardless of what you think of the creator of the video, the Kony 2012 blazed through the internet like nothing before. The video was emotional, captivating and most importantly, after it had you emotionally invested, gave a simple call to action. The video has over 97 million views on YouTube.

Connect with the Right People:

You may ask, “Isn’t the point of a viral video to be picked up spontaneously through the internet?” Yes, a viral campaign does happen naturally, but there are ways to cheat the system. If you’re making a campaign targeted for a specific industry, wouldn’t it be better to get the influencers in that industry on board? Take a look at what Universal Orlando Resort did with their Harry Potter themed rides. Did they go and pay millions of dollars for billboards and commercials? No. They targeted seven influencers of Harry Potter blogs and shared with them via webcast about the rides. Then those seven people shared with their communities. From there the “viral” aspect became alive. As was said in The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How Word of Mouse Spreads Your Ideas for Free by David Meerman Scott, the campaign reached over 350 million people, with no money spent on advertising!




This is probably the most important characteristic of any viral video and one that each of the four examples above used. You need to make sure that the content you create can be easily shared. It can be as simple as a social share widget that allows people to immediately share it with their friends via their social network sites. The easier you make it for the audience to share the faster your campaign reaches the mass audiences.

Remember, there is no guarantee or formula to make a campaign go viral. Sometimes it just takes dumb luck. However, though these characteristics are not the end all and be all, a viral campaign should have one of them.

Finally, I shall leave you with a quote from the movie Prometheus, “All big things have small beginnings”.  So go out and start brainstorming!

Feel free to agree or disagree below.


3 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. As the Harry Potter example reveals, influencers are vital to inducing the viral effect of a marketing initiative. If we expand the viral metaphor, I would equate influencers to host cells. From the article, “What is a Virus?”, “a virus must have a host cell (bacteria, plant, or animal) in which to live and make more viruses. Outside of a host cell, viruses cannot function”. Likewise, the Harry Potter campaign would have functioned were it not for the influencers/host cells.


  2. I am just back from a Ben&Jerry’s factory tour and after hearing their story of how it all has begun I totally agree that “all big things have a small beginning” – their ice cream is not very very very sophisticated but what they do is creating a story around every flavor that makes you laugh and challenging to pronounce it correctly when you are asked for your order. The “don’t take yourself too serious” and share your passion attitude is the ingredient for being the “host for the virus”.

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