Viral marketing can be described as “the internet version of word of mouth marketing – Web sites, videos, email messages, or other marketing events that are so infectious that customers will want to pass them along to friends”. (Sohn, 2013, pg.2) The goal of the marketing initiative is to go viral, similarly to an epidemic in which the message moves through a population by person to person transmission in a rapid manner. Marketers have achieved success at their marketing initative going viral when they have “harnessed the willingness of customers to pass along the marketing message.” (Sohn, 2013, pg. 1)
Although it may seem simple, viral “isn’t luck or chance. There is a science behind it.” (Schwabel, 2013). It is not automatic that a message will go viral immediately or easily for a marketer as there are factors that go into play. The reliability of the message, in other words the how and why a message was received is crucial because there needs to be a strong tie between the original receiver and the “pass-along receiver.” When a consumer has a positive experience, they are more likely to share it and forward on the information. (Sohn, 2013, pg. 18) Another factor that makes a marketing initiative go viral is the market conditions. As Sohn put it brilliantly, flu cannot bloom into an epidemic if it is during the wrong time of the year. Therefore, environmental distractions may distract consumers from the viral marketing campaign.
Successful viral marketing campaigns may have one or all of a variety of characteristics that interests the viewer. In my opinion, there are five characteristics that can really boost a marketing initiative. These are:
Emotion-Evoker – “The goal is not just to be recalled or remembered but hitting a nerve and becoming share worthy and meaningful. (Smith, 2013) An example of this would be Dove’s campaign “Real Beauty Sketches.” This three minute ad used an FBI trained sketch artist to draw women based on their own self-perception compared to that of a stranger. (Stampler, 2013). It was viewed over 114 million times and quickly became the 3rd most shared ad. The VP of Dove Skin, Fernando Machado released a statement that the moment the campaign film was “uploaded to the Dove YouTube page, it quickly started to gain traction around the world with men, women, media and even other brands sharing the film.” (Kelly, 2013) This film elicited such intense warm emotions within the women both participating and people watching the film, that they wanted to share with their friends and family members. The film was easily shareable because of the widgets that allowed people to just click “like” or “share” to their social media platforms.
Story-Telling – Following a story can be really interesting and entertaining for a consumer. Marketers who can tell a story effectively can really gain the customer’s attention and therefore brand loyalty. Chipotle Mexican Grill used Story-Telling in their “The Scarecrow” short film advertisement. The brand teamed up with Academy Award-winning design team with this short film in addition to accompanying games. The story showed the fictional “Crow Foods Incorporated” which dominates food production and staffed it’s factory with scarecrows who were displaced from their jobs on nearby farms. When one “demoralized” scarecrow returns home after a long work day and picks a red pepper, everything changes. (Ankeny, 2014) The main goal of the video was to increase the customer awareness of animal confinement, synthetic growth hormones, and toxic pesticides. The story was tightly woven with this goal and quickly become a YouTube hit with over 6.5 million YouTube views in less than 2 weeks as well as an accompanying app which was downloaded over 500,000 times in 6 weeks. (Ankeny, 2014)
Humor – Making consumers laugh can make for a successful marketing initiative with a message that people want to share. There are so many advertisements on a daily basis that people find humorous that they share on Facebook and Twitter with their friends. Aside from the desire to share with family and friends, a funny advertisement will stick in the consumers’ mind for the future. An example of this is Evian’s Baby & Me YouTube marketing campaign. The YouTube video has fun, upbeat music as CGI-aided babies are performing with adult actors. As the adults move and dance, they see their “baby” reflection in the glass with humorous CGI babies doing what they do. (Ankeny, 2014). The advertisement itself received over 50 million YouTube views and 100 million total views within weeks including a Facebook page, sweepstakes to promote the ad and other promotional tools. With the success of the campaign, a mobile application was introduced where people could “baby-fy” their photos and share the results over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the global hashtag #evianbabyandme. (Ankeny, 2014)
Celebrity Endorsement – Including celebrities in the marketing campaign in some way definitely has its benefits. These well-known figures already have a large following and engaged audience therefore that is a market that may not have otherwise been exposed to the brand’s campaign. For example, Lay’s Do Us a Flavor campaign used a celebrity judging panel composed of Eva Longoria and Michael Symon. Eva Longoria is an award-winning actress, bestselling cookbook author, and philanthropist with a very expansive following of over 6 million Twitter followers and Michael Symon is from the daytime talk show “The Chew” as well as boasts being the owner of four award-winning restaurants. Both of these celebrities come with followings that will be interested in any promotion that they do, therefore exposed to Lay’s campaign. Additionally, TV personality Wayne Brady would give consumers shout-outs on Twitter when they submitted their ideas for the new flavor of chips on the Lay’s Twitter page. When consumers would submit their idea for a custom flavor, they can share it over Facebook, Twitter, Pinterst, Tumblr and Instagram with the use of a widget on Lay’s page. In addition, Lay’s also used the hashtag #DoUsAFlavor to publish the ideas that they received over social media. (Johnson, 2014)
Out of the box and interesting content – Burger King thought out of the box with their “Subservient Chicken” marketing initiative. Promoting their new Chicken TenderCrisp Sandwich television ad used the tagline “chicken the way you want it.” To follow up with this tagline and television ad, Burger King launched the online branch of the initiative. There was a male dressed in a full chicken suit on a website in which people could type commands and the “chicken” would have to follow them. These commands ranged from anything that the consumer wanted it to do, all promoting how this new sandwich was just how the consumer wanted it. People were “absorbed and actively interacted with the ad campaign. They would just go on for the activity if nothing else.” (Horovitz, 2014). There were over 1 billion online views and this was considered one of the first major online-driven campaigns. (Taylor, 2014) One of the reasons that this viral marketing campaign was so successful is because it was so out of the box. People’s attentions were grabbed because they were not expecting this campaign that they shared it with their family and friends who also wanted to join in on commanding the chicken what to do.
Overall, making a marketing initiative go viral is not a simple task and requires grabbing the attention of consumers. While consumers do not share just any content, the content of a marketing initiative needs to be compelling and give them the want to share on their social media platforms. As stated earlier in this post, making an initiative go viral is not just luck, but knowing the science behind it.
Ankeny, Jason. (2014, April 23) “How These 10 Marketing Campaigns Became Viral Hits.” http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233207
Horovitz, Bruce. (2014, April 27) “Burger King Brings Back Subservient Chicken.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2014/04/27/burger-king-subservient-chicken-big-king/8161483/
Johnson,Lauren. (2014, January 15) “Lay’s Bets on Instagram, Twitter to Expand Year-Long Campaign.” Mobile Marketer. Retriveed from: http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/content/16980.html
Kelly, Samantha. (2013, May 20) “Viral Dove Campaign Becomes Most Watched Ad Ever.” http://mashable.com/2013/05/20/dove-ad-most-watched
Stampler, Laura. (2013, May 22) “How Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Became the Most Watched Viral Video Ad of all Time.” http://www.businessinsider.com/how-doves-real-beauty-sketches-became-the-most-viral-ad-video-of-all-time-2013-5#ixzz32x2PtZWx
Schwabel, Dan. (2013, April 25). “Jonah Berger: How to Make Your Campaigns Go Viral.” Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/04/25/jonah-berger-how-to-make-your-marketing-campaigns-go-viral/
Sohn, Kyonsgsei. (2013, Feb) “Viral Marketing – More Than a Buzzword.” The Journal of Applied Business and Economics. 14.1 21-42. Retrieved from: http://ezproxy.snhu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/docview/1450694047?accountid=3783
Taylor, Kate. (2014, April 28) “Burger King Bets Subservient Chicken Ad Campaign Will Go Viral Again.” Entrepreneur. Retrieved from: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233455#
Torkildson, Adam. (2012, Nov 8) “The Top 22 Viral Marketing Tactics You Need in 2013.” Retrieved from: http://socialmediatoday.com/adam-torkildson/1038526/top-22-viral-marketing-tactics-you-need-2013