Over the years marketers have seen advertising campaigns, social campaigns achieve Viral status that is most often unbelievable and leaves them feeling like it is serendipity. Marketers and agencies have tried to create and even replicate this illusive vitality; some never experience it; while others are rarely able to duplicate or even replicate it.
What is Viral Marketing?
By definition, Viral marketing refers to leveraging marketing technique(s) for a product or service which then inspires users to spread the brand’s message to others via digital mediums, thereby creating a scenario that leads to explosive awareness and growth. It can take different forms - videos, social media posts, announcements, stunts, memes, etc.
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How does Viral Marketing Work?
There is no magic sauce or formula that can be implemented by a brand that naturally makes the campaign go viral. However it must be said that when a brand’s message strikes a chord with ordinary people, they tend to share it with their immediate circle and this sharing continues like a loop.
Emotional anchors that aid in campaigns going viral:
People are strongly driven by their emotions that often results in irrational behaviour most of the time with their purchases. Tapping into their emotions is not enough to make campaigns go viral. It requires that the content evolve high arousal of emotions be it:
Valence (i.e. positivity to negativity of an emotion. Happiness is a positive valence, while Fear is a negative valence),
Arousal (i.e. level of excitement to relaxation. Anger has a high arousal while Sadness has a low arousal) and
Dominance (i.e. submission to control. Fear has a low dominance while admiration has a high dominance)
There are cases where virality seems to work better when there is a negative valence (people tend to share cringe-worthy or unbelievable moments more… for example cricketers dropping an important catch OR fielders making an impossible catch). The key is to find the optimum mix of Arousal and Dominance that appeals to the largest population that gives the content its virality; even if it means leveraging a negative valence.
A high level of arousal and dominance results in emotions that are positive with occasional emotions of surprise.
When arousals are high but dominance is low, the emotional response is most often that of surprise followed by a positive emotion.
When both arousal and dominance is low, the emotional reaction is varied and mixed.
Ingredients of a Viral Campaign
Virality is unpredictable. There is no organic way to infuse or forecast vitality of a campaign. Viral Marketing campaigns are the unicorns of marketing.
Throwing money at a campaign does not make it go viral. Viral marketing depends heavily on customers naturally spreading a brand’s message with little or no push from the brand. The only thing a brand can do is to ensure that the communication appeals to their main audience, their interests and emotions in the hope that it goes viral.
Some of the best organic and natural viral campaigns are ones that are timely (case in point - Oreo’s “Dunking in the Dark” tweet). Understanding trends and even highjacking (viraljacking) trends using popular memes, pop culture references, etc. can help create virality for your campaign or your brand.
Brands that are afraid to take a risk, most often never see any of their campaigns go viral. The bolder and more timely the campaign, the bigger the risk and better the chance of it going viral.
Campaigns that shock; incorporate a sense of cultural nuance and context, tend to attract attention. However this is not enough for the campaign to go viral. It also requires building a level of context so that the true message of the brand is clear, easy to understand and emotional enough for the viewer to share.
Industry categories have patterns, so does your brand; having patience and trying different techniques and methods to see what works and what doesn’t for your audience will help you to eventually uncover a pattern that works for your brand and hopefully achieve virality.
Understanding which media platform your audience predominately uses is also another key ingredient. Brands that create and publish content on social channels where most of their customers are available have a greater likelihood of brands’ content going viral.
Benefits of Viral Campaigns
Viral Marketing is low cost because brands don’t have to spend money to promote the content yet achieve vast reach that can significantly deliver growth and brand awareness in a relatively short period of time. Because Viral Marketing is bold and timely it tends to get picked up by mainstream media that in turn contributes to lead generation and helps build brand awareness.
A Pitfall of Viral Campaigns
As people share the campaign, the original message sometimes gets distorted during the sharing process. This can result in misinterpretation of the original message or it becoming a parody. Either way, it can work against the brand. Campaigns that trick or cheat or deceive or spam audiences are not viral campaigns but rather unethical marketing practices. Viral Campaigns are short-lived and, if poorly executed, can offend people.
Examples of Viral Marketing Campaigns that created positive impact and left a mark on society
ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
The 2014 campaign went viral and ALS Association raised over $220Mn worldwide to raise awareness and medical funds for research of the disease
IHOP or IHOb
A single tweet that left customers wondering if IHOP (International House of Pancakes) intended on changing their name to IHOb and what the ‘b’ meant. IHOP received over $113 Mn in earned media and a tremendous increase in their burger sales.
Dumb Ways to Die
The video received $60 Mn media impressions and resulted in 20% reduction in rail-related accidents.
You can Still Dunk in the Dark
A single tweet that delivered 525 Mn impressions and stole the 2013 Super Bowl XLVII.
Run Like a Girl
The Man Your Man Could Smell like
The video garnered more that 60Mn views to date on YouTube, grew twitter followers by more than 1000% and 600,000 likes on Facebook.
You’re More Beautiful than you think
The video garnered more that 70Mn views to date on YouTube, has been uploaded in 25 languages and available in 110 countries.
Dark Knight “Why So Serious?”
Example of Viral Marketing Campaigns that attracted negative publicity for brands
Pepsi - Kendall Jenner Ad
10 things that all successful viral marketing campaigns have in common
Great Audience Involvement
Ability to make a spectacle that is press-worthy
Appropriate humor that is likable
Tap into a worthwhile cause or trending cultural behavior
Might leverage celebrity/ star power
Has a low entry barrier
Promotes or advocates a good incentive
Adds a sense of urgency
6 drivers to check if a campaign could go viral
It has Social Currency.
People share things because it makes them look good
It has Triggers.
People share things because its context is top-of-mind
It is Emotional.
People share things because it makes them feel something (i.e. triggers an emotion)
It is Public.
People share things to imitate what others do
It has Practical Value.
People share things that they believe will be useful to others
It tells a Story.
People share things because they love to tell a story
Creating campaigns that go viral is not a matter of luck but more a matter of creating powerful emotional experiences for customers; striking the right emotional chords with viewers that make them identify themselves within that piece of communication and therefore make them want to share it with their social circle. Viral marketing is not for every business. There isn’t an exact formula that can make your campaign a viral marketing success; and it isn’t possible to perfectly predict what can make or break the campaign.
Viral Marketing does require your brand to create stronger bonds with its customers, not necessarily to push their products or services but to deliver value. Delivering value naturally improves engagement and increases the chances of your campaign going viral.
Viral marketing can lead to incredible influx of new customers but who are rarely loyal to the brand. Care must be taken by any business, especially new ones or businesses that have not built a solid marketing foundation, proper tools, processes and plans when attempting a viral stunt. It could go wrong very quickly, upset your customers, dilute the brand and go viral for all the wrong reasons.
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