Viral Marketing – Marketing In The Information Age

From contextual marketing to content marketing, there’s many opportunities available to promote your brand and/or business to the world, but perhaps none are more conspicuous or impactful than viral marketing. 

The ubiquity of smartphones and social networking has enabled information and news to become viral extremely quickly, a fact that has not been lost on marketers. From YouTube videos to commercials and even social network responses, the sky’s the limit when it comes to viral marketing. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is a style of marketing promotion that relies on a broad audience to amplify the message of a brand, product or service. “Going viral” is accomplished when marketing is being shared by the public at large, not just by a brand to a target audience. If done successfully, a viral campaign will be in the majority of people’s social media feeds, albeit only for a short amount of time.

Viral marketing often relies heavily on social media to reach the vast general public. The most common platforms for content to go viral are Facebook and Instagram, although TikTok is making a notable recent impact. Viral marketing is fuelled by the popularity of memes and the subsequent trends of likes and shares. 

Viral campaigns are difficult to achieve, but the results of this type of universal recognition can have dramatic impacts on a brand or product. The expansive reach of a viral campaign introduces a brand or product to a variety of target audiences previously untapped, and while viral fame is short-lived, the impacts of it can be long-lasting.

How Does Viral Marketing Work?

The most critical step in viral marketing is to create exciting and engaging content that appeals to a broad audience. The premise of viral marketing is simple: you want to get people talking about you, but for people to talk about you, you have to give them something innovative to talk about.  

Choosing the right viral marketing strategies is secondary to creating a spectacular product or campaign. Keeping that in mind, it is important to save viral marketing efforts for campaigns that really have the potential to appeal to the larger audience in an authentic and shareable way.

A good viral marketer understands that in order for a campaign to reach a broad audience, it first must be widely circulated amongst a small, more dedicated and engaged audience. Eventually, this small scale virality will grow to reach the general public through likes, shares, retweets and perhaps even media coverage. Just as you would with any marketing campaign, it is important to identify your target audience and grow interest.  This small group of engaged audiences will be critical to your overall success in going viral.

As we already learned, engaging content is an important component of any viral marketing campaign.  Recent studies have shown that video content typically outperforms other content on social media platforms, particularly Facebook and Instagram. To create a viral buzz for your campaign, video content is considered to be the best option. This is especially true in 2020 with the dramatic rise in popularity of the video sharing platform TikTok.

The general premise of virality marketing is based on the idea of mass viewership and engagement.  To ensure your content is widely viewed and shared, it is important to remove barriers to your viewers. In order to encourage your content to go viral, we recommend removing any paywalls or secondary redirect links, in addition to enabling sharing, downloading and embedding your content on other sites. For the purpose of viral marketing, mass viewership should be prioritized before any type of exclusivity.  In order for your content to go viral, you need to let go of the content and let it be shared and repurposed widely, often outside of your control.

Contextual marketing is another form of advertising that relies heavily on data and social media platforms in order to be effective. Learn more in Why Contextual Marketing 101 – Using Data for Impactful Ad Campaigns.”

5 Examples of Effective Viral Marketing 

While some argue that viral marketing is heavily based on luck, many brands and content creators have manufactured successful and creative viral marketing campaigns in recent years.

1. “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Old Spice Campaign
viral marketing how to guide
Old Spice - Youtube

One of the original examples of a viral marketing campaign is the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” television and online ad campaign. 

This campaign is an excellent case study as it offers a perfect example of simple, entertaining content resonating with a mass viewership. This campaign was one of the first to leverage social media (Facebook was still relatively new) to help reach a broad audience and appeal to a  non-typical audience for a men’s hygiene brand. 

By appealing to women, Old Spice differentiated itself from its competitors with it’s simple but unique television commercial and associated virtual marketing campaigns.

2. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
ALS Association (

In 2014, the  ALS Ice Bucket Challenge became one of the first viral campaigns dedicated to raising funds for a cause through a viral video challenge. Benefiting the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, this viral campaign raised almost $17 million in a few months. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge created a viral loop by encouraging participants to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads and challenge their friends to do the same, all while encouraging ALS  awareness and raising money for research. A number of celebrities and important public figures took part in this challenge, establishing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge as one of the most successful charitable viral campaigns ever.

3. Dove “Real Beauty” Sketches
viral marketing tips and tricks
Dove (

In 2013, Dove launched a series of viral videos around their new brand approach “Real Beauty.” This campaign was targeted to portray real women in Dove’s marketing campaigns, encouraging women to love their natural beauty and deconstruct the commercialization of what is considered beautiful. 

This viral campaign not only brought significant praise to Dove for its inclusivity but was so successful that it continues to drive the ethos of Dove’s marketing campaigns even now.

Viral marketing campaigns tend to take place on social media. Take a look at these  5 Successful Social Media Campaigns” for some inspiration!

4. Always “Like a Girl” Campaign
viral marketing best guide
Always (

In 2014, the brand Always took advantage of gender equality conversations to leverage its viral “Like a Girl” campaign. This viral video was focused on asking young adults and children of varying ages what it means to do common activities “like a girl.” 

Their responses were very different depending on their age and called attention to “like a girl” being used as an insult in our common, everyday language. This campaign was understated and simple, designed to look like a mock audition. The video’s emotional impact and realistic premise resonated with viewers and became a viral sensation.

5. Wendy’s Twitter responses
Wendy's Twitter (

An excellent example of a non-video viral marketing strategy is Wendy’s Twitter content. Taking a very different approach than corporate recommended verbiage, Wendy’s has successfully used its Twitter channel to engage with consumers in a smart, funny, and pop-culturally relevant way.  

Many of the Wendy’s Twitter exchanges have gone viral for their quippy responses and witty “roasting” of followers. This smart, out-of-the-box strategy has significantly impacted Wendy’s social media footprint, setting the fast food chain apart from its competition online.

Key Takeaways For Viral Marketing

Viral marketing, while often an exercise in luck, can be an excellent strategy for organizations, brands and influencers looking to expand their influence on a large scale. It is important to understand the necessary strategies often required to achieve such success.


While viral marketing is an important tool in your marketing arsenal, it should not be relied upon as a primary strategy to tell your brand story and impact your bottom line.


Written By Terry Say

Terry's an editor and SEO strategist for Advesa. There’s nothing content and SEO he won’t get involved in. We tried, he just always finds a way to put his hands on things! Aside from work, Terry calls himself a ‘stand-up comedy connoisseur’, and enjoys watching intense tournaments in the world of E-sports.