Viral Marketing Initiative

As social media becomes more and more main stream, and content marketing (both written and visual) is proving to be one of the main marketing tools that help generate brand awareness, increase traffic to the company’s website and help generate sale leads it is no surprise that more and more companies / brands are attempting to make their content go viral. This in turn begs the question, why do some marketing campaigns succeed in going viral while others do not? Is there any sort of formula marketers should follow?

In today’s post, I will examine a few of the elements I felt were most applicable to helping marketing content / campaigns go viral. But first, before we delve into the actual elements that help make a marketing campaign go viral, we need to understand the end goal, which is to generate unique, high quality content which is able to break through the noise that consumers are exposed to on a regular / daily basis, content which is able to lead to a viral coefficient greater than 1. With over 400 tweets a day, the staggering amount of content shared each day via Facebook, the large amount of hours’ worth of videos uploaded to YouTube each day, not to mention all the traditional marketing “noise” consumers are exposed to via more traditional promotional channels such as TV, Radio, Print, etc.  it is amazing if a campaign is able to go viral at all. A marketer’s goal is to generate content that leads to a vial coefficient, which examens if the number of new viewers generated by one existing viewer is greater than one. If the viral coefficient is greater than one, it basically suggests that a campaign has viral growth where as if it is below one, it does not.

So now to the interesting (and fun) part – The elements that help marketing content go viral:

  1. Get your foot in the door: Getting your foot in the door is usually the hardest step in the process, be it for sales personal trying to sell products, be it for people trying to get an interview, or in this case, getting consumers to read / view your content. The first thing people tend to see online is the headline / tag of an article and/or video. It is this headline or tag that will spark their interest and have them take the next step, which is reading or viewing your content. For a headline to help content go viral, it is suggested that said headline / tag is:
    1. Able to grab attention
    2. Is particular to a target market
    3. Is specific
    4. Is able to generate curiosity
    5. Promote powerful benefits

2. You’re in the door, now make it memorable (tell a story, don’t just sell a product), make it emotional: Within this element I think it is important to distinguish two sub-elements. The first is the ability to make your content memorable, take the time to tell a story, not just try and sell your product. One example of this is Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign, which can be viewed in the video below:

In this example (which was published on YouTube in April of 2013), the focus of the content is not the product(s) dove is trying to market, but rather the story behind how people feel about themselves vs. how others tend to view them as. The link to the product is really only made at the last few seconds of the ad, but it is the underlying theme of beauty that dove is actually promoting. To date, this video has accumulated over 4.8 million views.

Another example is Johnnie Walker’s (JW) “A Gentlemen’s Wager”, which can be viewed below:

Published on YouTube in July 29th, 2014, this video has managed to accumulate a massive number of views, 11, 132,152 as of today, October 31, 2014 (i.e. just around 3 months). Similar to Dove, JW’s ad focuses on telling a story, with the underlying theme being the uniqueness (“nothing like it in the world, rarer than rare…”), making the link to the product (JW Blue label), which is referred to by JW itself as their rarest Whisky.

The second sub-element, which makes people want to share, is emotion. Personally, I think this is the most important elements which is found in all successful viral content. According to an article from Kelsey Libert and Kristin Tynski, striking the right emotional chord is key for people wanting to share your content. Overall, negative emotions were less commonly shared while other emotions, such as curiosity, amazement, interest, astonishment and uncertainty, as well as admiration tend to be more common in viral content. Personally I think that happiness (i.e. content that brings laughter and joy) are also positive emotions that lead to sharing content. One example that had an emotional “kicker” was a video posted by for mother’s day – “The World’s Toughest Job”:

Published only in April of this year, this ad managed to generate 21,949,556 views as of today. While the ad starts off somewhat emotionless, as people are interviewed for a certain job, we start to feel some astonishment and curiosity about this job as we learn about what people are asked to do as part of this job (e.g. work 24/365, no breaks, work harder on holiday’s, etc.). And then, towards the end, the interviewer provides an example of those currently holding this job – mothers. It is at this point that the emotional barrier is reset making the interviewees and viewer’s feel strong emotions towards their mothers, leading to the desire to buy cards for mother’s day….

Another example, equally moving (at least for me, being a father of two girls), was the ad from Always “Like a Girl”:

Similar to the video from, this ad managed to generate 49,967,426 views as of today, since it was published in June 26, 2014. Amazing!

  1. Now that you’ve made them cry / laugh, help them share it: While providing your reader / viewer with a detailed story line, one which leaves an impression, and has an emotional impact is extremely important (i.e. it is the reason people want to share in the first place), helping them share it is just as important. If your content is not easy to share, the reader / viewer may give up on it, and move on. One example of a website that helps people add share-ability to their content is There are other companies out there that help with the sharing process, some of which are listed here.
  2. Anything else? Yes, there are other elements, such as:
    1. Give them free stuff: Let’s face it, we all like to get free products, or see people get free products, as it makes us want these products more. Two examples for this are two ads from Coke:

b. Include a call to action: Depending on the basis of the ad, if there is a call for action, such as the recent ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, or Kony2012, having a relevant cause to work towards leads people to share, as it makes them feel as if they are contributing to something important, that has an impact on their surroundings.

Needless to say, there are multiple aspects to marketing content go viral. The elements shared with you above, are those that in my opinion seem to have the largest impact and seemed to be the most common amongst successful campaigns.

In addition to the useful information I have shared in my post above, I thought I would share this link with some additional successful viral videos. Enjoy!

Some additional suggested reading:


Additional References (not embedded in the post as Hyperlinks):

Brightcove. (2013, October 1). New Research Shows Increasing Reliance on Content Marketing to Drive Brand Awareness, Inbound Traffic and Sales. Retrieved October 31, 2014, from

Libert, K., & Tynski, K. (2013, October 24). Research: The Emotions that Make Marketing Campaigns Go Viral. Retrieved October 31, 2014, from