The Ultimate Guide to Viral Marketing and how it Works in 2022

Fenika Bench

Let’s face it, you probably looked at a few funny videos and memes before reading this article. Nowadays, it’s common to find people grinning or even laughing at fun internet jokes. Businesses know this, so they’ve adjusted their marketing campaigns for this new consumer behavior.

That’s why you can see more brands posting memes about their products. For example, they post a TikTok video of their mascot dancing to a pop song. Fortunately, this is great news for small businesses since this provides a new and powerful way to promote themselves online!

We will begin by explaining what a viral marketing campaign is and how companies use this method today. Then, we will discuss what makes a viral campaign successful. More importantly, we will check the pros and cons and talk about how you can create one yourself.

What are viral marketing campaigns?

According to Hubspot, these refer to marketing strategies that involve creating visual content that resonates with a target audience. That content can be a picture or a video.

Since people relate to that content, they’re likely to share it with other people. Eventually, it will spread to more people, similar to how a virus behaves.

Hence, we have the term “viral marketing.” The word “content” might seem intimidating, so let’s use a more common word for it: memes! Yes, you heard that right!

What is a meme?

You’re probably familiar with them as the funny images with witty captions on them. For example, there’s one that involves a couple walking outside until the man looks behind at another woman.

Most people don’t take memes seriously as they come across as silly nowadays. However, they’ve existed in the past as you’ll realize in Merriam-Webster’s definition:

  1. An amusing or interesting item (such as a captioned picture or video) or genre of items that is spread widely online, especially through social media
  2. An idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture

Take a look at the latter definition, and you’ll see that the word “meme” applies to objects or ideas outside the internet.

This is important in understanding viral marketing techniques.

It’s not easy to plan this type of marketing campaign as you’ll have to rely on people spreading it themselves. This is also called organic traffic, and it’s at the heart of this marketing method.

As a result, companies can’t always be sure that viral content will spread on the internet. Yet, many of them still want to learn how to create a successful viral marketing campaign.

Read More: What Is Share Of Voice Marketing?

Why do companies use viral campaigns?

This is a tablet that says digital marketing.

Businesses realized long ago that people spend so much time on the internet. This makes the traditional methods useless since they often focus on screens.

Nowadays, more people worldwide don’t even head to brick-and-mortar stores when buying stuff. Instead, they just place an order on mobile apps.

Since people purchase and use products and services on the internet, you might as well advertise there, right? As a result, digital marketing became popular.

As the name suggests, digital marketing involves using electronic devices and online platforms to promote products and services. It often uses a content marketing strategy.

This is when a company publishes online content to advertise a brand’s offerings. The types of content may involve blogs, online videos, and even influencer live streams.

Sadly, this took a long time and effort to create, and it took a long time to provide results. That’s when brands noticed that memes spread faster than their content.

What’s more, these silly pictures seemed to stir more online engagement. You can find memes with millions of views, a lot of likes, and several lines of comments.

As a result, we now have companies using viral marketing techniques. They might not guarantee results, but one viral hit could bring millions of customers and sales!

Examples in the viral market

Just how prevalent is this marketing strategy nowadays? Well, it’s popular enough that we could list at least ten examples! Here are some of the most recent and successful viral marketing campaigns:

#1. The Zoom Virtual Background Challenge

Let’s start with something fairly recent. The COVID-19 pandemic caused people worldwide to stay indoors. In response, they began to find ways to continue working.

This is why they started taking remote work with the help of video conferencing apps. It allows people to speak with another person via real-time video feed.

Zoom also allowed people to use different computer-generated backgrounds. They could use the ones that the app provided, or they could create one themselves.

That’s when Zoom launched a Virtual Background Competition in March 2020. It invited remote workers to submit photos or videos of themselves with their self-made backgrounds.

In response, 50,000 people registered for the event. This sparked positive buzz for Zoom while effectively introducing new customers to this app.

#2. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

A viral marketing campaign doesn’t have to be only for boosting sales. The Ice Bucket Challenge proves that it can also work for a good cause. Specifically, it helped raise awareness of ALS.

The term stands for “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” a disease that damages the brain and spinal cord. This hampers muscle control and induces a sensation similar to being drenched in ice-cold water.

That’s why the ALS Association launched the online challenge. People could show support for those with the disease by pouring a bucket of freezing cold water on themselves.

The Association hoped it would help raise funds for medical research. In response, many celebrities posted videos of themselves participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, such as Bill Gates and Oprah.

#3. Uber’s Launch Campaign

A few years ago, ride-sharing apps weren’t as popular as they are now. People weren’t comfortable with getting rides from random strangers.

This was a problem for Uber, one of the most popular ride-hailing apps nowadays. Fortunately, the South by South West festival gave the tech startup an idea for a viral marketing campaign.

They provided free rides to attendees of the event. This caught the attention of many participants and sparked a discussion on social media. It made the promo users seem like VIPs.

The Launch Campaign made people what it would be like to get a ride wherever and whenever they want. Fast forward to today, and Uber is one of the most successful companies of our time.

What makes a successful viral marketing campaign?

This represents viral marketing.

The examples should have given you an idea of how viral campaigns work. You may have noticed that they share a few characteristics such as:

#1. It relies on organic traffic.

As mentioned, viral marketing campaigns rely on becoming viral. This means they post content that resonates so well with viewers, so it spread quickly on the internet.

In marketing speak, this means that viral content spreads via organic traffic. You can’t force a marketing campaign. Yet, you may think that promoting on numerous online channels can give an unfair advantage.

Increasing your online presence may increase your chances of success, but it’s not a guarantee. Think of all your favorite memes, such as the cute Shiba Inu dog.

It was popular enough to become the logo of Dogecoin (DOGE) and Shiba Inu Coin (SHIB). Yet, it just came from a particularly cute photo of someone’s pet.

The person who posted it didn’t mean it to become such a famous part of internet culture. Nevertheless, we still post memes of his beloved furry friend today.

Can you estimate viral content performance?

Believe it or not, there’s a formula for figuring out how viral something could become! It’s called the Viral Coefficient, and many companies use it when crafting viral marketing techniques.

The Viral Coefficient formula looks like this:

Viral coefficient = C x R x CR/100

The “C” refers to the number of customers you have, and the “R” is the number of referrals each customer can bring. Meanwhile, the “CR” is the average conversion rate for each referral.

We won’t spend too much time explaining this as it has one major flaw: the “R” value. It’s not easy to know exactly how many referrals your target audience can provide.

People are often unpredictable since you don’t always know what would spark their interest. As a result, that estimate is likely to fluctuate. This is why viral advertising relies on another factor.

#2. They stand out.

The internet has so much content that changes almost every hour. Viral campaigns must leave such a strong impression that it persists in people’s minds.

Let’s use a stunt from the Philippines’ SM Mall of Asia. It all started in 2021 when people noticed that the shopping center’s giant globe went missing.

In response, people started taking photos and recording videos of the globe’s vacant spot. Eventually, the establishment revealed that it was a stunt to promote the Netflix film Red Notice.

Such viral marketing efforts are mostly harmless, but some can backfire. For example, McDonald’s experienced a lot of problems from its 2017 PR stunt.

It collaborated with the Netflix cartoon show Rick & Morty by featuring Szechuan sauce from the global fast-food chain. Unfortunately, McDonald’s underestimated how people would react to it.

Days after the episode, fans of the show flocked to nearby McDonald’s branches. They filled the premises, so no new customers could enter. Some of them even turned rowdy, prompting police to take action.

#3. They come out at the right time.

You may have also noticed that these viral campaigns come out at opportune moments. In other words, they come out when their viral messages are relevant.

Let’s take a look at the McDonald’s viral campaign again. It was a flop, but it drew in a lot of people because it launched when the Rick & Morty show was trending.

OREO also gives us a great viral marketing example. In 2013, the Super Bowl experienced a power outage. That’s when the OREO Twitter page released the message “You Can Still Dunk In The Dark.”

Quick thinking brought us one of the top viral marketing campaigns of the decade. Similarly, you will need wits when crafting a successful viral campaign.

You will have to be in touch with the latest trends. This will allow you to see what could happen in the future, so you can prepare your marketing campaign accordingly.

Also, this requires that you have someone who will manage your online channels. If you look back at the OREO tweet, that’s only possible if there’s a person handling the page.

This person should match your target audience, so he can also communicate with customers in real-time. In other words, you’ll need a social media assistant.

It’s a lot easier to hire one nowadays since people can perform this role remotely. Still, you have to plan your marketing strategy beforehand.

When should I use viral marketing campaigns?

These are people planning a viral marketing campaign.

This type of brand promotion is effective, but it must fit your company. This will make sure that it’s more likely to provide the results you want.

This is why you should think about a few things before you start your viral marketing work. The following questions can help you:

Do you want to reach young people?

This type of marketing works on people who use the internet often. This applies to most people, except an older demographic. People aged 50 and above may not spend much time on screens.

In that case, you’re better off using other marketing strategies. Modern businesses don’t often use traditional marketing methods, but they may be a better fit for your brand.

Do you aim for a global audience?

This might seem like a strange question since most businesses want to have as many customers as possible. Yet, this might not fit small businesses or startups.

Their operations aren’t enough to handle that many people. They can eventually expand and gain this capacity. Until then, these businesses may not have much use for viral marketing tactics.

Do you have a limited budget?

Look at most memes, and you’ll see that they don’t require that much money to create. You just need a picture with some text on it. You can get the image for free, and numerous websites can help you create memes.

Viral marketing is all about resonating with people. You need an understanding of current trends and human behavior, not a huge budget. This is a good thing because you can’t guarantee that it will provide results!

Do you need to improve your brand image?

One great thing about this type of marketing is that it’s unlikely to look “forced.” People notice when companies try too hard to make a viral video or similar content become popular.

For example, it might plaster that viral video before and after every YouTube video. This just reminds customers that your business strategy has an obnoxious approach.

Meanwhile, viral marketing spreads naturally. Your target audience will spread it themselves, so they would see that your brand earns its publicity.

Do you want quick growth?

Look back at the viral marketing examples, and you’ll notice that they can bring a lot of people to your brand. Let’s explore the Uber marketing campaign yet again.

It attracted so many clients that it helped this startup to grow into a major global company. Viral marketing can also provide such results for you.

Upsides of viral marketing

These are people planning a viral marketing campaign.

This method has so many potential benefits that we will have to go by them one by one. See if you want the following perks for your brand:

It can promote awareness of your brand.

This is a great way to get noticed by your target audience. This can bring more leads to your sales funnel. This may also come in handy if you want to reach a niche audience.

You can save a lot of money.

As mentioned, you can make viral marketing materials for free. This means you can try it without straining your budget. Also, it minimizes your losses if they don’t work.

It lets you be creative with marketing.

You’ve seen that the previous viral marketing examples come as images or videos. You can put pretty much anything on the content, so you can adjust a lot with this marketing strategy.

You can stand above your competition.

While your competitors persist in safer content marketing options, you could overtake them with the help of viral marketing. Do it right, and you can gain so much more sales and customers in a shorter period.

Viral marketing can work offline.

This strategy doesn’t have to be limited to the internet. You can try a viral marketing stunt in public, and it could provide similar results. After all, people watching can easily take photos and videos of it for you.

Downsides of viral marketing

These are people planning a viral marketing campaign.

As mentioned, you should find a strategy that matches your brand. Viral marketing might not be the best fit due to the following reasons:

It may not help you gain more sales.

Let’s talk briefly about how a sales funnel works. It describes how you’ll bring customers to your brand at every step of the buyer’s journey: awareness, interest, desire, and action.

Viral marketing is great for spreading awareness, but not for gaining more sales. It could bring people to your brand, but you’ll need other methods to convince them to use your product or service.

You can’t control viral marketing.

This article covered how this strategy can be unpredictable. We cannot say for sure if people will like a piece of content enough that it will go viral.

What’s more, other conditions could affect your viral marketing. If you’ll recall, this is the same reason why computing for marketing “virality” is unlikely to work.

Viral marketing messages can be hit-or-miss.

Not all viral campaigns succeed because of their unpredictability. This may seem worth it since you don’t have to spend much to create viral content.

It requires constant supervision.

Do you remember the recommendation to get a social media assistant? That’s because you’ll need a person to handle the peoples’ reaction to your marketing campaign.

If it succeeds, you’ll need people who can answer people’s questions. That way, those people are more likely to head to your website and buy your product or service.

Otherwise, you’ll need someone who can handle the complaints and other negative backlashes. They must be able to deescalate such situations, or your brand may take more losses.

People may get annoyed by it.

A viral marketing campaign should look natural. If it doesn’t, people will see that you try too hard to spread your brand materials. As a result, they may avoid your products and services instead.

It can be a waste of time.

If your campaign fails, you may end up wasting time and effort on this. That’s why proper planning is a must before you use this marketing technique.

Final thoughts

Viral marketing can bring more customers and sales via organic traffic. It can be as simple as creating a meme and letting people share it with others on the internet.

If you’re serious about adopting this strategy, it’s best that you learn more about past successful campaigns. You can also read more Inquirer USA articles for great marketing tips.

It’s best to get experts for this, so you’re likely to gain results. Fortunately, LeadAdvisors can help with that! Click here to learn about its digital marketing services.

If you are interested in content marketing, please email [email protected] 

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