Actionable tips, community conversations, and marketing inspiration.

What is Viral Marketing?

Angie Tran

Content Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

Topics Covered:

Viral marketing isn’t just a type of marketing strategy — it’s pure genius. While that may be a bold statement to make, think about it: Viral marketing naturally generates curiosity and desire over a product or service. It’s a brilliant strategy where people want to pass on marketing content to other people, no tricks or prizes required. This is why it’s every marketer’s dream to create viral content that spreads across all customer touchpoints. 

Let’s explore the fundamentals of viral marketing, its benefits, and some of the viral campaigns that have managed to sweep the world off its feet. 

What’s Viral Marketing?

If you think that viral marketing kind of sounds like a virus, you’re not too far off. You know how viruses can spread from person to person, mainly in droplets that fly out when you cough or sneeze? Well, imagine a nose or mouth as the internet, and the viral content as the droplets, rapidly infecting whoever’s nearby. 

While this comparison might be a bit gross, that’s what viral marketing does — it’s visual or video content that’s shared to the point that it spreads like a virus throughout the internet. Viral marketing typically happens across social networks because they’re designed for sharing. For example, a viral meme could spread across Twitter and Instagram at incredible speed, and a viral video could explode through channels such as YouTube and Facebook. 

Benefits of Viral Marketing

When a campaign goes viral, it’s like the holy grail of marketing benefits:

  • You reach new audiences.  Through word of mouth — which, by the way, doesn’t cost you a cent and is the reason behind 13% of all sales globally — viral content reaches customers that your campaigns wouldn’t have otherwise touched by themselves.
  • You don’t annoy your audience. As mentioned earlier, viral marketing relies on word of mouth and grows naturally. When you see content go viral, it’s less invasive than if you’re bombarded by ads that are only showing up in your feed because they’re paid for. 
  • You build a strong brand identity. Viral content gets people talking about a business, and the impact lasts months or years after the original campaign, driving traffic, leads, and conversions.

Is There a Formula for Creating Viral Content?

The short answer is, no (and if I knew it, I’d be a billionaire). But, there are steps that can take you one step closer to a successful viral marketing campaign. Here are some tips to consider when creating content: 

Cater to your target audience. This is the mantra you must live by if you’re looking to build successful viral content. Viral marketing is indeed highly beneficial because attention spreads quickly. However, it’s essential to make sure you’re creating content that resonates with your audience — otherwise, your message could go viral for the wrong reasons. When that’s the case, it’ll be difficult for your brand reputation to make a full recovery. 

Keep it short and sweet. This applies to both video and text. Most viral videos are short and tend to range from 30 seconds to a minute. The same goes for memes and blogs — make it simple for your audience by creating “scannable” content. 

Take a human angle. When your content resonates with people and appeals to their emotions, they’re more likely to share. For instance, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a viral campaign that started four years ago. To participate in the challenge, you had to pour ice-cold water over your body and then nominate a friend to follow suit. It became an instant success —  the Ice Bucket Challenge hashtag that gained popularity and videos started to spread like wildfire over multiple social media channels. Because the campaign was both fun and was for a good cause, the campaign ended up raising over $115 million.

If applicable, humor goes a long way. Your campaigns don’t always have to have a good cause attached to it. For example, you’ve probably seen the meme from Titanic. In the film, an older Rose sadly laments that “it’s been 84 years” since the sinking of the ship. The meme version went viral because people could relate to feeling impatient — like they’ve been waiting for “84 years,” for something. The meme reached immense popularity because it’s relatable and humorous. 

Don’t try too hard. Viral content usually has a “genuine” feel — meaning, they don’t seem over-produced or overdone. Memes always seem like they’re roughly pulled together, and videos usually look homemade or have The Office-style camerawork that’s reminiscent of reality shows. Viral blog posts are less dense and social media posts are infused with personality.

Ask Yourself: “Would I Want to Share My Content?”

Let’s take away the bias factor for a moment. If your answer is yes, then you’re on the right track. If your answer is no, then why on earth would anybody else want to share your content? You can research past viral campaigns, but at the end of the day, they’re viral because they’re original. The key is to create quality and entertaining content that connects with your audience in a creative way. 

Explore Next

Topics Covered: