Updated on 02/03/2023

What is viral marketing?

In a world that is becoming more and more digitized, companies have developed new marketing strategies that are designed to be communicated through social media. Are viral marketing campaigns an effective strategy for increasing brand awareness? In this post, we’ll understand the pros and cons of a viral marketing strategy.  

In a previous post, we talked about unconventional marketing strategies, focusing on the advantages of personalized communication. But what is viral marketing? And how can we make it an effective tool? 

Viral marketing is a form of communication that relies on a brand’s own customers or social networks to generate interest in their products or services. The term is attributed to Steve Jurvetson and Tim Draper who used “viral” in 1996 to describe the marketing strategies used for the development of Hotmail, where advertising was attached to email users’ outgoing messages. The idea is that one user who is “infected” can then spread the “virus” to others (onlinelibrary.wiley.com).

However, viral marketing campaigns focus more on building an attractive and effective message, capable of inspiring the emotions that give rise to word of mouth promotion, rather than simply advertising a product. 


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The importance of content

As we have already anticipated, the promoter of a viral marketing campaign is definitely the user: But how can companies attract a user’s attention so that he will be inspired to spread the message of the brand?

The first thing to do is to think about the content and put yourself in the buyer’s shoes: what drives people to re-share content? 

  1. Emotion. Studies about the correlation between emotion and sharing in viral marketing show that positive emotions such as fun, joy, and inspiration have a considerable influence on content sharing;
  2. quality. A high level of content quality is important for any brand. As we explained in this post, the quality of the content and the value linked to it is what allows consumers to distinguish one company from another;
  3. originality. Users are looking for new content that is unique, that tells stories that we’ve never heard before. Creating an original campaign requires brands to take risks, because the basis of viral marketing is the unpredictability of its success;
  4. utility. The message must be useful to users, it must provide an answer or a point of view to address a problem. It is no coincidence that many successful viral campaigns are social campaigns. An example is the 2013 Dove campaign that shows the difference between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

Ease of sharing. Content must be easy to share. Therefore, it is necessary to optimize the content for each platform where you intend to publish it, encouraging sharing through convincing links and calls to action.

Advantages and disadvantages of viral marketing

Before opting for a viral campaign, it is essential to evaluate the pros and cons of this strategy, based on your business needs. 

We must take into account that viral marketing campaigns can be an effective tool that allows you to reach a large audience in a short time. However, it does not necessarily correspond to the acquisition of new leads. The great visibility generated by the virality of our content must be able to generate users that are really interested in what the company offers. 

From the economic point of view, letting users spread the campaign, saves a lot of budget that can be invested in other activities. On the other hand, as we pointed out above, the success of the campaign depends exclusively on the users, and you cannot predict their reaction to the message nor how many of them will actually share it through their social or offline channels. 

Finally, viral marketing requires a constant creative effort because the users who have shared your content will expect more interesting and engaging content. All this can be a stimulus to create more and more original content, but success is not guaranteed.

After highlighting all these aspects, it is also important to be familiar with the most effective tools for creating a viral campaign. As we’ve already mentioned, a message goes viral mainly through social channels, so the content that can attract the most attention here are images and videos. Can we say that video is the most effective and appreciated tool by users? Why?

The video: a powerful tool for effective viral marketing campaigns

In a previous post, we saw how the results of numerous statistics show the absolute supremacy of video as the most-used tool on the web. There are many reasons that make video an excellent online marketing tool, starting from the fact that it allows you to express a concept in a simple and original way, and in a way that involves the user immediately. 

Speaking of viral marketing and video, think of the success of TikTok, a social platform that boasts about 800 million worldwide monthly users, especially among users 13 to 24 years of age. TikTok allows users to create short, funny videos with music or movie quotes in the background.

The ease with which a video goes viral through TikTok has also made it an excellent marketing tool for B2C brands. In this regard, the challenge is in developing a widespread strategy, because the user who takes part in it, interacts directly with the product and automatically becomes its promoter. One example is the #Lilflipchallenge by the fast food chain Chipotle, which challenged users to cover a Mexican food package with a tinfoil lid in one move. In order to do this, it was essential to buy food in one of the chain’s restaurants. 

However, it is difficult to imagine the use of TikTok for brands other than B2C, both for the type of products that can be easily advertised and for its target audience.


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What are the characteristics of a viral video? 

Recent research conducted by Elon University has highlighted the main aspects that the best YouTube videos selected by Time Magazine (elon.edu) have in common: 

First of all, 75% of the videos analyzed have very short titles, consisting of about 3 words. Similarly, about 60% of the videos analyzed are 3 minutes or less. The optimal formula would therefore be to create an impactful, short video that involves the user throughout the duration of the video. A video that is too long, however engaging it is, could discourage users to watch it from start to finish and then share it. Another interesting feature is the use of irony: about 90% of videos have ironic elements. As we have already mentioned, for content to go viral, it must arouse strong emotions. This explains why such videos tend to be more successful.

We can find an example of successful viral marketing video, which includes these features, in the “Puppyhood” campaign of pet food brand Purina, which has reached over 3 million online shares. The strength of this series of commercials certainly lies in the strong connection it creates with users because it clearly and sincerely represents the relationship between humans and their pets.

“The best way to attract customers is to impress them less and connect with them more” – Linkedin.

How to create this connection with potential customers? By being clear and by communicating the values and identity of the brand through the message of a marketing campaign. Only in this way can users identify with a brand and consider it in their buying habits.

However, studies show that viral marketing is more effective, in terms of lead acquisition, for niche products, compared to products targeting a wider market segment (stanford.edu).

Identifying a specific market niche to address your message also means reshaping communication with consumers. In these terms, can we assume that personalizing the message is a much more effective strategy than viral marketing? 

Personalized marketing vs. viral marketing

The inability to predict the results of a campaign leads us to say that viral marketing is a risky road to take. A valid alternative could be that of personalized marketing, which allows us to create deeper relationships with users, involving them more, and thus increasing the chances of conversion.

As for viral marketing, a very effective tool for personalized marketing is video, which allows you to combine personal data and animated images. Personalized video is an excellent solution to increase brand awareness because it makes the communication with the user unique and fast and places his needs at the center of attention, with positive consequences not only for the retention of existing customers, but also for the acquisition of new ones. 

There are many examples of personalized marketing that take advantage of the potential of video to communicate with users, thanks to the fact that personalization allows you to use it and adapt it to any type of industry and communication language. 

In this, Doxee Pvideo® is a cutting-edge solution in the field of personalized communication because it allows you to create ad-hoc videos for each individual recipient and make them more attractive and persuasive through clickable calls to action embedded directly in the video.


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