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It’s every marketer’s dream to have a campaign they worked hard on be considered one of the best viral marketing campaigns.
But the sad truth is no one can predict with 100% accuracy whether their campaign will go viral. Customers are the only ones who have true control over something’s virality.
Viral marketing is nothing more than a strategy that you can use to get people to promote your app (or any other product) via their existing social networks.
Building and setting a viral marketing campaign into motion is basically creating content so engaging and so relevant that people can’t help but share it with their friends: “Hey, you HAVE to see this!”
You plan and produce the content. You make it as shareable as possible. Then you release it in the hopes that it spread via word of mouth.
This is what makes it unpredictable. Not everything a marketer creates will resonate with their audience. And even if it does, not every resonant piece will persuade users to spread it to their circles.
Going viral has some excellent advantages:
But as with everything, there are cons to go with the pros. While a good viral marketing campaign can bring massive awareness about your brand in a cost-effective manner, it also has the capability to dilute your brand. Or at its very worst, build negative buzz regarding your brand and products. This is when “too much of a good thing” may just hurt your work in building your organization’s credibility.
Virality rests upon the idea that people share your campaign with their friends. But many will not do so if they’re afraid you’re going to end up scraping personal information from them or if you’re simply going to add their friends to a spammy mailing list. Remember, individuals have their own “personal brand” to protect.
Additionally, going viral may lead to a massive influx of new users who suddenly disappear after checking out your app. These campaigns won’t automatically bring you loyal customers who will last years.
Overall however, the advantages of viral marketing far outweigh the disadvantages.
With that said, there are principles that are present in every single one of the viral marketing campaign examples we tackle below. Let’s list them out here before diving into the best practices you can use to prepare for potential virality in your own campaigns.
Effective viral marketing campaigns have:
In May of 2007, an agency named 42 Entertainment began a multimedia marketing campaign for the Warner Brothers film, The Dark Knight.
Using the film’s tagline “Why So Serious?” the agency built a huge scavenger hunt and role-playing experience. It started as early as 15 months before the film’s opening. And ended up involving over 11 million people across 75 countries. Participants became Joker’s henchmen or Harvey Dent’s campaign volunteers or Batman clones.001
They viewed hundreds of web pages, emails, print collaterals, and videos. They found clues leading to GPS coordinates. They called phone numbers written by planes in the sky. They even found prepaid mobile phones baked into birthday cakes. And they gathered for actual rallies, even winning unique collectible merchandise.
This 4-minute video case study shows how 42 Entertainment built their viral marketing campaign:
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Back in 2006, Blendtec’s new marketing director George Wright discovered something cool. Their CEO Tom Dickson and their R&D team tested their blenders by throwing in wooden boards to see if the blades survived.
He figured this would make an intriguing visual. Wright recorded inexpensive videos of the blender chewing up random supplies. Total investment for the first few episodes: less than $100 dollars. Mainly for the supplies to feed the blender.
Their videos led to a combined 285+ million views and an increase in sales of 700%. It also led to mainstream publicity. Blendtec appeared on US TV shows such as The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and many more. The company won a bronze Clio award in 2008 for advertising. Most importantly, the videos turned their brand into a household name.002
Blendtec’s “Will It Blend?” campaign ended up defining the viral video marketing campaign.
Here’s one of the early videos from the Blendtec viral marketing campaign:
Look at that Old Spice video entitled “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” Now, back to me.
In the video, a muscled Isaiah Mustafa strolls into view wearing only a towel. He saunters through various background settings, speaking in cliches. It’s funny, of course. And viral.
Old Spice’s viral video marketing campaign first aired during 2010’s Superbowl weekend. It went on to increase the company’s revenue by 107%. The campaign had 40 million views. It increased Old Spice’s Twitter followers by 2,700%. It lifted Facebook interaction by 800%. All these viewers turned the Old Spice YouTube channel into the all-time most viewed channel.003
This 4:44 video case study shows the results of the Old Spice campaign.
And then in 2014, there was an explosion of viral videos where people had ice water poured over them. After the cold soaking, participants told viewers to donate to the ALS association. They would then challenge someone they knew to take the same challenge.
It seemed like everyone had buckets of iced water poured on them over the course of those two months. Results? 2.4 million videos posted to Facebook. 28 million people uploaded, liked, or commented on an ice-bucket related video.
From July to August of 2014, the ALS Association received $98.2 million dollars. The previous year, they’d only received $2.7 million during the same period.004
Here’s one celebrity doing the ALS Ice Bucket challenge:
In 2012, food company Frito-Lay rolled out a tasty campaign entitled “Do Us a Flavor.” Via Facebook app and SMS, fans had the power to suggest and then vote for a new flavor of potato chips. Of course, it helped that the prize was $1 million dollars.
A panel of celebrity chefs judged the entries. And three finalist flavors emerged: Cheesy Garlic Bread, Sriracha, and Chicken & Waffles. Frito-Lay produced the three flavors at the same time, urging fans to vote via Facebook, Twitter, or SMS. Thousands did. The winner? Cheesy Garlic Bread.
The viral campaign tripled the numbers of Frito-Lay’s US Facebook fans, increasing sales by 12% nationwide.005
Toilet humor isn’t for everyone. But PooPourri decided it was the best way to make a stink about their toilet spray deodorizer. The resulting video, “Girls Don’t Poo,” contained:
The viral video garnered 6 million views and more than 278,000 shares in its first week alone. Their Facebook following increased by 354%. And went on to much more success.006
Here’s the original video:
Before Angry Birds, Rovio Entertainment produced 52 previous games. None of them successful. When they released the first Angry Birds game in December 2009, it too flopped. There wasn’t enough interest in the app within English-speaking markets.
But that didn’t stop Rovio from switching up their strategy. They decided to build a fanbase in smaller European markets. Three months later, Angry Birds hit the top spot in the Finnish app store after only a few hundred downloads. And from Finland, it snowballed to hit number one across Sweden, Greece, and Denmark. In the process, the app gained 40,000 downloads.
With this success, Rovio approached independent game publisher Chillingo to push the app out to UK and US app stores. Chillingo then convinced Apple to feature Angry Birds on the front page of the UK App Store. As game of the week in 2010, it was only a matter of time till the app grew to 1 billion downloads.
In 2013, a company called GoldieBlox set out to build buzz for their line of construction toys for girls. The challenge: how could they show children the dynamic fun of engineering-based play? They also wanted to show parents some cool alternatives to princess dolls.
The solution was to create a video entitled “The Princess Machine.” In it, three bored girls build and launch a Rube Goldberg machine designed to do one task but in the most complicated way. It shows engineering skills and GoldieBlox toys, physics and chain reactions. It could be straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. And somehow it entrances the viewer for the full two minutes.
In its first week, it had 8.5 million views on YouTube and brought brand awareness to the young toy company. Two years later, GoldieBlox had its own float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. And they proved there was market viability for their toy line. 007
In 2013, a new email app for the iPhone built buzz for its software by making people wait in line… virtually. Other apps conducted closed beta testing with a core group of early supporters. Mailbox decided to rope off the app.
They allowed users to download the app but placed them into a virtual queue. The app told you your place in line and how many people were after you. And you had to wait. That line grew to a whopping 800,000 hopeful users. And all for an email app!
Check out what their waiting system looked like in this video:
In 2014, ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Paris set up wifi hotspots in areas of Paris that did not have wifi connections. But to use these special hotspots, you had to select the Scrabble network, create your best word, and earn free wifi minutes based on your score. Like regular Scrabble, players could earn more points with longer words. And if you shared your words on Facebook, you got to double your score (and thus your wifi minutes).
Over a two-week campaign period, people played more than 6,000 words.
Each of the viral marketing campaign examples above contains useful tips. But you can boil them all down to eight secrets that will help you craft a shareable campaign.
First, keep it simple. Base your marketing campaign on a simple idea. Something that people can relate to and understand. If you can’t summarize your idea in one sentence then your campaign may fail.
The second secret: relevance to your target segment. Do the research. Does your idea resonate with your target market? Would they share it on social media?
The next six secrets come from Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. He says that the six drivers to whether something goes viral can be summarized as:
Remember: we can’t force a viral campaign. The only thing we can do as marketers is to make our campaigns as share-worthy as possible. To make them more likely to spread via word-of-mouth. Once we lower the barrier so that sharing becomes the only worthy reaction, we’ve prepared the field. The rest is up to the audience.
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