Who can forget the iconic ALS ice bucket challenge back in 2014? In fact, it was the most famous hashtag/trend on Twitter and other social media platforms back then. But, what exactly was the ice bucket challenge? How did it get so viral? Was it the luck factor or something else?
The ice bucket challenge was a marketing campaign to create awareness for a disease- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and raise funds for it. Interestingly, the campaign became so viral that the challenge was accepted by 17 million people all over the world. Most importantly, the campaign was able to collect $115 million in just 8 weeks.
These types of marketing campaigns are categorized under the head “viral marketing,” and yes, these are fully planned marketing campaigns to market a brand, product, or service. In this article, we are going to talk about what is viral marketing, its pros and cons, and tips for developing an effective viral marketing campaign for your brand, product, or service.
What Is Viral Marketing?
Viral marketing is a marketing strategy in which a brand tries to promote its products or services via spreading information quickly. Basically, the idea is to prompt the users to share the content/message themselves. A brand can spread the message through emails, word of mouth, or the internet. One very important thing about virality is that it can take place completely by accident as well.
When we talk about viral marketing via the internet, it is safe to say that social media is the central point or hub of viral marketing. Nowadays, video content, such as funny, emotional, unique, informative, or surprising videos, is the best way to make anything viral on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
However, is viral marketing a safe marketing practice? We will find it out later. First, let’s talk about the characteristics of viral marketing.
Characteristics of Viral Marketing
As mentioned earlier, virality can be accidental as well as intentional. Any brand message may get viral accidentally, or the brand may run a proper marketing campaign to make its message viral. Despite all these facts, there are three core elements in every viral marketing strategy, and if any one of them is missing, your viral marketing campaign won’t work.
Three Core Elements of Viral Marketing
- The Message. It may contain any type of content related to a brand. For instance, it can be a video, an image, a podcast, a meme, a gif, or any shareable thing.
- The Messenger. Every person who consumes and shares the message is a messenger. A messenger can be your customer, potential customer, or even those who may not be in your target audience.
- The Environment. The environment includes everything where the message is consumed and shared. It can be the social media platforms, consumers, potential customers, expectations, attitudes, etc. In fact, even those who are not your potential customers may be a part of the environment.
How Viral Marketing Works?
First things first, viral marketing works in a totally different way as compared to a traditional marketing campaign. There is no specific recipient or target audience in viral marketing. For instance, in the ALS ice bucket challenge, there was no specific target audience. However, a brand can choose a target audience depending on its objectives.
Moreover, in viral marketing, the user and the consumer work as the advertising medium. It might sound pretty ordinary, but even a non-consumer may act as your advertising medium.
The Virality Process
Generally, the marketing team of a brand creates a message in the form of a video, tweet, image, podcast, or any shareable material. The brand may directly share it on social media platforms or may use social media influencers. The message is received by the users, who then share the content with their friends, family, colleagues, or everyone in their reach. This ultimately builds a chain, and the content keeps getting viral.
Every user in this process plays two roles at the same time.
- Passive recipient (consumes the message)
- Active promoter (promotes or shares the message)
Apart from social media platforms, brands can use other channels for viral marketing campaigns. Other options include blogs, communities, forums, emails, microblogging, messenger services, etc.
Advantages of Viral Marketing
Viral marketing campaigns can do wonders if a brand can get them right. Here are some worth mentioning advantages of viral marketing.
- Broader Reach. The term viral means anything that has reached a massive audience. If your message gets viral, it automatically means you have reached a huge number of potential customers already.
- Cost-Effective. Viral marketing is probably the most cost-effective type of marketing. It doesn’t take big bucks to create something that can get viral. In fact, sometimes, a simple message or idea is well appreciated by people, and the campaign may yield an unexpectedly high ROI.
- Credibility and Brand Awareness. Credibility depends on how positively you convey your message. If your content gets viral because of good reasons, you can earn brand credibility and create brand awareness within no time.
Disadvantages of Viral Marketing
Yes, viral marketing sounds like an excellent way to create brand awareness or boost sales, but it can backfire if you don’t do it right. Here are some major drawbacks of viral marketing.
- Negative Word Of Mouth. If people are sharing your content with positivity, your brand will be “viral” within no time. However, if they perceive your message in a negative manner, then your brand will be famous in an unwanted manner. Negative buzz can be extremely detrimental for any brand.
- Results Are Hard To Measure. To date, there is no benchmark to measure the success of a viral marketing campaign. It is simply impossible for a business to measure the increase in sales volume due to a viral marketing campaign.
- Low Virality. Well, this may sound bizarre, but a viral marketing campaign may fail because of low virality. This usually happens when users refuse to share the content if they are concerned about their security and privacy. It can tarnish a brand’s reputation and will affect the future marketing campaigns of that company as well.
Examples of Viral Marketing Campaigns
Viral marketing campaigns have yielded unimaginable results for many brands. We have already read about the ALS ice bucket challenge; here is another amazing example of viral marketing.
“Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign By Dove
Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches Campaign in 2013 was one of the most viral and utterly effective marketing campaigns ever. The ad featured Gill Zamora (an FBI-trained sketch artist). In the ad, Zamora was shown sketching two portraits of women. He drew one portrait according to the description from a woman (how she perceives herself), while the other portrait was based on how strangers perceive that specific woman.
In the ad, both portraits were placed side-by-side so that the differences can be spotted easily. The portraits he drew on the basis of strangers’ descriptions were more attractive. The basic objective was to convey a simple message (“You are more beautiful than you think.”) to women.
Here are some amazing facts about this ad.
- In the first month, the video got more than 114 million views on youtube.
- Dove uploaded this video on its various Youtube channels in 25 different languages.
- This ad was the most-watched video on the internet in 2013.
- Dove saw a tremendous rise in its Facebook and Twitter followers as well as Youtube subscribers.
Key Takeaways From This Ad
- Marketing doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to promote your products or services directly.
- Connecting with the audience emotionally is very important for any brand.
- Customer involvement in your marketing campaign is an effective way to develop and strengthen the customer relationship.
Tips for Creating a Successful Viral Marketing Campaign
The truth is, it is not that easy to become viral unless you have sheer luck. Here are some tips for developing an effective viral marketing campaign.
- Pick your target audience and work on their behaviors, preferences, interests, desires, needs, etc.
- Be clear about your objectives, i.e., what do you want to achieve?Do you want to boost your sales or looking to create brand awareness?
- Keep your message visuals/graphics-oriented because people pay more attention to such ads. You can create images, gifs, videos, etc.
- Trigger people’s emotions because it is impossible to get viral without doing that. Make them laugh or cry (due to good reasons) and inspire them to share your content.
- Deliver your message effectively and be sure about what your audience should take away from your campaign. You have to communicate an idea or a message clearly. For instance, if you want to show your brand as irreverent and playful, you can choose comedy to convey your message.
- Keep your content simple and avoid overcomplicating it. Keep it quick and precise, or you might lose people’s interest because people usually skip long videos.
- Call-to-action should be a mandatory part of the campaign. Any viral content with call-to-action prompts more and more people to search about the brand and engage with it. Don’t forget that your main objective is to create brand awareness, drive more sales, and earn profits.
- Choose the right platform to maximize your campaign’s visibility. For instance, if you are going to share a video, then Youtube or Vimeo will be the suitable options. Similarly, Instagram, Twitter, Tumbler, Reddit, Facebook, etc., are highly suitable for images, gifs, or even videos. The best way to maximize your visibility is by using multiple channels at the same time.