Things on the internet basically go viral because of a snowball effect: someone sees something they enjoy, then they share it. Then, some of their friends see it and share it, and so on and so forth. It’s easy to understand how things go viral. Understanding why is the hard part. These five lessons we gathered from watching viral marketing campaigns gave us some insight.
5 Key Takeaways from Viral Marketing Campaigns
Elicit an Emotional Response
The vast majority of viral content elicits a strong emotional response, either positive or negative. That response is known as the viral hook—it grabs people’s attention and also entices them to share the content.
For the sake of building a positive brand identity, businesses often focus on commanding happiness, laughter or nostalgia in their marketing efforts. Android’s “Friends Furever” campaign from 2015 is a great example. It was just a video that showed clips of animals doing funny things together. Simple it’s one of the most shared ads of all time due to its heartwarming tone.
Content that tugs at your audience’s heartstrings, is controversial or provides shock value can also explode in popularity. However, content that evokes uncomfortable emotions may be met with negative reactions from your audience.
Some things go Viral by Accident
Many brands don’t go viral for years despite their best efforts. Then, with a bit of luck, they have a viral hit on their hands.
Consider GoPro’s “A Grizzly ate my GoPro” video. When BBC cameraman Brad Josephs left his GoPro on a riverbank in Alaska, a grizzly bear actually picked it up and carried it around for a few minutes. Fortunately, he managed to retrieve his camera, and GoPro posted it to their YouTube channel where it has racked up millions of views.
This example illustrates the importance of user-generated content and its potential to drastically expand your brand’s reach.
They don’t have to be Strictly Digital
Viral marketing isn’t necessarily limited to the internet. It’s often supplemented by other forms of traditional advertising.
Budweiser’s “Born the Hard Way” commercial aired during Super Bowl LI, and was subsequently added to YouTube. The touching story caused people to search the internet for it, and the video now boasts over 28 million views.
They shouldn’t Expressly Sell Products
None of the above viral campaigns were overtly salesy. That’s because the call-to-action of an ad that’s focused on selling is for your audience to buy something—not share something (unless you offered them an excellent deal on whatever they bought).
That means viral marketing should be thought of as a branding tool. It will increase your brand’s equity, which doesn’t translate directly into monetary value. Rather, it provides you with the reach and recognition to potentially increase sales in the future.