Module 9.2: Viral Marketing Initiatives


What do you think makes a marketing initiative go viral? Write a blog post around your choice of top five characteristics of a viral campaign (your opinion). Support this with relevant and current examples and identify widgets, plugs-ins, or badges that the company utilized. Feel free to utilize videos (your own or existing).


As the Internet has evolved from an experimental network restricted to the Department of Defense to an essential, everyday information-sharing tool, the act of sharing content online has become a part of modern life. In fact, 59 percent of users report that they frequently share online content with others (Allsop, Bassett & Hoskins, 2007), and it has been reported that someone tweets a link to a New York Times story once every four seconds (Harris, 2010).

So what makes a marketing initiative go viral?

  1. Content. If it’s not interesting, nobody cares. And by interesting, I mean moving, funny, charitable, emotional, scary, heartwarming, cute or touching in some fashion. There has to be a human connection, otherwise no one will be interested enough to watch it, share it, tweet it, link it, send it. The Dove Real Beauty Sketches, for example, has more than 55 million views on YouTube and the video is so popular because it touches women, and people over all, on an emotional level. Women, especially, can connect with and become engaged in the video.
  2. Participation. The most successful videos are simple and can be easily replicated. For example, Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake are relatively easy dance moves that thousands of users can imitate, record, upload and share. “Sh*t Girls Say” is an example of another video that went viral and was spun off into user-created videos like, “Sh*t New Yorkers Say,” “Sh*t Cats Say” and “Sh*t Nobody Says.”
  3. Controversy. When it comes to viral marketing, all PR is good PR because even bad PR generates word-of-mouth promotion. Clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, recently experienced a bout of viral negative attention. CEO Mike Jeffries went on record stating that he doesn’t want “larger people” wearing his products. The news spread like wildfire across social media networks and resulted in the #FitchTheHomeless campaign, complete with a YouTube video. But the negative publicity and the FitchTheHomeless campaign didn’t put Abercrombie out of business. In fact, it generated further brand awareness and spotlight attention.
  4. Interaction. Engagement is important in social media marketing, and sometimes emotional engagement isn’t enough. Many users like to interact with the medium and when they can, they’re more apt to share the content with their friends. The Burger King Subservient Chicken, for example, allows users to type in commands and control an interactive chicken. It had more than 20 million hits in its first week (Anderson, 2008).
  5. Humor. Ok, so it goes hand-in-hand with No. 1, but let’s face it: Nothing makes an initiative go viral faster than humor. People simply enjoy a 30-second or minute-long break from their mundane or hectic day to laugh. And funny initiatives, like photos or videos, often get replicated and recreated into user-generated content, like “memes” of the actor in the Dos Equis commercial, “I don’t often drink beer…” If you don’t believe me, try a Google Image search.



Allsop, Dee T., Bryce R. Bassett, and James A. Hoskins (2007), “Word-of-Mouth Research: Principles and Applications,” Journal of Advertising Research, 47 (4), 388–411.

Harris, Jacob (2010), “How Often Is the Times Tweeted,” New York Times Open Blog, (April 15), [available at http://open. blogs.].

Anderson, M. (2005, March 7). Dissecting ‘Subservient Chicken.’ InAdWeek. Retrieved from


2 responses »

  1. Great thoughts here, Samantha! One aspect of viral marketing I hadn’t before considered was the replicability of the idea. You mentioned Gangnam Style, and according to Allocca (2012) there are at least 1,000 other videos with the world “Gangnam” in it besides the original. On an episode of the TV show, Ellen, Psy said that he welcomes the parodies. He did not copyright his work, and rather allowed people to play with his original, simple concept which made it even more popular. This is an unorthodox tactic for getting an idea to go viral, but it worked for Psy!

    Allocca, Kevin. (2012) ‘Gangnam style’ is your international hit of the month”. YouTube Trends. Retrieved September 28, 2012.

  2. I also included participation in my incentives for my post. I think this is extremely important. I like how you mentioned the Harlem Shake and Sh*t Girls Say YouTube videos. I have seen numerous remakes of both of these videos. The university I attended for undergraduate actually made an “ECU Harlem Shake” video that I can’t even count how many times I saw shared among people on Facebook.

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