Viral marketing: digital word of mouth

A marketer’s dream would be to produce brand messages that spread on their own accord to become viral hits, and having customers who voluntarily share them. Viral marketing means reaching a lot of people without the company having to invest much time and money. However, viral marketing is not so easy to carry out in practice, since viral spread is difficult to calculate and control.

Viral marketing: definition

Viral marketing is also known as v-marketing or organic marketing. Online marketing takes great interest in the basic principle of word of mouth. The campaign should reach the greatest number of people as quickly as possible by word of mouth.

The trick: making sure the user doesn’t see the content as advertising. They should find the video or text so entertaining, exciting, or interesting, that they decide to send it to others without the company having to put in any extra work. This is how digital messages spread so quickly and develop momentum. They spread just like a virus does, hence the name. The aim is to achieve an efficient distribution over different channels, which is carried out independently by the communication network, with the company barely having to lift a finger.

How viral marketing works

The principle of viral marketing differs greatly from classic advertising. When it comes to TV commercials or radio spots, it’s obvious who the sender and intended recipient of the advertisements are. In the case of viral spreading, the actual recipient and consumer i.e. the user and potential customer, are themselves the advertising medium. The user is the one who tells their contacts or friends about a certain video, through a text, or a tweet. The user recommends the content to their circle of friends by sharing it on Facebook, for example. One or more of their friends might then share the video with their own contacts and before long, the range and target group have increased.

As mentioned above, the campaign develops momentum: the 'host' (staying true to the virus metaphor), doesn’t even know how many people have ultimately been reached before the ball starts rolling. The user goes from being the passive recipient to the active promotor of the advertising message. Viral marketing channels are basically all online channels with social components: blogs, social media platforms, forums, communities, micro blogging services, news sites, messenger services, or e-mail.

What has 'viral potential'?

In viral marketing, users share content – the basic principle is obvious. However, not every piece of content has the potential to go viral. Many factors play a role in the makings of a viral campaign.

Originality: the aim is to create content that others want to share because it’s different from what they’re used to: new, innovative and above all, original. Posting just anything isn’t normally enough to produce viral content, but original concepts and presenting the material in a different way can ensure success.

Emotions: adverts such as Kleenex’s 'Unlikely Best Friends' pull on your heart strings and move you. Viral campaigns often evoke emotions, making people laugh or cry. People usually like to share emotions with others, so they are more likely to pass on content that has touched them.

Value: viral content doesn’t always have to be funny or weird, it can also be used to solve problems, offer solutions, and answer questions. You just need to make sure you’re offering value to the user which they then want to share. It’s important for marketers to recognize and take advantage of new trends from the start.

Identification: if you are interested in a topic, you are more inclined to comment on it. Viral campaigns often have topics that make people want to join in. One way is to pick everyday topics that everyone knows and everyone has an opinion about. But be careful: not every topic is suitable for this – it’s better to stay inconspicuous. If you initiate a heated debate about politics or religion, it can easily go downhill.

Surprise effect: content that has successfully gone viral is usually amazing, controversial, and unexpected. Generate tension and surprise the user when they least expect it.

Authenticity: clumsy advertising messages rarely have viral potential, since they lack authenticity. Most marketers place a logo somewhere on the content, but it’s the content and the story that should stay in the visitor’s mind – the association with the company happens subconsciously.

Viral marketing: successful examples

When designing and creating clips and campaigns, the above factors alone do not constitute a success story for a viral hit. The following three examples show how clips can vary from one another, as well as the emotions and stimuli they can generate – and yet they are all equally successful.

'Unlikely best friends'

This video comes from Kleenex and features a dog named 'Chance' who lost the use of his back legs after being hit by a car. He found a new home with a couple who understood what the dog was going through, since his new owner was also partially paralyzed and had to use a wheelchair. In the video, Chance is shown struggling to get around until he’s fitted with his own set of wheels. The two 'unlikely best friends' are then shown having fun whizzing around together.

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The video was released onto Kleenex’s Facebook page and racked up over 27 million views in less than 2 weeks! Many viewers also commented on the video and shared similar stories. The film is part of the Someone Needs One campaign, which was developed by VSA Partners.

'First Kiss'

The video 'First Kiss' by artist Tatia Pilieva made its way around the world in 2014. The film shows 10 couples having their first kiss. What’s unusual about this is that the couples have never met before. The clip is rather calm and not that exciting. There aren’t many comments or explanations, but the pictures speak for themselves. The clip conjures up emotions and speaks to the audience on a personal level by reminding them of their own experiences. And it worked: the video became an internet hit in less than 24 hours – it was clicked on 37 million times in just 4 days!

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The initiator of the video was the American fashion brand WREN. The name appears right at the beginning, but then disappears almost completely behind the story. The fact that most of the actors were wearing the brand’s clothes in the video, was irrelevant to the millions of users.

'Trojan Mailing'

This ad by DHL was successful and above all, creative and funny, which was to be expected from the viral hit maker, Jung von Matt. The clip encourages you to 'think outside the box,' and is a good contender when it comes to advertising media. To carry out this marketing prank, huge packages were covered with thermo-active foil and then shock frozen. The packages were sent through competitors who presumed they were delivering completely black boxes. During dispatch, the temperature rose, revealing the company’s trademark yellow color and the slogan 'DHL is faster', which UPS and DPD couriers then had to carry around the city. The Trojan Horse action was explained in a video clip, which then went viral.

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DHL gained a lot of attention with this humorous prank – but actually had nothing to do with it. The video was part of an internal competition at the agency and was originally intended for internal use only.

Conclusion:

Advertising for a company is costly and expensive. And it’s every marketer’s worst nightmare for the user to then finds the advertisements pushy and annoying. What’s clear is that users are becoming more and more sensitive to advertising messages. The daily flood of thousands of promotional messages has made people more defensive.

This problem is not new in online marketing. The challenge is to always find new, innovative advertising formats. Only novel, possibly unconventional ideas, have the potential to stand out from the crowd. Viral content ideally provides users with useful, funny, and extraordinary content that is worth sharing with friends. But creativity isn’t everything, of course. A funny and creative idea is important, but viral marketing also requires expertise. Coupled with detailed knowledge about the target group and channels, the idea becomes the most important strategy.


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