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How does viral marketing affect business?

[ BLOG ]

Table of contents of the article

Viral Marketing

Viral promotion, or viral marketing, is a type of advertising technology that engages members of the target audience as distributors of commercial information about a service or product. This approach utilizes the "word-of-mouth" effect, and the message itself aims to create a resonance, scandal, or provocation in society. The main criterion for viral advertising or marketing is that the message must "hook" the audience. Accordingly, people who see such a banner on the street or online respond to the original advertisement, hurry to capture it, and share it with friends on social networks or discuss it in person.

Often, viral marketing operates on the edge of acceptability, and the advertising message encourages an individual to consciously or unconsciously spread the information. This technique taps into both positive emotions (like the "wow" effect) and negative reactions from the target audience. In any case, the primary objective is achieved – the information spreads rapidly in both offline and online spaces.

We will delve into the dangers of viral marketing later, but the main downsides include causing negative public resonance, boycotting of the product, and diminishing the company's image. This technique should be used with caution, as you can lose your reputation within a few days of sensational advertising, but rebuilding the trust of your target audience might take years.
example of a call to action

Types of Viral Marketing

The carriers of viral advertising include video clips, text materials, social media posts, images or graphics, audio recordings, e-books, software, and games. Anything that attracts the mass attention of the target audience is used by marketers to create a compelling message. Viral marketing, both online and offline, is divided into several types:

1. Word-of-Mouth. Hiring 50-100 thousand people to disseminate information about a product or service is within reach only for mammoth corporations. However, this number pales in comparison to the amount of users who willingly share information themselves. All you need to do is engage the target audience (TA), and millions of free "advertisers" will rapidly spread news about your product or company in a short period.

2. Rumors. Viral marketing uses such an ancient tool of generating buzz among the public as rumors. The aim is to evoke emotions and interest around a product, service, or event. In 90% of cases, a rumor is a distorted and emotionally charged piece of information, so using this tool for commercial purposes should be deliberate and cautious. Once you let a rumor loose, it will be quite challenging to control or correct it. For instance, Hollywood enjoys spreading gossip about the personal lives of celebrities. As the saying goes, "people eat it up"; the dream factory thrives. However, there's a catch - this kind of viral campaign is usually initiated right before the release of a new blockbuster featuring the discussed actors.

3. Opinion Monitoring. Buyers of a product or users of a service often form a particular opinion about it during discussions. Public or consumer opinions are frequently supported by the majority of the TA and guide other potential buyers. Marketers regularly monitor the audience's preferences.

4. Provocation, Scandal. Such viral marketing techniques are frequently used in the media sphere and on social networks. Marketers are aware that any scandal or provocation elicits a strong reaction from users and the TA. Even if people realize they are being baited, most find it hard to resist engaging in the debate. Individuals get entangled in the scandal or provocation and disseminate the message online.

5. Rewards for Sharing. Large companies "recruit" agents from ordinary users or buyers, paying them a specific sum for sharing information or performing a target action. Such communication is referred to as WOM (Word Of Mouth) - verbal advertising communication. Even business giants utilize this method. For instance, in 2005, Procter & Gamble recruited about 10,000 young mothers across the US to praise the company's products whenever communicating with the target audience (other mothers). Sales of diapers and other baby products noticeably increased.

Viral marketing is not limited to just these five types - there are many more. With the advent of the internet, the opportunities to influence users have expanded exponentially. However, at the core of the technology is a simple principle - to make a product recognizable among the target audience.
example of a facebook text

Ideas, Goals, and Methods of Viral Marketing

Marketers know that a satisfied and loyal customer is willing to share information about a product or company with 3-4 people – friends, colleagues, relatives. However, the same customer, when faced with negative emotions from interacting with a brand or receiving poor-quality services, is ready to share this with 8-10 people. Viral marketing leverages these consumer psychology traits both online and in offline spaces.

The primary goal of marketers is to target individuals with high social significance. These can be popular bloggers, media personalities, opinion leaders, and others. Viral messages are tailored to these individuals. The campaign's success depends on how much they resonate with the information.

Depending on its objectives, viral marketing can be:
  • Informative;
  • Entertaining;
  • Sales-oriented;
  • Scandalous and provocative;
  • Educational;
  • Reminder-oriented.
In each of these types, it's crucial to cleverly present the product or service so that the target audience doesn't perceive the message as an advertisement. However, since viral marketing is a business development tool, it's essential to incorporate the brand's or company's symbols as a reminder of its presence.

Viral Engagement Techniques:
Spread the Word – This is the digital age's version of "word of mouth". It involves individuals willingly circulating marketing messages. A favored medium is video, which can range from entertaining sketches to film previews. By cleverly integrating advertisements into these videos, results can surpass anticipated outcomes. Written content and visual ads, like controversial articles or eye-catching graphics, can also work. Ultimately, for the tactic to work, viewers should be compelled to disseminate the content.

Reward-Driven Sharing – This strategy incentivizes users through rewards for specific actions. It's not just about spontaneous brand sharing but a sustained drive to amplify a product within the desired audience. This can involve special offers, bonuses, or contests like "introduce a colleague and earn a bonus" or "Circulate this content and enter our giveaway".

Mystery Marketing – Banking on the inherent human interest in the unknown, marketers churn out pre-launch content and whip up excitement around it, sometimes introducing purposeful restrictions. For instance, offering exclusive membership invitations or capping early-phase participants.

Hype Generation – This involves stirring chatter, organizing flash mobs, or executing grand campaigns. The aim is to captivate the audience by any means necessary, such as contracting individuals to publicly use and laud a brand's offerings. However, if mishandled, this tactic might backfire, tarnishing a brand or public figure.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Viral Marketing

Let's explore the benefits and drawbacks that deserve attention when working with viral advertising. We'll start with the "pros":

  1. Economic benefit: 90% of viral marketing doesn't require significant investments or a hefty advertising budget. While a TV commercial is about expenses, expenses, and more expenses, viral content is almost free. Its promotion is even more cost-effective, as people themselves spread the advertisement, discuss details, and make recommendations.
  2. Audience loyalty: Apart from clumsy provocations and scandalous stories, viral content genuinely interests users. Furthermore, the message comes from trusted sources – friends, well-known bloggers, news resources. This approach doesn't raise suspicions and entirely eliminates the intrusive feeling of advertisements.
  3. On the internet, you can often tackle taboo topics without any sanctions from the law. However Google, and social networks have introduced a set of restrictions for advertisers.
  4. Long-lasting projects without time and duration constraints: Any TV ad, banners, media announcements have a limited lifespan. For marketers, it's challenging to gauge user activity times to achieve a high ROI. The beauty of viral marketing is that information dissemination doesn't stop, so there's no need to fret about broadcast timing and other nuances. Experts claim that viral content can "circulate" online for 2-3 years and yield dividends.

Let's look at the disadvantages:
  1. Viral marketing isn't enough on its own: No matter how good a tool might be, relying solely on it for effective business development is not viable. Its potential can truly be unlocked only when combined with other types of advertising. It's also essential to understand that even creative content won't help if the product or service doesn't meet the audience's expectations.
  2. Need to sustain activity: If you've ignited a buzz around a product, event, or service, you'll need to keep the "flame" alive until the goal is achieved and even beyond. This isn't always easy to do effectively, as you frequently need "shocking" or interesting content. Otherwise, users will quickly lose interest in the brand and feel deceived, which is even worse.
  3. Viral content is hard to control: Once you launch such an ad without thoroughly considering all nuances upfront, you might lose control over the "virus." This can lead to negative consequences.
  4. Dependence on luck: While viral marketing attempts to systematize advertising campaigns, predicting the behavior of the target audience is often very challenging. You can plan all your steps but still not achieve the desired results. Therefore, it's recommended to employ multiple promotion strategies and various types of marketing.
example of a facebook text

How to Create a Viral Campaign

You can implement viral marketing in practice using the following tools: social buzz, triggers or PR slogans, engage the target audience with an emotional message, gain public support, or tell a scandalous story. Emphasizing popular media personalities, mass actions, and flash mobs also work infallibly.
7 steps to launch viral advertising:
  • Define the goal of viral marketing.
  • Appoint the implementers.
  • Develop a PR strategy.
  • Create original advertising content.
  • Release the virus online; volume is crucial.
  • Analyze intermediate results and adjust actions (if possible).
  • Obtain the campaign results.
example of a call to action

Viral Marketing: Examples

Here are a few examples of successful strategy implementations:
Old Spice - The company produces bright, funny, and memorable videos with a tilt towards male superiority. At the start, the company actively promoted the ads on social networks, websites, TV, and everywhere possible. At some point, the videos became viral. Users started joking about the funny videos, reposting, discussing, and making parodies. All of this benefited the brand.
KFC - The fast-food chain has been shocking people with their advertisements for years. By skirting the edge of decency with slang phrases and reinforcing them with thematic graphics, the company creates a "cool guy" image. What's particularly engaging is their "audacity" and ruthlessness in competing with their main competitor, McDonald's.
WePay - Another example of viral marketing on a tight budget. WePay's competitor, PayPal, regularly "froze" user accounts and funds, causing a storm of client dissatisfaction. WePay capitalized on this event by placing a 600-pound block of ice in front of the competitor's conference entrance. The young company demonstrated that the competitor's advantages were meaningless.
example of a call to action
We have learned what viral marketing is. We studied its types, advantages, and disadvantages. We looked at some examples of successful viral campaigns and also determined the general algorithm for launching advertisements.

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