4 Proven Approaches to Effective Viral Marketing

Proven Viral Approaches

Hello, readers, look at your content, now back to mine, now back at your content, now back to mine. Sadly, it isn’t mine, but if you stopped using Mad Men era marketing tactics, and tried to go viral, it could look like mine.

Taking us back to reality, marketing campaigns that go viral are not easy to come by. If you find yourself savvy enough to be part of a successful one, you’ve either lucked into something new or you’ve managed to learn from your surroundings and replicate what’s proven to work.

Content is contagious the way emotions are. These emotions can be comical and sexual as expressed in Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” or heartwarming and empowering like Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign. The goal is to be positive and to reach people on a level that prevents them from fast-forwarding their DVR or pressing “Skip Ad” on YouTube. If you’re having trouble deciding which emotions to specifically tap into, the Journal of Marketing Research found awe, surprise, and anger to increase to likelihood of going viral by 28.6 percent!

If you’re struggling to come up with new content, or can’t seem to make the leap to going viral, try following these four proven approaches to effective viral marketing:

1. Straight Outta Your Mind

A current viral marketing success story comes Straight Outta Somewhere. Getting its name from the 2015 hit film and 1988 NWA album, Straight Outta Compton, this slice of marketing brilliance comes from the minds behind Beats by Dr. Dre, a former member of the group. While it may not be revolutionary, the simplicity behind filling in a single word on a Parental Advisory label allows you to “Rep your City” in a fun and recognizable way.

The campaign allows people to take whichever approach they want. Some have chosen to take a humorous approach, while others have used it as an opportunity to show pride from where they come from. Regardless, the key ingredients are customization and personalized engagement.

SO EggsStraightOuttaTimeStraightOuttaScotia

This campaign isn’t the first of its kind either. Endeavors attempting to engage the audience in anticipation of an event is one of the oldest marketing tactics there is. Similar to Burger King’s Simpsonize Me website that launched in anticipation for the 2007 Simpsons Movie, or the Baby&Me App that accompanied the Evian commercial of the same name, Straight Outta Somewhere puts the audience into content.

No one wants to feel as though they fit the cookie-cutter stereotype that’s being targeted. Current generations of consumers want customization and personalization when being marketed to. And a personalized call-to-action will actually increase your likelihood of getting through to customers by 42 percent. We live in an age where content is one of our most coveted commodities, and we expect to be approached with tailor-made content, specific to our individual interests, wants, and needs. With millennials spending an average of over five hours per day on social networking sites, the need for unignorable marketing tactics is greater than ever.

When people hear viral media, they immediately think of videos. Straight Outta Somewhere shows us that videos aren’t necessarily the only way to get the internet’s attention. Straight Outta Compton has been a focal piece of pop-culture for over twenty years. It’s an album that sparked a new attitude in music and has the ability to take people back in time… Time being the key here.

As previously mentioned, The Simpsons and their partner, Burger King, had great success with the Simpsonize Me campaign back in 2007. People could submit a photo and alter a design to create their Simpsons counterpart. No one can argue the impact that The Simpsons has had on television history, and since Tony Bennett’s incarnation in yellow in 1990, we have all tried to envision our animated selves. Evian’s Baby&Me campaign took a similar approach by allowing customers to create their likeness as a computer-generated baby. Baby&Me is one of the highest viewed commercials on YouTube with over 110 million views, and is a laugh reminiscent of the Oogachaka Baby.


When you boil these campaigns down to their bones, they all attempt to channel one similar element: nostalgia. Whether it brings you back to the first time you heard NWA, the first time you laughed at Homer and Bart, or to your baby pictures, these campaigns have gone viral because they hit home on a personal and often emotional level with consumers.

2. Nominate to Motivate

When evaluating what makes content go viral, recognizing an engaging experience for the consumer can be a difficult task. The previous examples have done a remarkable job at this, but nothing has taken the world by storm quite the way last year’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge did. Raising $115 million in 2014 for research, services, education, and fundraising, the Ice Bucket Challenge was embraced by celebrities, billionaires, those with ALS, those without, and everyone in between. While it was wonderful to have such high levels of promotion and involvement, the Ice Bucket Challenge can also be considered a clinic in viral marketing.
Ice Bucket Formula

With 50 percent of millennials more likely to buy from a brand that supports a good cause, it’s encouraging to see this holds true for buying into a social movement as well. On that note, a worthy cause doesn’t necessarily have to be charitable. Taking a stance that can evoke strong emotions will offer a similar effect.

Contrary to the positivity surrounding the awareness that the Ice Bucket Challenge spread, Neknominations was a dangerous drinking game that spread across the internet only a few months prior to the beginning of the Ice Bucket craze. Although Neknominations spread arguably as fast, it had a much shorter lifespan, as it was missing the backing of a worthy cause. People are willing to subject themselves to foolish behavior or dousing themselves in freezing ice water, but without a social reason to accompany the nomination, the allure can only last so long.

3. It’s Right Under Your Nose

What do you get when you combine 30 Australian men, the second last month of the calendar year, and prostate cancer? A worldwide moustache growing contest, of course!

Movember is another example of an exemplary cause-related campaign. It has achieved what most viral movements could only dream of: staying power. Still growing healthily, Movember has expanded across the globe and raised over $500 million for men’s health since 2003. The amount raised is staggering alone, but the fact that it’s remained socially relevant for 12 years is the number that’s most impressive.


The answer to Movember’s success lies in timing. In 2003, I was nine years old and would’ve had to rely on a Sharpie to participate. Now, as a 21-year-old… I still can’t grow a good moustache, but I can participate at the expense of my vanity. Each year, new people are able to join the movement and new businesses are making it an office-wide challenge to support the cause. Movember is able to remain trendy by creating a campaign that’s recognizable, yet has new people eager to partake every year. Accompanied by the growing popularity of selfies and bro-culture, Movember is poised to remain strong for as long as men can grow facial hair.

With the campaign’s call-to-action occurring only once per year, it allow reluctant partakers to commit temporarily. This seasonal anticipation is also great for those who enjoy the struggle of whisker warfare. Movember’s seasonal model of success can also be found in the emotional WestJet Christmas Miracle campaign, supporting the “spirit of giving”.

4. Nacho Average Campaign

I apologize for the bad pun in the sub-header, but I felt it was necessary to be a bit cheesy… Doritos’ Crash the Superbowl is a brilliant example of a brand thinking outside the bag for their “next great idea.” Instead of using an advertising agency to create the perfect Super Bowl commercial, Doritos has embraced crowdsourcing with the cultivation of user-generated content. Not only does user-generated content redirect the brainstorming and big decisions to the customers, it also gets them excited to pay attention to your advertising!

The nine-year-old campaign has yielded some of the funniest and most critically acclaimed advertisements of the past decade, and it is only getting stronger with a fresh batch of videos being produced every year. By offering such a unique opportunity to their customers, Doritos has revolutionized the phenomenon that is, Super Bowl commercials.


Friendly competition that allows for creativity is a breeding ground for innovative content. With the accompaniment of a fan voting system and the incentive of $1 million for the winner, Doritos received almost 4,900 submissions for the 2014 Super Bowl alone. No matter how strong your marketing team is, crowdsourced content has the ability to be a viral game changer.

Stay Thirsty My Friends

The thirst for successful viral content is strong and isn’t going away. The important thing to remember is that campaigns need to play to human emotions, whether that’s nostalgia, helping a good cause, following a trend, taking on a challenge, or simply being a part of something bigger.

We will always strive to have the most interesting marketing plans in the world, but producing customizable and engaging content is a necessary part for campaigns to achieve ultimate viral success. We must always strive to keep up with new trends, all-the-while learning from the best of the past and present.

What are some of your favourite viral marketing campaigns? What success have you had with your own attempts?

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