Viral marketing

Viral marketing

Viral marketing, viral advertising, or marketing buzz are buzzwords referring to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of viruses or computer viruses. It can be delivered by word of mouth or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet.[1] Viral marketing may take the form of video clips, interactive Flash games, advergames, ebooks, brandable software, images, or text messages.

The ultimate goal of marketers interested in creating successful viral marketing programs is to create viral messages that appeal to individuals with high social networking potential (SNP) and that have a high probability of being presented and spread by these individuals and their competitors in their communications with others in a short period of time.

The term "viral marketing" has also been used pejoratively to refer to stealth marketing campaigns—the unscrupulous use of astroturfing online combined with undermarket advertising[clarification needed] in shopping centers to create the impression of spontaneous word of mouth enthusiasm.[2]



There is debate on the origination and the popularization of the term viral marketing, though some of the earliest uses of the current term are attributed to the Harvard Business School graduate Tim Draper and faculty member Jeffrey Rayport. The term was later popularized by Rayport in the 1996 Fast Company article "The Virus of Marketing,"[3] and Tim Draper and Steve Jurvetson of the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 1997 to describe Hotmail's practice of appending advertising to outgoing mail from their users.[4]

Among the first to write about viral marketing on the Internet was the media critic Douglas Rushkoff.[5] The assumption is that if such an advertisement reaches a "susceptible" user, that user becomes "infected" (i.e., accepts the idea) and shares the idea with others "infecting them," in the viral analogy's terms. As long as each infected user shares the idea with more than one susceptible user on average (i.e., the basic reproductive rate is greater than one—the standard in epidemiology for qualifying something as an epidemic), the number of infected users grows according to an exponential curve. Of course, the marketing campaign may be successful even if the message spreads more slowly, if this user-to-user sharing is sustained by other forms of marketing communications, such as public relations or advertising.[citation needed]

Bob Gerstley was among the first to write about algorithms designed to identify people with high Social Networking Potential.[6] Gerstley employed SNP algorithms in quantitative marketing research. In 2004, the concept of the alpha user was coined to indicate that it had now become possible to identify the focal members of any viral campaign, the "hubs" who were most influential. Alpha users could be targeted for advertising purposes most accurately in mobile phone networks, as mobile phones are so personal.[citation needed]


According to marketing professors Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein,[7] to make viral marketing work, three basic criteria must be met, i.e., giving the right message to the right messengers in the right environment:

1. Messenger: Three specific types of messengers are required to ensure the transformation of an ordinary message into a viral one: market mavens, social hubs, and salespeople. Market mavens are individuals who are continuously ‘on the pulse’ of things (information specialists); they are usually among the first to get exposed to the message and who transmit it to their immediate social network. Social hubs are people with an exceptionally large number of social connections; they often know hundreds of different people and have the ability to serve as connectors or bridges between different subcultures. Salespeople might be needed who receive the message from the market maven, amplify it by making it more relevant and persuasive, and then transmit it to the social hub for further distribution. Market mavens may not be particularly convincing in transmitting the information.

2. Message: Only messages that are both memorable and sufficiently interesting to be passed on to others have the potential to spur a viral marketing phenomenon. Making a message more memorable and interesting or simply more infectious, is often not a matter of major changes but minor adjustments.

3. Environment: The environment is crucial in the rise of successful viral marketing – small changes in the environment lead to huge results, and people are much more sensitive to environment. The timing and context of the campaign launch must be right.

Whereas Kaplan, Haenlein and others reduce the role of marketers to crafting the initial viral message and seeding it, futurist and sales and marketing analyst Marc Feldman, who conducted IMT Strategies’ landmark viral marketing study in 2001 [8], carves a different role for marketers which pushes the ‘art’ of viral marketing much closer to ‘science.’[9]

Feldman points out that when marketers take a disciplined approach to viral marketing by targeting, measuring and continually optimizing their campaigns based on campaign metrics, viral marketing transforms the customer into a new sales channel, a new lead generation channel and a new awareness generating channel. Feldman's innovative reconceptualization of viral marketers went a long way towards making "viral marketing" a strategy that sales and marketing directors at Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies could legitimately invest in. This disciplined approach to Viral Marketing that Feldman first carved out, pointed the way towards measuring the ROI of every viral marketing campaign and thus making a real business case for investing in viral marketing. The customer-as-a-sales-channel approach to viral marketing went on to become the foundation for an explosion of technology enabled viral marketing services offered online, offline and in blended hybrid approaches.

Notable examples

The Ponzi scheme and related investment pyramid schemes are early examples of viral marketing. In each round, investors are paid interest from the principal deposits of later investors. Early investors enthusiastically recruit their friends, generating exponential growth until the pool of available investors is tapped out and the scheme collapses.[10]

Early in its existence (perhaps between 1988 and 1992), the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had limited distribution. The producers encouraged viewers to make copies of the show on video tapes and give them to friends in order to expand viewership and increase demand for the fledgling Comedy Central network. During this period the closing credits included the words "Keep circulating the tapes!"[11] In 2000, described TiVo's unpublicized gambit of giving free systems to web-savvy enthusiasts to create "viral" word of mouth, pointing out that a viral campaign differs from a publicity stunt.[12]

Both the second and third games in the Halo series were preceded with viral marketing in the form of an alternate reality game called I Love Bees for the second game, and Iris for the third game.[citation needed]

Burger King has used several marketing campaigns. Its The Subservient Chicken campaign, running from 2004 until 2007, was an example of viral or word-of-mouth marketing.[13] Burger King's launched its "Whopper Sacrifice" campaign in 2009.[citation needed]

The Blendtec viral video series Will It Blend? debuted in 2006.. In the show, Tom Dickson, the Blendtec founder, attempts to blend various unusual items in order to show off the power of his blender. Will it Blend? has been nominated for the 2007 YouTube award for Best Series, winner of .Net Magazine's 2007 Viral Video campaign of the year and winner of the Bronze level Clio Award for Viral Video in 2008.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk 2007 Gorilla advertising campaign was heavily popularised on YouTube and Facebook.[citation needed]

The 2007 concept album Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails employed a viral marketing campaign, including the band leaving USB drives at concerts during NIN's 2007 European Tour. This was followed up with an alternate reality game using series of interlinked websites revealing clues and information about the dystopian future in which the album is set.[citation needed]

In 2007, World Wrestling Entertainment promoted the return of Chris Jericho with a viral marketing campaign using 15-second cryptic binary code videos. The videos contained hidden messages and biblical links related to Jericho, although speculation existed throughout WWE fans over whom the campaign targeted.[14][15] The text "Save Us" and "2nd Coming" were most prominent in the videos. The campaign spread throughout the internet with numerous websites, though no longer operational, featuring hidden messages and biblical links to further hint at Jericho's return.[16][17]

In 2007, Portuguese football club Sporting Portugal integrated a viral feature in their campaign for season seats. In their website, a video required the user to input his name and phone number before playback started, which then featured the coach Paulo Bento and the players waiting at the locker room while he makes a phone call to the user telling him that they just can't start the season until the user buys his season ticket.[18] Flawless video and phone call synchronization and the fact that it was a totally new experience for the user led to nearly 200,000 pageviews phone calls in less than 24 hours.[citation needed]

The 2008 film Cloverfield was first publicized with a teaser trailer that did not advertise the film's title, only its release date: "01·18·08." Elements of the viral marketing campaign included MySpace pages created for fictional characters and websites created for fictional companies alluded to in the film.[citation needed]

The Big Word Project, launched in 2008, aimed to redefine the Oxford English Dictionary by allowing people to submit their website as the definition of their chosen word. The project, created to fund two Masters students' educations, attracted the attention of bloggers worldwide, and was featured on Daring Fireball and Wired Magazine.[19]

The marketing campaign for the 2008 film The Dark Knight combined both online and real-life elements to make it resemble an alternate reality game. Techniques included mass gatherings of Joker fans, scavenger hunts around the world, detailed and intricate websites that let fans actually participate in "voting" for political offices in Gotham City, hidden phone numbers and websites in the queue lines of The Dark Knight roller coasters at Six Flags Great America and Six Flags Great Adventure, and even a Gotham News Network that has links to other Gotham pages such as Gotham Rail, a Gotham travel agency, and political candidate's pages. The movie also markets heavily off of word of mouth from the thousands of Batman fans.[citation needed]

Between December 2009 and March 2010 a series of seven videos were posted to YouTube under the name "iamamiwhoami" leading to speculation that they were a marketing campaign for a musician. In March 2010, an anonymous package was sent to an MTV journalist claiming to contain a code which if cracked would give the identity of the artist.[20] The seventh video, entitled 'y', appears to feature the Swedish singer Jonna Lee.[21][22][23][24]

On July 14, 2010, Old Spice launched the fastest growing online viral video campaign ever, garnering 6.7 million views after 24 hours, ballooning over 23 million views after 36 hours.[25] Old Spice's agency created a bathroom set in Portland, OR and had their TV commercial star, Isaiah Mustafa, reply to 186 online comments and questions from websites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Digg, Youtube and others. The campaign ran for 3 days.[26]


  • Customer participation & polling services
  • Industry-specific organization contributions
  • Internet search engines & blogs
  • Mobile smartphone integration
  • Multiple forms of print and direct marketing
  • Outbound/inbound call center services
  • Target marketing Web services
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) web development
  • Social media interconnectivity
  • Television & radio

VMS target marketing is based on three important principles:

  1. Social profile gathering
  2. Proximity market analysis
  3. Real-time key word density analysis

By applying these three important disciplines to an advertising model, a VMS company is able to match a client with their targeted customers at a cost effective advantage.

The Internet makes it possible for a campaign to go viral very fast. However,the Internet and in particular, social media technologies do not make a brand viral; they just enable people to tell other people faster. The Internet can, so to speak, make a brand famous overnight.

Social networking growth

Two thirds of the world’s Internet population now visit a social network or blog site weekly.[27] 220+ million people visit the top 25 social networks each month.[28] Facebook has 500+ million active users.[29] Time spent visiting Social media sites now exceeds time spent emailing.[30] 52% of people who find news online forward it on through social networks, email, or posts.[31] 59% of adults polled state that they use their cell phone to remain connected with their social network.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Howard, Theresa (2005-06-23). "USAToday: Viral advertising spreads through marketing plans". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-27.  June 23, 2005, 2005
  2. ^ "Wired: Commentary: Sock Puppets Keep It Shill on YouTube".  May 8, 2007
  3. ^ 'The Virus of Marketing'
  4. ^ Montgomery, Alan (March–April 2001). "Applying Quantitative Marketing Techniques to the Internet" (PDF). Interfaces 31 (2): 90–108. doi:10.1287/inte. Archived from the original on 2007-02-12. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  5. ^ 1994 Media Virus: Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture
  6. ^ Advertising Research is Changing
  7. ^ Kaplan Andreas M., Haenlein Michael (2011) Two hearts in three-quarter time: How to waltz the social media/viral marketing dance, Business Horizons, 54(3), 253-263.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. "What are some of the similarities and differences between Ponzi and pyramid schemes?"
  11. ^ Mullen, Megan Gwynne (2003). "A Scheduling and Programming Innovator". The Rise of Cable Programming in the United States: Revolution Or Evolution? (1st ed.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. p. 170. ISBN 0292752733. Retrieved 2008-04-14. 
  12. ^ "TiVo's Stealth Giveaway". 
  13. ^ "Marketers Feverish Over Viral Ads". 
  14. ^ "Breaking the Code". WWE. November 19, 2007. 
  15. ^ Clayton, Corey (November 19, 2007). "Orton burned by the second coming of Chris Jericho". WWE. 
  16. ^ "Chris Jericho - Save Us Secret Site". Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  17. ^ "New Info! Chris Jericho - Savior Self Secret Site". Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  18. ^ Sporting Clube de Portugal
  19. ^ "Grad Students Redefine Easy Money With $1-a-Letter Web Site". 
  20. ^ "The Latest On Who (Or What) May Be Responsible For 'Iamamiwhoami' by James Montgomery, MTV". 
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Mystery over identity of YouTube star iamamiwhoami". The Daily Telegraph (London). 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  23. ^ Elan, Priya (2010-03-23). "How to spread an infectious viral". The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-27. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ Old Spice blows the doors off of Advertising
  26. ^ Behind the Curtain of Old Spice’s Viral Video Mega Hit
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^

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