The most liked picture on Instagram is that of an egg.
In 2019, advertising creative Chris Godfrey posted a picture of an egg on his Instagram to see if it could break the record for the most liked picture on the platform, then held by celebrity Kylie Jenner.
No, we’re not stating random Instagram trivia here. This story is relevant to how virality works in today’s world, and why certain campaigns spread like wildfire but others don’t.
If you want to know more, keep reading.
Because in this guide, we’ll dive deep into the whys and hows of viral marketing and the best strategies you can follow to create contagious content, aka content that compels people to like, comment and share.
What is viral marketing?
Wikipedia describes viral marketing as “a business strategy that uses existing social networks to promote a product mainly on various social media platforms. Its name refers to how consumers spread information about a product with other people, much in the same way that a virus spreads from one person to another.”
To put it in simple words: In viral marketing, a piece of content becomes wildly popular, to the extent of it being liked and shared by millions of people online.
The success of viral marketing mainly depends on the general public, though there are certain strategies to increase the chances of a campaign going viral.
This type of marketing takes place mainly through social media. If successful, it leads to a dramatic increase in a brand’s visibility, engagement and sales.
Due to all these benefits, marketers today are constantly going the extra mile to somehow make their content go viral.
Pros and cons of viral marketing
The thought of going viral might seem like a dream come true for many small-scale brands today. But it’s not as glamorous as it looks. Virality has its disadvantages as well, some having a more severe impact than others.
Let us look at the 3 major pros and cons of viral marketing:
1. It is extremely cost-effective
When a campaign goes viral, all you have to do as a brand is sit back and watch. It involves little to no cost as all of the work is done by the general public through word of mouth.
The audience keeps your marketing message going without you having to invest monetarily.
2. It leads to enormous growth in brand visibility
Viral campaigns lead to a dramatic increase in brand visibility. If your campaign goes viral, your brand can go from occupying a tiny space in the market to having a massive following in a matter of a few days.
3. It unlocks new audiences
A viral marketing campaign gives you a chance to discover new audiences that you would’ve never thought of selling to before. You stand an opportunity to unlock new demographics and age groups and add them as your target audience.
1. You have little control over the narrative
Once your campaign goes viral, you no longer have control over whether it will be interpreted positively, the general public does.
In a social environment where opinions and judgements are formed rather quickly, it is easy for marketing campaigns to get misinterpreted. This can prove to be disastrous for a brand’s image.
2. It’s difficult to form metrics to measure viral campaigns
Due to its hit-or-miss nature, there is no practical way of measuring how much ROI can be derived from a viral campaign.
Some campaigns go viral overnight, whereas some take days. Some stay viral for weeks on end whereas some end up losing their shine in a few days. It is very difficult to numerically measure the impact a viral campaign could have on a brand.
3. It can lead to overexposure
Have you ever felt like you had seen enough of a particular trend and wanted it to be over?
There’s often a similar feeling attached to viral campaigns. It can cause people to get tired of seeing the brand plastered everywhere on their social media.
This can have the opposite effect where instead of getting intrigued and curious about the business, people end up becoming annoyed by it.
5 strategies to craft contagious content (with examples!)
Now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of viral marketing, let’s look at 5 strategies that make content truly contagious.
#1. Catering to the right audience
When trying to create a viral marketing campaign, it’s important to keep your target audience in mind.
Your target audience will decide whether your content speaks to them or not. So, you need to have a clear view of their likes, dislikes, the internet language they speak and the kind of content they identify with.
Once you have that figured out, it becomes a lot easier to craft content that has the potential to go viral.
A brilliant example of this is the popular TikTok brand called e.l.f. cosmetics. Their target audience is primarily composed of Gen Z, a generation that is known to be bold, empathetic and inclusive.
In 2019, e.l.f reached out to a Brooklyn marketing agency and produced a song called ‘eyes, lips and face’, named after the brand’s acronym. The song was fun, catchy and disruptive- much like the songs their target audience worships on TikTok.
They then used the song to create the #eyeslipsface challenge, with the message that e.l.f “is for every eye, lip, and face.”
The campaign went viral in no time, with TikTok users, influencers and even celebrities making videos to the song while using the hashtag #eyeslipsface.
It also became the fastest-ever TikTok campaign to reach 1 billion views, with Buzzfeed describing it as “the most successful piece of TikTok marketing to date.”
So, what was the secret to this massive success? It was the simple fact that e.l.f hit the nail on the head with the kind of song they made and the message they delivered.
GenZ absolutely loved the inclusive message of e.l.f being for everyone, and the catchy song was the icing on the cake.
#2. Evoking strong emotions in people
If you want your campaign to be a hit, you need to trigger emotion in your audience. That emotion could be anything- happiness, sadness, frustration, etc. But it needs to drive people from within to share your message.
The Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign ad film did exactly that.
The short video ad showed a former FBI sketch artist drawing portraits of a series of women who were sitting behind curtains. Since the sketch artist couldn’t see them, the women had to verbally describe their appearance to him.
The artist first drew their portraits based on the description given to him. He then drew another portrait of them based on the description of them given by a random stranger.
The result? Every portrait that was made with the stranger’s description was more beautiful, lively and accurate. The women were shocked to see the two portraits. There was a stark difference between how they viewed themselves and how the outside world viewed them.
Needless to mention- this campaign became massive in a matter of a few hours, with people applauding and sharing it all over social media. We’re sure you can guess the primary reason for its success.
Campaigns that evoke strong emotions in the viewers are always the most likely to be shared.
The key is to know the pain points of your audience and what truly matters to them.
Only then can you create something that will compel them to stop and engage.
#3. Seizing the moment
The best campaigns are often the ones that are executed as soon as the right opportunity presents itself.
There isn’t extensive planning and delays in decision-making. There’s just an opportunistic and creative mindset.
It was in 2013 that the American cookie brand Oreo ran with this go-getter philosophy and ended up going viral during the Super Bowl season.
In the midst of an intense Super Bowl football match, there was a 34-minute power outage at the stadium that left viewers in the dark- literally. While people all around the world anxiously waited for the power to come back so they could know the results of the game, Oreo’s social media team had other plans.
They took advantage of the situation and posted this tweet while the outage was still going on.
In a few minutes, it became viral and led to a massive rise in Oreo’s Instagram and Twitter followers.
“Because everyone was together, they had everyone in place to jump on a real-time marketing opportunity, which was, how would Oreo see the blackout? And Oreo saw the blackout as an opportunity to dunk in the dark.” said Lisa Mann, VP of Cookies at Mondelez International.
Needless to say, Oreo truly won the Super Bowl that year!
#4. Leveraging social proof
Social proof refers to a phenomenon where people conform to what everyone else is doing, in order to be liked and accepted in society.
Since human beings have an inherent need to ‘fit in’, we often try to follow popular opinion while making our buying decisions. Social proof serves as evidence that a particular product is popular and thus, the ‘right’ one to use.
Clever marketers leverage social proof as part of their marketing efforts. One such example is Red Bull’s empty can marketing strategy.
Back when Red Bull was in the early stages of its business, the brand was facing trouble trying to make a distinct place for itself in the market.
There were tons of energy drinks available in the market, and Red Bull didn’t know how to stand out.
Marketers at the company then decided to take advantage of the impact of social proof.
They filled garbage bins all over London with empty Red Bull cans and left them lying around in alleys outside of clubs.
The cans made people believe that Red Bull was a popular brand, the new go-to energy drink for everyone. This compelled more and more people to try it out because they wanted to be part of the new Red Bull ‘trend’.
The brand now holds a whopping 43% of the global market share in the energy drinks sector! Pretty impressive, if you ask us.
#5. Connecting with people on a personal level
You must’ve seen how personalized gifts make people a lot more excited than generic, store-bought presents. It is because personalization makes them feel special.
This principle holds true in marketing as well. When a brand connects with its audience on an individual level, it stands out in their eyes.
Coca-Cola followed this strategy to carry out its wildly popular ‘Share a Coke’ campaign in 2011.
They changed the traditional wrapping around Coke bottles to a wrapper that said ‘Share a Coke with..’ followed by a common name.
This campaign went viral in no time, with people visiting stores to see if any of the bottles had their names on them. The ones who did find their names on the bottles took to social media to post about it.
This is a prime example of how integrating a bit of personalization into your marketing strategy can dramatically increase your chances of going viral.
What marketing experts say about virality
Now that we know about popular viral marketing strategies and have seen examples of successful viral campaigns, let’s see what some experts have to say about the complex phenomenon of virality.
1. Ken Poirot, author of Go Viral says, “The first lesson in constructing viral content is having the strength, courage, and self-confidence to get in touch with your own feelings, thinking about what profoundly affects you.”
2. “Going viral is not an outcome; it’s a happening. Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Just remember, fans are vanity and sales are sanity.” – Lori Taylor, founder, Social Caffeine
3. Nadya Khoja, Content and SEO expert, puts it like this: “When creating new content, seriously ask yourself two questions: “Why would anyone share this?” and “Will this help someone better express themselves?” If you can’t answer either of these questions, that content has no chance at going viral. People share content that strikes an emotional chord with them. Your job is to identify and articulate that emotion-driving element.”
4. Solomon Thimothy, President, of OneIMS puts it this way: “Going viral isn’t that simple. You have to study the market’s behavior and map out the customer journey so that you can target that moment when something can be effectively shared. “Attention-grabbing” content or “shock” content can only go so far if you want to ride the wave of a certain content trend.“
By now, you must have a pretty good idea of viral marketing and everything it revolves around.
Even though going viral is the dream of many brands today, it shouldn’t be the end goal. Just because your campaign blows up doesn’t mean your work is done.
It’s on you to retain the attention and use it to grow your business massively.
In other words, you shouldn’t end up becoming a one-hit-wonder. Even after gaining popularity, you need to stay consistent with your marketing efforts and leave an imprint in people’s minds.
Only then will your viral campaigns pay off!
Guest Author: Sania Jalees is a B2B freelance writer in the digital marketing niche. She writes actionable and data-driven long-form blog posts for B2B brands to help them attract organic traffic and increase brand visibility.