Viral Marketing: Definition, Principles, Examples, Strengths and Weaknesses

Many of us are actually "victims" of viral marketing, it's just that we don't realize it. Who doesn't want their song to become the next Gangnam Style? Who doesn't want their brand ad to go viral like old spice's? Who doesn't want to know why the 'pineapple apple pen' has become so viral?

But what does it mean to go viral? More importantly, can you predict if something will go viral? Is viral marketing important?

If you've read our article on why things go viral, you already have the answers to the first two questions. But is viral marketing really that important? Well, have you heard this before?

Viral Marketing: Definition, Principles, Examples, Strengths and Weaknesses

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing refers to strategies and activities that encourage individuals (users and non-users) to spread marketing messages to other individuals and groups within their social networks, creating an atmosphere of increased brand awareness and buzz about the brand online and/or offline, leading to manifold growth.

Simply put: Viral marketing is basically a strategy to spread something (idea, message, song, etc.) organically among a target audience, preferably through word of mouth.

Viral Marketing Principles

Viral marketing is a customer-centric approach. This marketing strategy relies on customers to spread marketing messages rather than paid media. Therefore, it is important to know:

     Why do people share content
     What type of content are they most likely to share
     How to create content they're more likely to share

We've put together some of the basic principles that make for a good viral marketing campaign:

People share content they think is useful to them and others. Its usefulness is not limited to just viewing posts but can also be experienced when target audiences share messages and receive reactions and attention from people in their social networks.

This is one of the reasons why page posts posting daily facts, lifehacks, and related memes are so easy to share so many.


Any message that evokes emotion among the target audience is shared by them. But it's important to quickly create maximum emotional excitement.

A good viral marketing campaign hits the target segment hard and fast with strong emotion. The idea is to build an emotional roller coaster that reduces the likelihood of the audience becoming bored, satiated, or overwhelmed with too much of the same.

Both negative and positive messages receive equal attention. Experts say emotions can be divided into arousal and non-passionate emotions regardless of whether they are positive or negative.

Positive emotions such as awe, curiosity, astonishment, interest, astonishment, uncertainty activate viewers and increase the likelihood that content will be shared.

Even messages with negative emotions such as anger and anxiety have a greater chance of being shared because they also act as arousing emotions. But sad emotions deactivate viewers and reduce preferred content to be shared.

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Viral content spreads like wildfire. Social media has made it easy for content to be accessed by hundreds of people on social networks.

It all starts in the target audience. But viral content is not limited to social media and the relevant market segments. Often in the form of news and trends and become part of the conversation of people who are not even in the targeted segment.

Viral content is often targeted at extroverts and egocentric people and people who tend to share that content with others.

The recent trend of data monetization has made it possible to create such campaigns and share them with these audiences.

Easy to share

Often times, people like the content but don't feel the need to share it. There may be a lack of emotional triggers or external triggers to share.

Viral marketing campaigns often focus on emotional triggers (emotions of passion) and external triggers (asking explicitly to share content) to make content go viral.

Another unique characteristic of viral content is its easy accessibility and sharing options. Users don't have to do anything complicated before viewing the content and are provided with easy sharing options.

Example of Viral Marketing

A viral marketing campaign is designed to spread a marketing message among the target audience like a virus that multiplies itself with every message transfer.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

With over 68 million views, Dove's real beauty sketches are the most viral advertising videos of all time. The short used FBI-trained sketch artists to draw women based on their own descriptions and then based on descriptions based on strangers' descriptions.

The video aims to increase the viewer's self-esteem by declaring that they are more beautiful than they think.

This elicits a strong emotional response from the viewers and triggers them to share the video on their social media profiles and gets them to join the conversation.


One of the important reasons behind Deadpool's success is the viral social media campaign that was set up to create a buzz around the x-man. The first part of the film was marketed using campaigns such as “12 days of Deadpool” and posters to raise cancer awareness, collectibles, witty Instagram posts, witty blog posts, and witty YouTube videos.

Deadpool viral marketing

The second half of the film was marketed with a similar strategy where marketers tried various brand integration and cross promotion strategies which even had David Beckham starring in one of the trailers.

Old Spice

For several years, Old Spice has provided an example for viral marketers to learn from. Companies have harnessed the marketing power of viral videos by using social media networks such as YouTube and Facebook to spread the messages “the man your man could smell like” and “two tickets to that thing you love”.

Why did the Old Spice ad work?

Marketers use the basic principles of viral marketing such as using a platform where their target audience is, producing entertainment videos that are valued by the target market, and marketing on various marketing channels simultaneously.

Advantages of Viral Marketing

According to research by HBR, successful viral campaigns regularly generate over 1 million impressions, resulting in an ROI of 10x to 100x the amount spent on those marketing expenses. Often times new products manage to mask into the mainstream, and get free exposure on television and radio and in print.

Here are some other advantages of viral marketing:

     Economical: Viral marketing is one of the most economical forms of marketing where the ROI ranges from 10x to 100x.
     Increased Brand Exposure: Viral marketing leads to increased brand exposure among individuals and social groups that belong to the target audience and even among individuals who do not belong to the target group.

Disadvantages of Viral Marketing

Like any other type of marketing, viral marketing has some drawbacks which include

     No control: The brand has no control over what is being spread among the target audience. A viral marketing campaign has a good chance of backfiring.
     May be considered spam: If poorly executed, a viral marketing campaign can be perceived as spam and can even generate negative publicity.


Let's be honest: going viral in the traditional sense is tough.

Nonetheless, there is much to be learned from the principles of viral marketing and what it takes to produce attention-grabbing content like some of the things we've discussed above.

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