Viral Marketing: what it is, tools and examples of viral campaigns

Very often, we hear about the technique of viral marketing, but what does it mean? It is a type of unconventional marketing used to transmit to a large number of users a video or other content that suddenly begins to invade the web and social networks. It can be defined as a form of word of mouth behind which there is the will of the creators of the advertising message for it to be spread on a large scale like a virus.

A successful viral marketing strategy, therefore, involves the creation of a product, an advertisement, or a campaign with viral content that, thanks to various factors, generates enormous interest.

Usually, the reasons for such success are never accidental but rather stem from well-defined communication strategies planned down to the last detail. Of course, sometimes a pinch of luck can also help, but it is not enough.

viral marketing things

In the following article, I will help you understand the most important aspects of viral marketing by talking to you:

  • of the definition of viral marketing;
  • of the advantages of viral marketing;
  • analytical tools to understand how to trigger shares;
  • of successful examples and viral campaigns.

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What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is based on digital and non-digital marketing techniques that cause a message, story, or product to spread to other websites or users. This triggers a word-of-mouth mechanism that exponentially increases the perception and visibility of the advertised message or product.

So how does viral marketing work? A successful viral marketing strategy consists of generating interest in the potential sale of a product or brand through the creation of messages or content, aiming to cross-sell the same.

The speed with which a message is conveyed is mainly linked to social networks, which play a key role in viral marketing strategies of this kind.

The most popular example is the creation of dynamic, surprising, and spectacular videos on YouTube and TikTok, which in turn are shared on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.

viral marketing word of mouth

Companies, particularly web agencies, have fostered the concept of encouraging users to actively share content themselves. By doing so, without realizing it, they become the main protagonists of the message.

The reasons why a piece of content goes viral are quite simple, such as the ease with which it can be shared and consequently spread. Although this strategy can be interpreted as a double-edged sword, consider that an essential factor in the success of this type of campaign is for users to take control of the spread of the message.

Therefore, the risk that content can be manipulated and exploited is very high. It is therefore necessary to be able to deal with any unforeseen events, identify critical points, and provide solutions that can safeguard the image and credibility of the brand.

How to trigger shares

A successful viral marketing campaign is very simple to implement. It is important to trigger shares on a video, for example, by devising an effective action plan to spread it as widely as possible. In certain instances, the element of virality is ignited purely by happenstance.

A piece of content begins to generate interest and is shared compulsively when a private user starts circulating it in every corner of the internet, suddenly making it go viral. You can consider this concept as an answer to the question, “What is viral?“.

When it comes to content produced by a company or brand, the viral marketing approach revolves around two primary actions in its dispersal strategy:

  1. show;
  2. hide.

1. In the first case, users are typically drawn to a piece of content or video based on the number of views, particularly if it has been shared within their social circle.

2. In the second, on the other hand, the participation of a brand remains hidden but is only revealed at a later stage.

If a brand decides to apply viral marketing techniques without exposing itself, it must do so with extreme caution. The campaign may fail because the user interprets it as a purpose-designed strategy and may feel betrayed or deceived.

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Benefits of viral marketing

Like any successful viral marketing strategy, this unconventional form of marketing has several advantages, such as:

  • Limited budget. viral marketing campaigns are characterized by the fact that users are a significant part of the work, drastically reducing dispersion costs. In this case, it becomes almost superfluous to purchase advertising space within the media.
  • Great results. a viral video on the internet has the ability to reach a huge target audience, even internationally, without any investment or effort. By virtue of this, a small company or even a freelancer could achieve remarkable results far beyond their expectations.
  • It is non-invasive. When the user decides to participate in the creation of content for viral marketing, he does not see it as something invasive; on the contrary, he feels so involved that he wants to share that message or story with the widest number of people. In fact, brand perception and interactions are undoubtedly better than with traditional forms of advertising.
  • It helps build your brand. If incredible content is created in terms of creativity, the user themselves will share it. By doing so, you create a direct and personal connection with your company. This is done with the support of social media and analytical tools that can identify the target audience and the type of content with a high sharing rate.

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Quick and easy sharing

It may seem obvious, but for a successful viral marketing strategy, content must be optimized to be shared quickly and easily. Only by facilitating the sharing of content on social media will you increase the chances of virality. In fact, by exploiting all social channels, you can best promote your message by identifying the most suitable one for the type of content.

For example, if the object to be shared is an image, use Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. Or, if you are trying to encourage a video to go viral, in that case, the best tools will be YouTube (teasers, short videos) and Instagram (stories, GIFs).

viral marketing social media

This is certainly a skillful move, facilitating the dissemination of the content in the most linear and consistent way possible. In addition to making sharing easier, the performance of the campaign can be analyzed using the following techniques:

  • offer different methods of sharing;
  • provide a free product or service;
  • find the common interests of your core audience;
  • ask questions or polls that generate views, interactions, and comments;
  • measure the campaign by the number of users identified;
  • Make your content accessible at all times.

Data Analysis

Creating an effective viral marketing strategy requires a lot of work and can be difficult, but not impossible. To start off on the right foot, it is useful to use tools that will allow you to build your campaign effectively. The first step is to know which strategies have been most successful and which ones have had negative feedback in the past.

To reach a certain audience, it is crucial to understand which group of people you are addressing. At this point, by monitoring social media analytics tools for your target audience, you can identify the content that has achieved the best level of performance.

viral marketing analysis

What data should be analyzed for promotion strategies on social networks? Definitely to be monitored are:

  • the rate of user involvement;
  • hashtags or trend topics;
  • the level of traffic and performance of a keyword;
  • impressions (or views) on the page;
  • the number of clicks on the content (post, video, image);
  • the number of reaches (number of unique users who saw the post);
  • interactions on social media;
  • demographic data

Analytical Tools

To create content for use in viral marketing, it is necessary to understand the main analytical tools. To monitor users and understand what is happening on the web, it is important to follow these three steps from the beginning:

  1. Analyzing how a piece of content went viral and finding out why;
  2. update its use of social media trying to exploit its full potential;
  3. follow every social event (culture, entertainment, sport, politics) even if your hobbies are different.

Listed below are three types of tools useful for both viral marketing and the acquisition of new users.

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NewsWhip is an excellent tool for monitoring viral news. In fact, the tool tracks the stories that are most shared and that have engaged users the most on Facebook and Twitter. It is very effective as it allows filtering by geography (Italy, Great Britain, the United States, etc.), by category (entertainment, sports, etc.), and even by subcategory (football, basketball, tennis, etc.).

Among the tools to be used in virtual marketing, NewsWhip is useful because it analyzes the most shared content on social networks, but above all, it classifies the sharing rate according to the speed with which users interacted with that particular story.

In fact, the faster the public engages with that news, the higher the number of likes, tweets, or any other form of connection on social media will be.


Kingsumo is one of the most effective tools for successful viral marketing campaigns. Created by the successful company App Sumo, it is possible to integrate it with WordPress.

It is mainly based on the use of contests and promotional messages for users.

viral marketing kingsumo icon

This platform is suitable for those who want to increase or double the number of contacts on their mailing list so as to create a certain following through the creation of a single campaign.

It offers a temporary free plan, although it has some data limitations. The cost of the subscription may be expensive.

If you consider the development of a traditional marketing campaign, it is easy to see that KingSumo is a very powerful tool because:

  • is easy to set up (unlike other time-consuming tools);
  • influence the user more, stimulating them to participate and share your giveaway campaign;
  • ensures greater virality;
  • allows the creation of unlimited campaigns at zero cost.

People can share the link to your campaign on all major social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) via their personal account (User ID). By doing so, you have the opportunity to create and propose other campaigns to users based on their feedback.


Buzzsumo is a very effective online tool that can identify the most popular content that has generated the most interest among users on the web or on a specific site.

viral marketing buzzsumo icon

As a viral marketing tool, it is probably the best, and it is possible to divide its main functionalities into four macro categories:

  • scour the web in order to find the most interesting content that has gained the most shares on social media. To do this, however, I recommend you take advantage of the support of Google Keyword Planner, an integrated Google service from which you can select the most searched keywords on the web that are obviously consistent with your company’s image;
  • evaluates competing keywords based on ranking, i.e., the level of the positioning of a site or domain on search engines assigned by Google, which deems it more authoritative than others. The higher the ranking level, the harder it will be to get closer to competitors. Actually, it is a great advantage because thanks to this data, one can plan different keywords and identify those with a lower competitive edge, so as to be able to achieve more realistic results;
  • rank your selected keywords or topic according to the number of shares or interactions on all social channels. This way, if you have indicated a keyword that perfectly describes your brand, you can gain a more detailed insight into the interests of your target audience and the type of platform used;
  • groups together and provides a list of the most important “Influencers” related to your industry. These very active figures on the web are mainly bloggers, journalists, or YouTubers. Thanks to their popularity and number of followers, they can generate a lot of interest in a particular topic or post. Through this tool, therefore, you will be able to understand which topics generate the most discussion and have engaged your audience the most.

Examples of viral marketing

Before we get to the famous viral marketing examples, we need to remember a few main components. As I mentioned at the beginning, in some cases, the exponential virality of a campaign happened by pure chance, perhaps by word of mouth or a certain historical or social event that happened recently.

However, if you are not going to tempt fate and rely on luck but want to plan a well-defined campaign, remember to apply these best practices:

  • tries to offer interesting content related to current events based on the latest trends;
  • communicate something that helps develop specific imagery in the user, who will be stimulated to associate that specific content with your brand;
  • focus a lot on the emotional factor, as you are more likely to engage your audience, who will be more inclined to share your message.
  • create polls or ask questions about something useful. In fact, people tend to participate more actively if it is a topic of general interest, stimulating in them a sense of belonging;
  • develops a story by trying to embed the message and the company within a broader narrative (e.g. video interviews or direct testimonies of real people that arouse empathy).

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Successful Viral Campaigns

Among the best-known case studies in viral marketing are experiential marketing strategies that focus not so much on the end consumer as on their experiences. The aim is to excite while always keeping in mind the coherence between the brand and the message it wants to communicate.

Consider that one cannot talk about a viral campaign without mentioning one of the most famous brands in the world: Coca-Cola. The perfect combination of viral and experiential is a well-known commercial for the brand, “The Happiness Cashier.”

At an ATM with the company logo, passersby were allowed to withdraw 100 euros without a card. The sum, however, had to be shared with another brand or person. For example, it could be used to buy basic necessities for a needy person or donated to charity, thus selling not a product but the experience of happiness caused by a benevolent gesture.

With the aim of enhancing actions that affect both the people who perform them and the recipients, Coca-Cola has succeeded in making a strong impact on its users by focusing not on direct product promotion but on emotions.

As you read on, you will learn more about the concept of viral marketing through three other well-known viral examples, such as:

  • Always #LikeAGirl;
  • Airbnb #WeAccept;
  • Good morning Motta.

Always #LikeAGirl

Always, part of the multinational P&G, is one of the most renowned brands in the field of feminine hygiene products. The company’s goal was to build loyalty and become an educational model for their target group, mainly women and girls.

A short 60-second spot was created on YouTube using the hashtag #LikeAGirl. The protagonists are little girls who are each asked to perform an action, such as throwing a baseball or running fast. Like a girl, but with the movements of a young child, they prove at all costs that they can do it.

The commercial highlights two points: the stereotype of the female world as inferior to the male world and the difficult period of change a girl has to go through when becoming a woman.

The spot was broadcast during the Super Bowl, and the Hashtag #LikeAGirl became TrendTopic within a few hours, generating hundreds of thousands of tweets mainly from the female audience.

The campaign achieved unprecedented success. Followers on Twitter tripled within three months, the YouTube video reached 90 million views, subscriptions to Always’s YouTube channel increased by 4339%, and the female target audience increased by 50%. In addition, a study reported that 70% of women and 60% of men said the commercial had changed their perception of the phrase “like a girl.

AirBnb #WeAccept

Airbnb has over the years become the most influential business model in digital marketing, which many companies take as their benchmark.

The company created a commercial, whose protagonists are people of different ethnicities, using the hashtag #WeAccept to disseminate a social ideal.

Phrases against racism, discrimination, homophobia, and sexism appear in the video. The theme of travel is the thread that unites the community of AirBnB customers and the people ready to break down the thick cultural barriers.

The ad immediately went viral and generated thousands of interactions and comments on social media. The reason is that it was aired at a very sensitive time in history, exactly one month after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Curiously, the Hashtag #NotMyPresident, which was created the day after Trump’s victory, achieved a huge increase in tweets in the following months after the release of the ad and the Hashtag #WeAccept.

Good morning, Motta

An example of viral marketing in Italy is the commercial for Buondì, the snack of the famous Italian brand Motta. The advertisement went viral as soon as it was aired, triggering laughter but also a series of controversies because it was considered provocative in its content.

The protagonist of the commercial is a middle-class child who turns to her mother in a grotesque and ironic tone and says, “Mummy, I would like a light but very tempting breakfast that can combine my desire for lightness and gluttony”. The mother’s response is no less and reads: “No way, dear, may an asteroid hit me if it exists”. What happens next is surely known to all.

The company’s objective was to break free from the traditional canon of commercials aimed at families, which had always used politically correct language and imagery. Motta then decided to hire Saatchi & Saatchi, a web agency of international importance, to implement a dangerous but impactful marketing strategy aimed at rejuvenating and capturing a younger target.

In truth, many families launched themselves against the company, considering this commercial to be harmful. According to Saatchi & Saatchi’s statements, the criticism was part of a pre-planned and studied strategy, with the knowledge that it would provoke much discussion and at the same time provoke massive shares on the web, increasing visibility and brand perception.

Conclusions and Strategic Consulting

Now that you know the secrets of viral marketing, thanks to case studies on successful viral campaigns, you can start building and expanding your online business effectively.

Keep in mind that to make content go viral, a little bit of luck is certainly needed, but if there is a sound strategy behind it that keeps the target audience in mind and also appeals to emotion, success for the brand is assured.

To build a winning campaign for your business, book a free, customized strategic consultation with an industry expert.

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