Your Go-To Guide for Viral Marketing Campaigns

We’ve all seen them before–commercials that are either so hilarious or so compelling that they make it to everyone’s feed and every meme page. Whether it’s the iconic Old Spice ad or the inspirational #likeagirl campaign from Dove–viral marketing campaigns are everywhere. When executed correctly, these campaigns can put your brand in front of the right audience and help you become a household name. 

This post serves as a comprehensive guide to pulling off your first viral marketing campaign. It helps you understand how you can benefit from it and what pitfalls you should look out for. It also breaks down some essential tips for getting it right. Let’s take a look.

Your Go-To Guide for Viral Marketing Campaigns:

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that helps your brand achieve widespread reach by tapping into the power of social media. It allows your brand, message, or products to spread like wildfire, reaching a massive audience almost exclusively through social sharing. So as the name suggests, it’s marketing that helps your brand become viral.  

Most viral marketing campaigns rely on content that compels people to share and talk about it with others. The people they share it with further share it with their own circles, creating a ripple effect that spreads across the digital landscape. Soon, you’ll have virtually everyone talking about it or at least seeing it in their feeds.

Recently, Stanley cups have become a viral sensation, owing to their popularity with influencers. In December 2023, the brand dropped a new Valentine’s Day limited-edition cup that sold out in minutes and had Target customers fighting to get one. While the brand has always had a brilliant marketing strategy, what likely prompted its latest viral popularity was a TikTok video of a woman whose Stanley Cup survived a car fire. 

Although the company wasn’t responsible for putting out the initial video, its response to the video further helped to fuel the virality. The Stanley company offered to replace her cup and car, which got everyone on the internet talking about it. The original video has since been viewed more than 90 million times, garnering 9 million likes and 444k shares.

@danimarielettering Thirsty after you catch on fire? @Stanley 1913 is like no problem i gotchu #fyp #carfire #accident #stanleycup ♬ original sound - Danielle

4 Advantages of Viral Marketing Campaigns

From what you’ve seen so far, it’s pretty easy to guess that viral marketing can be highly beneficial for your business. Let’s get more specific by breaking down the main advantages of viral marketing campaigns.

1. They Help You Achieve Massive Reach

To start with the obvious, viral marketing campaigns help you reach hundreds of thousands of people (and then some) in a short amount of time. Case in point: Nike’s viral “Behind the Bra” video boasts 13 million views on YouTube.

An increased reach means there are more conversations taking place about your brand, boosting brand awareness and attracting new customers. Plus, it could improve your chances of driving sales as you reach more and more people who might be interested in buying. 

2. They Don’t Cost a Lot of Money

Viral marketing campaigns rely almost exclusively on people’s willingness to share. So aside from the initial cost of developing the content, they don’t cost all that much. Even if you spend a bit extra to activate influencers, the viral outcome means you’re getting your money’s worth. In other words, viral marketing campaigns have a cost advantage, especially considering the massive returns.

3. They Boost Your Brand Credibility

In viral marketing, the content that people come across is shared by their peers, which adds a sense of credibility. This allows your brand to win the trust of these users, especially if they find the content relatable and authentic.

4. They Foster Engagement and Connection

With the increased reach that comes from viral marketing, you can also experience a boost in engagement. This is particularly true if your content is something that incites an emotional response, making people want to engage with it. The more engaged people are with your brand’s viral content, the easier it is to foster a connection with them.

Common Challenges and Pitfalls

As beneficial as viral marketing campaigns can be, there are also a few challenges and pitfalls to be aware of. By understanding what to look out for, you can prepare accordingly and use these campaigns to achieve a more strategic outcome.

It’s Unpredictable

One of the biggest issues with viral marketing is its unpredictability. You can’t guarantee the outcome of a campaign, which means that you can’t predict that it’ll become viral. This uncertainty puts it at a disadvantage in comparison to regular marketing campaigns that offer a more predictable outcome.

It Can Easily Get Out of Control

On a similar note, viral marketing is challenging to control. Just like you can’t control its outcome, you can’t control how people interpret and distribute the content. So it’s very likely that you’ll end up with unintended consequences. 

Even if you do manage to achieve positive virality, you can’t control the extent at which it becomes viral. This limits your brand’s ability to effectively deal with the campaign’s impact. For instance, if you’d expected to reach 1 million consumers but ended up reaching 2 million, you might end up having to fulfill more orders than you can handle.

That’s exactly what happened with 3M’s viral stunt to showcase how their Scotchshield see-through film can make glass stronger. The brand put $3 million inside an advertising case that was reinforced with Scotchshield and challenged people to break it with their feet. Anyone who succeeded could get the money. While this gained them $1 million in free publicity, it also resulted in a three-month backlog for the product.

It Doesn’t Guarantee Long-Term Results

Another major drawback of viral marketing is its inability to provide you with long-term results. Virality is often rapid but short-lived meaning that you quickly attain widespread reach, but the hype dies down quickly. So unless you find a way to strategically sustain the initial engagement, these campaigns won’t guarantee a long-term impact. 

Tips to Create a Viral Marketing Campaign

With viral marketing being unpredictable and difficult to control, there’s no step-by-step formula to achieve virality. However, most viral marketing campaigns have several things in common. Based on this, you can follow a few best practices that will improve your chances of going viral. Here are a few tips on creating a viral marketing campaign.

1. Know What Resonates with Your Audience

Since viral marketing relies on people sharing content with others, you need to know what makes your audience tick. What resonates with them? What do they like to share? This is the key to successful viral marketing because it enables you to trigger a desire in your audience to share the content with their friends and followers.

As such, it’s crucial that you have a deep understanding of your target audience. What are their interests and preferences? What are their values and motivations? Based on this, you can come up with ideas for content that would strongly resonate with them.

For example, if your target audience is into witty humor, you’ll obviously want to tap into this through creative comedy. Chipotle is the perfect example of a brand that has achieved virality multiple times owing to its solid understanding of its target audience. As the brand mostly targets younger audiences, it rides on humor and user-generated content to create viral campaigns. This has resulted in the success of campaigns like the #GuacDance and the Lid Flip Challenge.

Most importantly, Chipotle listens to what people are saying about the brand on social media and uses this understanding to drive its campaigns. For instance, TikTok witnessed the virality of Chipotle hacks where food creators like Keith Lee (@keith_lee125) shared personalized orders for their followers to try out. 

Realizing how popular these hacks were with the TikTok audience, Chipotle introduced a new menu item based on one of these hacks. The brand also partnered with the original creator of the hack to promote the new menu item. This not only allowed the brand to achieve further virality but also enabled it to incorporate something viral into its long-term strategy.

@keith_lee125 Replying to @chipotle #ChipotlePartner Chipotle Story time with @Alexis Frost 💕 Would you try it in March? 💕 #quesadillahack #foodcritic ♬ original sound - Keith Lee

2. Keep Up with the Latest Trends

Want to know a shortcut to achieving virality? Take a look at what’s already popular and ride the coattails. What’s the latest trend that everyone’s talking about or participating in? Is there a way for your brand to leverage it for viral marketing?

Perhaps you could create something unique based on a trending topic. Or maybe you could participate in a viral hashtag challenge by adding your own twist. Since this trend is already popular with your audience, there’s some assurance that participating in it will help you draw some attention.

For instance, when Pantone announces its “Color of the Year,” it gets people talking about it all over social media. This is the perfect time to get in on the action with content that incorporates the selected color. That’s exactly what Spoonflower did when it announced several new designs based on Pantone’s Color of the Year 2024.


3. Savor the Chance to Get Creative

Every viral marketing campaign has one thing in common–and that’s creativity. You may not be able to predict a viral outcome, but if there’s anything that improves your chances of going viral, it’s being creative. 

Campaigns go viral mostly because they’re different and unique. They’re creative in a way that sets them apart and makes them memorable. So if creativity is your language, now is the perfect time to speak it.

Look for a way to add a unique twist to your message. How do you best relay it in a way that grabs attention? In line with the above tip, is there a way you can add a unique take on a trending topic or event?

For instance, when there was a power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl, Oreo was quick to jump in with a Tweet related to the event. The Tweet was of an Oreo cookie in a dark background with text that read “you can still dunk in the dark.” Needless to say, this Tweet went viral and was Retweeted 12k times.

4. Appeal to People’s Emotions

Whether you make your audience laugh or cry or excited–the best way to get people to share your content is by making an emotional impact. When you appeal to people’s emotions, the content resonates better with the audience and compels them to share it with their friends and followers. 

Comedy is often the go-to approach as people love to share joy and laughter with their friends. But you can also tap into other emotions such as sadness or excitement to create memorable campaigns that people want to share. 

For instance, New Zealand telecommunications company, Spark launched an emotionally charged ad that got everyone bawling. The video switched back and forth between scenes of the wedding day, the planning process, and the hospital with a voiceover of the bride’s father’s speech. The video ended with a message telling people to “leave nothing unsaid” hinting at the company’s strong internet connection.

5. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage

Hashtags help to organize content and improve discoverability. When you use a hashtag in your content, it improves the chances of people discovering the content when they search for or interact with said hashtag. So integrating trending hashtags into your posts is crucial for amplifying reach and visibility.

To be more strategic with your hashtag use, look for hashtags that are extremely popular across social media. Are there any trending hashtag challenges that everyone’s participating in? This could inspire you to create content that reaches hundreds of thousands of people, paving the way to virality. Some brands even come up with their own branded hashtag challenges that see millions of participants on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. 

In the case of Duolingo, the company jumped in on the TikTok revival of coquette to create a hilarious take on the trending aesthetic. It featured the brand’s two mascots, Duo and Lily in what appears to be coquette makeup and included the hashtag #coquette. The video has since been viewed more than 2 million times and received 311k likes with thousands of comments and saves.

@duolingo this is me if you even care😔🧸🎀💝🪽🕊️🦋 #coquette #duolingo #fyp ♬ i know you - *ੈ✩‧₊˚

6. Leverage the Power of Influencers

With the ability to reach millions of users in an instant, influencers can be the perfect solution to amplify your brand voice and improve your chances of going viral. Even just one TikTok video from an influencer could have a domino effect and reach the farthest corners of the internet. 

When Chipotle challenged TikTok users to do the #GuacDance, the brand collaborated with influencers who helped to make the challenge go viral. TikTok creator, Brent Rivera’s version of the challenge received more than 8 million views.

@brentrivera When guacamole is free @chipotle when you order online/in-app on July 31st😍 #GuacDance #ad ♬ The Guacamole Song - Dr. Jean

Ready to Go Viral?

Viral marketing campaigns, when pulled off correctly, can put your brand in the limelight and help you attract thousands of new customers. Use the tips we shared above to improve your chances of going viral.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a viral marketing campaign?

A viral marketing campaign is a marketing campaign that enjoys massive reach and spreads like wildfire.

What is a basic element of a viral marketing campaign?

Emotional impact is a basic element of a viral marketing campaign.

What is an example of a viral marketing campaign that was successful?

Chipotle’s #GuacDance is an example of a viral marketing campaign that was successful.

What is viral marketing advantages and disadvantages?

The advantages of viral marketing is cost-effectiveness, massive reach, increased engagement, and improved credibility. On the flip side, viral marketing is also unpredictable and difficult to control. Not to mention, often short-lived.

What marketing campaign went viral in 2023?

The Barbie movie marketing campaign went viral in 2023.

About the Author
Jacqueline Zote is a freelance writer and content producer. She writes for leading blogs in the digital marketing space. Her areas of expertise include influencer marketing, social media marketing, social media management, and content marketing.