Viral Marketing Initiatives

People want to share content online. It’s just a part of modern life. People pass on news articles, YouTube videos, photos, etc. In 2011, 59% of people reported that they frequently share online content with others (Berger, 2011, p. 1). But, what makes something go viral on the web? Are there commonalities of the types of information that does go viral? Why do some marketing campaigns take off, while others fail?  First and foremost, people have to want to share the content.  What are things that people want to share?  Here are 5 themes a viral campaign can include:

Humor – Laughter is universal. Laughter sounds the same in any language. People cannot seem to resist sharing something funny.  Take for example this video produced by Pepsi. Since its upload in Nov 2007, it has nearly 50 million views. This made me laugh, so much my husband had to come in from the other room, so I could show him.
Interactvitiy – Blending a marketing initiative with audience interaction is a great way to get your message spread. Take for example Pharrell Williams interactive music video, 24 Hours of Happy. This music video allows the user to choose the time of day to watch the video, it is the world’s first 24 hour music video. Since being uploaded to YouTube in Nov 2013, this video has received over 36 million views. This doesn’t include how many visitors have interacted with the video on their website.
Relevance – What is the latest trend, latest news or what’s hot? Take for example the latest trend on Twitter in the United States is Zayn Malik, #CrazyForZayn. He is a signer in the boy band One Direction. There are over 378,000 videos on YouTube featuring Zayn and within about 3 minutes there were 91 new tweets with the #CrazyForZayn. Channel 96.1 out of Charlotte, NC is giving away tickets to see Zayn and One Direction in concert. Fans have to listen to 96.1 and wait for the next One Direction song to be played. When it is, the DJ’s will announce the special hashtag to tweet. Fans and followers are suppose to “Trick or Tweet for 1D” using the special hashtag as many times as they like. The more times they tweet with the special hashtag, the better their chances of winning the tickets.
Emotion – Emotions do shape what information is spread. Is the information positive or negative? Does it evoke specific emotions (anger, sadness, awe, happiness, etc.)? Which cause people to share more and which tend to become viral?  Berger and Milkman conducted a study and found that “content is more likely to become viral the more positive it is” (Berger, 2011, p. 5). “Consumers often share content for self-presentation purposes or to communicate identity, and positive content is shared more because it reflects positively on the sender” (Berger, 2011, p. 2). Berger’s study was published in the American Marketing Association Journal of Marketing Research,

Since being uploaded in Aug 2012, Nike’s Find Your Greatness Jogger video has received over a million views.

“Nike’s Find Your Greatness Campaign touches all of us because it’s such a positive inclusive message.  It says we don’t need to be technically amazing, as long as we try and do our own personal best.  The message inspires everyone.  It follows Nike’s  previous message of Just Do It!: also broadly meaningful because it says “action is better than no action” and because it pushes people to take a risk, try something new, do something they’ve always wanted to.  The implication is that Nike products are there to back us up and help you accomplish our personal goals” (Greenwald, 2014, para 4).

Entertaining – the more entertaining a message, the more likely it will be shared. Take for instance, Chipotle’s Back to the Start Campaign. This ad is “aimed at informing consumers that there is such a thing as ‘food with integrity,’ which is simply natural, family-grown or raised, and ultimately socially responsible” (Montoya, 2014, para 1). Since its upload to YouTube in 2011, this cute video has been viewed 8 and a half million times.

While marketers often produce content that paints their product in a positive light, content will be more likely to be shared if it evokes high-arousal emotions (ex: awe). Advertisements that make consumers content or relaxed, for example, will not be as viral as those that amuse them. Furthermore, while some marketers might shy away from advertisements that evoke negative emotions, negative emotions can actually increase transmission if it is characterized by activation. Good luck!


Berger, J., Milkman, K., (2011). What Makes Online Content Viral? American Marketing Association. Journal of Marketing Research. Retrieved 10/30/14 from

Montoya, N., (2014). Chipotle is Going Back to the State: Marketing with Integrity. Retrieved 10/30/14 from

Greenwald, K., (2013). Secrets of 7 of the Most Effective Ad Campaigns. Retrieved 10/30/14 from

Scott, D., (2008). The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How Word-of-Mouse Spreads Your Ideas for Free. Retrieved 10/28/14 from


4 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. Hi Jeanne,
    You’ve made some very good suggestions for tactics to take in campaigns! I liked the examples you provide and the ways that you categorized the tactics. I was also amused by your last name, thinking that “Win Free” are two great words to use if you want a campaign to go viral! 🙂

    • Carolyn – thanks for taking the time to read my blog and comment. I’m glad you liked my examples. I’ll have to think of how I can incorporate my last name into a campaign. I’d love it if i could get an initiative to go viral. Jeanne

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