What We Can Learn From Viral Marketing Successes

by Sarah Dixon Inspiring Interns

The rise of the internet has led to a marketer’s dream. Consumers now have the ability to engage with content in a completely different way.

Previously, there was little in the way of feedback on campaigns besides seeing sales rise or fall. But with smartphones, social media and broadband access collecting Big Data, we can be much more informed.

It also means that ideas can take on a life of their own. Consumers can interact with the campaign in a different way. They can also share the content with friends and family, widening the impact at no extra cost.

And while we can’t all have the next viral marketing hit, we can look at what has been successful in the past and apply that knowledge to increase the impact of our campaigns.

What Makes A Post ‘Viral’?

When YouTube videos first started ‘going viral’ the measure was that they had received over 1 million views. As time has gone by, so the bar has been set higher. The generally accepted measure of viral is now getting over 5 million hits in a week.

So, what do viral hits have in common? At their core, they all have these three qualities:

  • The audience connects with them on an emotional level. It may make people laugh, tug their heartstrings, or resonate on some other level. Viral content is engaging, it’s not passive.
  • It’s surprising. There’s always something unique about the content. Often that’s an unexpected juxtaposition – a chicken playing opera? Perfect.
  • It’s easy to share. Wherever you are releasing your content, make sure that consumers don’t have to work too hard to pass your message on. That’s why sites with built-in sharing tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are perfect for viral campaigns.

Some Examples

Let’s look at some of the most successful viral campaigns of the past few years and see how they hit those criteria:

Old Spice Man                

Remember the Old Spice ‘man your man could smell like’ campaign from 2010, where the towel-clad Old Spice Man asked viewers to compare him to the man in their lives?

The idea was to engage women, who often purchase body wash for their husbands, and influence them to purchase Old Spice. It worked. Here’s why:

  • Old Spice Man was funny. With a great script delivered by the perfect actor, this advert poked fun at the expectations of manliness in a way that appealed to both men and women.
  • This ad surprised on many levels. Firstly, it was directed at women rather than men. Secondly, it subverted expectations for an aftershave ad and poked fun at its own industry. Thirdly, it played on the stereotype of manliness in a way that appealed to both sexes.
  • Shared via YouTube, the adverts quickly gained their own momentum – particularly when Old Spice ran with the feedback and filmed a series of videos in response to feedback from celebrities such as Alyssa Milano.

Squatty Potty

But how do you go viral when your product is one that most people wouldn’t want to talk about in public? Here we can learn from Squatty Potty.

Their product, designed to help you sit in a more anatomically correct position when you poop, was a tough one to market. Until some bright spark came up with the idea of using ‘the creamy poop of a unicorn’ to get their point across.

  • Rather than the outright laughs of Old Spice, Squatty Potty was more, well, toilet humour. Our inner child giggled at the thought of glitter in haemmoroids and comparisons of poop to ice-cream.
  • Unicorns and knightly language when talking about poop? It definitely surprised.
  • Another YouTube campaign, the MD of Squatty Potty went against the advice of his investor to make it, but he was proved right. Sales before the video? $3 million. After? $15 million.

Putting It Into Practice

We hope that those examples give you something to think about. While you may not be looking for the sort of attention that a truly viral success can give you, looking at how these and other campaigns had the success they did can help you create more effective content yourself.

  • Think about what emotions your product could link to. Is there something humorous about it? Can you tug heartstrings?
  • Think outside the box. Look at disadvantages or preconceptions about your product, and try to turn them on their head.
  • Make sure that whatever you produce can be easily shared.

Best of luck with your own viral campaign!


Sarah Dixon writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in finding candidates their perfect internship. To browse our graduate jobs London listings, visit our website.