How To Succeed At Viral Marketing Campaigns Without Losing Your Mind

Viral Marketing

How To Succeed At Viral Marketing Campaigns Without Losing Your Mind

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“The pressure to go viral is so insane that there should be a viral trend about it” – Anonymous (and very tired) digital marketing agent.

One of the most unrealistic expectations that senior leaders place on the marketing department today is the requirement to ‘go viral.’ This basically means that they want the maximum possible people to view their adverts – and then buy what’s on offer.

But going viral is not that easy. The trend actually emerged from organic, homemade content, featuring funny or shocking scenes captured on camera by a stroke of luck.

While many brands have been able to produce successful viral marketing campaigns, audiences are more and more aware of these tactics, and backlash is starting to come in.

Coca Cola’s attempt to tap into GIF-making, and thus the Gen Z, brought out nearly horrifying results, showing that even the world’s leading companies with billions in revenue and the best of marketing departments are not safe from the ire of the internet.

So, can you mount a successful viral  marketing campaign without putting off your audience? Yes of course. Like advertising in general, you need to be smart about it. Here are some strategies and precautions that can help.

Do – Jump on Trends 

The key essence of viral marketing is speed. Trends emerge and ebb organically on the internet, so all you have to do is catch the wave and surf it to success. But do it right. The best way to participate in a trend (such as the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’) is to do it once and do it at the right time, and then bow out gracefully.

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Another prime example of this was ‘The Dress’: This dress had the world debating its colour, and had brands such as Lego, Dunkin Donuts and Tide jumping on the discussion to create campaigns based around the dress.

The dress was a photograph that became a viral phenomenon on the Internet in 2015. Viewers of the image disagreed on whether the dress depicted was coloured black and blue, or white and gold.

However, putting out post after post to increase visibility just comes off as abrasive and invasive. Also, unless you can really link the trend to your brand and its message, it might be best to let it go – after all, a shoe company may not find it very conducive to jump on a trend on food.

Don’t – Push Heavy Associations

The internet did not appreciate McDonald's dark ad
The internet did not appreciate McDonald’s dark ad


While emotions are central to effective advertising, using negative emotions can backfire very quickly. Being serious and sober works for social issues, or when the company is taking an important stand. But otherwise, projecting such a theme can be very difficult to pull off.

McDonald’s faced this when it released a distressing ad about a child trying to find things that linked him to his deceased father. Despite their glaring dissimilarities, the father-son duo both shared one common thing – their love for a fish burger.

As you can imagine, the advert did not go down well with a lot of the internet, and became viral for all the wrong reasons.

Do – Be Creative 

You might think that everything has been done already, but the internet is a land of endless opportunities. Creative viral marketing ideas make the brand stand out as unique, engage new customers, and can be a launching platform for a massive new following that is eager to see what comes next.

McDonald’s may have dropped the ball above, but it came back strong with a very innovative ad – one that never mentioned its name. Starring Mindy Kaling, a video ran on YouTube that asked people to search ”where coke tastes best” on Google.

The answer, of course, was the fast food giant, whose business partnership with Coke had been ongoing since 1955. Driving up organic results and engaging the community – that’s how a viral marketing trend was created.

Don’t – Not Proofread

Not proofreading their email cost Adidas
Not proofreading their email cost Adidas

This might seem like a very, very basic thing to do. But you will be surprised at how many times big and small brands have stumbled and received massive criticism and were joked about because of their inability to handle last-minute fixes, especially when the situation changed dramatically.

Adidas wanted to congratulate everyone who had finished the Boston Marathon in 2013, and engaged in an email campaign targeting the runners of this gruelling race. Unfortunately, they had used the phrase ”you survived” in the heading, and the mail was sent off right after the terrorist attack on the Marathon.

A last minute check could have spared many individuals pain, and the brand unnecessary shame.

Do – Partner with Influencers 

Nobody understands the nuances, requirements and payoffs of going viral as much as the influencers do – after all, its literally their job. Partnering up with an influencer can help you gain automatic access to millions of their followers.

A long-term deal can help them incorporate your brand and products into viral trends as they come and go, thus making you an organic part of the internet’s culture.

Cash App Used Influencer Marketing and a Song to Go Viral on TikTok
Cash App Used Influencer Marketing and a Song to Go Viral on TikTok

Do, however, make sure to do a thorough background check. Many companies have faced the brunt when the illegal and immoral actions of their influencers and partners have been made public. It can be very difficult for a brand to explain its association, especially in this digital age when everything is out there on the internet already.

Don’t – Make It All About You 

The art of viral marketing (and indeed, digital marketing), is to be a part of something bigger and larger, and engage the online community. Brands that come across as too self-involved can quickly have their reputation go down the drain.

Companies have gone viral on the internet for being rude, for refusing to apologize, or for taking issues and tragedies and making them about themselves. A case in point is Facebook’s horribly ill-thought VR tour of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Featuring virtual avatars, the attempt came off as a way to plug in Facebook’s virtual reality capabilities. Needless to say, it didn’t go down well with the internet at all.

Viral marketing can be tricky, but it is not impossible to achieve. The central message of all the above tips is one single point – that is be organic.

Forcing or pushing for viral success only works when you have something very creative at hand. Otherwise, it is ideal to bid your time. The suitable right trend will surely come your way sooner than later.

So what’s your take… Do you think that brands need to engage in viral marketing in order to get noticed on the internet? What viral campaigns did you like or not like? And do you think that these viral campaigns form a sustainable digital marketing strategy? Let us know!

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