Viral marketing or viral advertising is a business strategy that uses existing social networks to promote a product, service or cause. The idea is to create a strong feeling in the viewers, a feeling of shock, awe, happiness, anger or delight. It can vary from a special product offer to a controversial statement tied to a social movement. In general, viral content is eye-catching, creative, and evocative. A high number of viral campaigns that succeed are funded by big companies that are already established as major players in their industry. Big brands like Ikea, Old Spice, and KFC regularly create content that picks up steam on social media.
As an example, we can observe the efforts put into the viral marketing of the Video Music Awards (VMAs) by MTV. TV viewership has been on the decline for years. However, MTV has grown the VMAs into more than an ordinary awards show, largely through social media. Before the VMAs started last year, social engagement with content related to the show was up 129% over 2018. MTV leveraged new Stories features and IGTV to increase video views across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. Furthermore, they engaged this wide audience by allowing fans to cast award votes via direct messages on Twitter and Facebook Messenger. Organic social conversations were also up 331% over 2018, by tapping into the active social fan bases of performers and nominees. These impressive results make this a perfect example of viral marketing and how social media can be used to bolster offline events as well.
The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge is another example of a successful viral marketing campaign. It helped raise $200 million to fund research projects that have discovered three different genes that can be linked to ALS. However, Yakov Bart, an assistant professor of Marketing at the Northeastern University, suggests that viral marketing is headed towards over-saturation.