Viral marketing…is it a thing?  Viral content is a real phenomenon associated primarily with social media but should it be considered a specific segment of marketing?  In my opinion, viral marketing isn’t actually a type of marketing but rather a byproduct of creating content that contains specific characteristics which drive viral sharing.  This blog post will delve into the five main characteristics I feel must be present to motivate a viral response. In my opinion, the 5 main characteristics of a successful viral marketing campaign are:

  1. Create an emotional connection
  2. Have a good story to tell
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Tie into a good cause or popular figure
  5. Easily shared across social media platforms

The first three characteristics are the foundation of any good viral marketing campaign. All of these campaigns must create an emotional connection through telling a simple and effective story.  Whether the goal of the campaign is to evoke tears or laughter, the fact that we share content that makes us feel a certain way is the true essence of viral marketing initiatives.  The power of viral content is that the consumers become the communication channel and create valuable earned media to support the brand (Akpinar, 2017).  Through the power of social media, viral marketing is also within the realm of all businesses, not just the huge corporations with immense marketing budgets.  Today a small business, with a (very) modest budget and a great idea, can potentially hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people.  This is something that makes social media, and viral, marketing initiatives truly unique from “traditional” marketing tools like television and radio ads.

Another characteristic of most viral content is that it is tied to a cause that people can relate to and feel passionate about.  Causes concerning environmental and societal issues are the true great catalyst to action.  Again, a strong emotional connection must be present for a campaign to become viral and social causes are some of the most powerful.


Of course, the one common element of all viral marketing campaigns is that they are easily shared across social platforms, embedded on websites and linked to from blogs.  It is the sharing component of a campaign that makes it become viral.  Sharing is social, and viral marketing relies directly on the social aspect of turning consumers into brand advocates by way of social media.

A great example of a viral marketing campaign that hits on all of the characteristics I've mentioned is Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign from 2013.  The premise is simple, “You’re more beautiful than you think.”  In this, the most viral marketing campaign of 2013, Dove explores a very real social issue in the struggle many people have with their self-image.  Though the viral video focuses primarily on women, it does create a universal message.  It is truly a cause that connects social commentary, emotions, and a wonderful story with real social substance.  As is true with almost all viral content, the video tells the story better than anything else.

This campaign was honored with the “Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity's highest honor, the Titanium Grand Prix, solidifying "Real Beauty Sketches" as the viral campaign against which others are judged” (2014).  But on a personal level, it truly is one of the only “viral” campaigns that I shared on my personal social media profiles.  As a father, husband, son and friend I felt drawn to the message shared in this wonderful piece of content.  To me, the one and only characteristic needed for viral marketing content is the emotional connection, and Dove simply nailed it.

I guess viral marketing is a thing after all.


Ankeny, J. (2014). How These 10 Marketing Campaigns Became Viral Hits. Entrepreneur. Retrieved 31 May 2017, from

Akpinar, E., & Berger, J. (2017). Valuable Virality. Journal Of Marketing Research (JMR), 54(2), 318-330.

Hasan, J. (2016). 9 Proven Viral Marketing Techniques Every Successful Marketer Is Following. Crazyengage. Retrieved 31 May 2017, from