Viral Marketing Initiatives

Viral-Marketing-pic-of-peopleViral marketing has a snowball effect. It gets bigger and bigger and moves faster and faster as it goes along. So why is it that some messages go viral, while others don’t? Are there specific reasons that some marketing efforts get shared by so many, while others languish on the social media floor? Fortunately for us, there are specific factors that popular viral marketing ventures have in common, including humor, intrigue, interaction, cleverness, and controversy. The following are some examples of these different aspects that have been used successfully.

HUMOR. A pretty universal strategy for getting people’s attention is to use humor. Of course, there are myriad types of humor so it is very important to know your target audience and what kinds of humor they find entertaining. For example, there seems to be a rash of nonsensical and slapstick kind of humor in the media lately. This type of humor seems to appeal to the ever-popular, media loving 18- to 25-year-old demographic. That’s why Jack Links Beef Jerky’s “Messin’ With Sasquatch” commercials were such a hit. I asked my 21-year-old son (a member of their target market) if he liked these commercials and he said he did so I asked him why. He said he liked that the guys pulled a prank on Bigfoot and then one of them gets attacked because of it. The advertiser knows its target market well and realized they would get this type of humor. They also created a game to play on their website called, “Swing! Throw! Smash!” The advertisers knew this type of game would appeal to their target demographic.

INTRIGUE. People are inordinately fascinated with puzzles and intrigue. They want to be “in the know” and try to quash unfounded rumors. The hype surrounding the horror movie, Cloverfield, exemplifies this. The marketing people created suspense through creating fake websites, teaser trailers, and revealed secrets about and within the film. They also featured cryptic information such as “1/18/08” with no other information given. This and the other marketing schemes created the intended effect, intrigue. All the hype built anticipation for the release of the movie, leading to a very successful worldwide box office gross of nearly $171 million and an additional $30 million in DVD sales (

INTERACTION. People love to interact and fortunately engagement is incredibly important in social media marketing. Engage and interact with your audience and they’ll keep coming back. A great example of successful interaction was the Burger King Subservient Chicken. People could type in commands and the chicken would follow them such as doing jumping jacks, doing push-ups, and even watching TV. According to AdWeek (2008), “Within a week it had 20 million hits” (Anderson, para. 2). Followers were intrigued by its creativity and technological innovation and loved trying to stump the chicken to see if it would do everything they commanded it to do.

CLEVERNESS. People find clever, fascinating marketing interesting. One especially successful example of clever marketing was OK Go’s “This too Shall Pass” music video. With incredible ingenuity, the music group OK Go made a video using a domino effect with random objects. Viewers found it fascinating to watch the different items synchronize perfectly in a chain reaction. The impressive video not only achieved 16 million hits, but it won for the music group the UK Video Award’s Best Video as well as Best Rock Video (Telegraph, 2010). This accomplishment quite possibly would not have been achieved without the success of the viral video.

CONTROVERSY. People are intrigued by controversy. They want to figure out if something is fact or fiction, real or manufactured. And The Blair Witch Project kept many guessing. They went out in droves to find out if the legend was true. This is especially impressive considering the movie cost a mere $60,000 to produce, had no major stars, and grossed $1.5 million in its opening weekend (Carvell, 1999, para. 1).

The selective screenings helped it gain notoriety. This selectivity, it seems, was part and parcel to the movie’s success. Carvell notes that “with the movie opening on so few screens, shows began selling out days in advance” (para. 5). The marketing team also created the website and co-produced a Sci-Fi Channel special. Carvell says, “These low-key approaches helped foster the belief among audience members that they’d discovered the film for themselves–a belief that, in turn, fed traffic to the site” (para. 3).

Viral marketing should be every marketers aim. We want as many people to hear about our products or services as possible. So, with a splash of ingenuity—combined with knowing your target market well—and one or more of the factors noted above, you should be able to garner enough publicity to make your marketing effort go viral. Fortunately, we can take lessons from the examples given on how to do that best.


Anderson, M. (2005, March 7). Dissecting ‘Subservient Chicken.’ In AdWeek. Retrieved from

Carvell, T. (1999, August 16). How The Blair Witch Project built up so much buzz. In Fortune. Retrieved from

Cloverfield. (2008). In Retrieved from

Grainger, J. (2009, June 28). 47 outrageous viral marketing examples over the last decade. In Retrieved from

OK Go win video of the year award. (2010). In The Telegraph. Retrieved from


8 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. OziMan says:

    Reblogged this on Digital Marketing and commented:
    Meeting Customer Needs To Go Viral!

  2. debharrisblog says:

    The Blair Witch Project is a good example of controversy when it comes to viral marketing. In the beginning consumers were divided as to whether the movie was real or not. This type of marketing can be good for movies that do not have well-known actors and were low budget. Something similar happened with the movie Cloverfield. Consumers knew the movie was a work of fiction but were unsure what the movie was about. There was several websites that offered teasers as to what the movie was about. The movie became a hit with all of the viral marketing.

    • Evy says:

      Hi Deb, I remember when both of the movies came out. I took my teenage daughter and her friend to see The Blair Witch Project and I specifically looked for clues proving it was fake. I mentioned a couple of them, but my daughter’s friend refused to believe it wasn’t real. 😀 And I wasn’t even interested in seeing Cloverfield (I’m not a horror movie fan), so I wasn’t aware of what was going on with the pre-release marketing. My children did see it and I remember my oldest daughter (same daughter, years later) remarking that she felt physically ill while watching it. I think it had something to do with the way the movie was filmed, if I remember correctly.

      • debharrisblog says:

        Cloverfield was filmed in a shaky like manner. It was meant to feel as it it was being filmed by the characters in the movie and consisted of a number of running scenes. So I can see why some would feel uncomfortable while watching the movie.

  3. Evy says:

    Yeah, that must have been it! 🙂

  4. Humor is definitely the way to go if you want an advertisement to go viral. I too, find the ‘Messing with Sasquatch’ commercials quite funny… even though I’m a little older than the demographic 0:-). If I see a new commercial that I find funny like the Kmart: “I Shipped my Pants” commercial I will post it on my Facebook page or Twitter accounts like thousands of others to share with the rest of the world so they may have a laugh too. Therefore I think humor is the fastest way to get your name out there. 🙂

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