Viral marketing

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is a marketing technique that has recently evolved due to the popularity of the Internet and social media, such as Facebook and YouTube. Online dictionaries define viral marketing as “the method of product promotion that relies on getting customers to market an idea, product, or service on their own by telling their friends about it, usually by e-mail”. [1]

Advertising in the past relied heavily on newspapers, magazines, TV ads, billboards, and other resources which were expensive and reached only a limited number of people. [2] Companies today will create a short film (usually thirty seconds to two minutes), upload it on the Internet, and let viewers pass the film along to their friends and relatives. This process is infinitely cheaper and reaches a broader audience of people compared to traditional methods. Besides video clips, companies also use blogs, ebooks, games, and pictures to promote their products. [3] [4]

Though viral marketing campaigns use viral videos, the two are not synonymous. Videos that go viral are not always connected to a particular company or product. For example, popular videos like "Chocolate Rain", Numa Numa, and "David After Dentist" were created and uploaded simply to be shared with others.

How Viral Marketing Works

As the name suggests, viral marketing campaigns act much like a virus, such as the common cold. An individual begins to have a runny nose and a fever and soon their little sister unknowingly catches the virus. Going to school the next day, the virus spreads to classmates as little sister touches door knobs, plays on the swings, and shakes hands with others. Her classmates then go home and give the cold to their parents, who then go to work and share it with their co-workers. Viral marketing relies on the same principle of contagious sharing, hence why viral marketing is also referred to as buzz, word-of-mouth, word-of-blog, or word-of-mouse. [5] Viral videos are commonly spread through social media interfaces (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube), emails, and cell phones. [6] Because of these video’s propensity to reach a large audience, author and online viral marketing strategist David Meerman Scott asserts that viral marketing “…is the single most empowering tool available to marketers today.” [7]

Like a cold, viral videos depend on being “catchy” so that viewers will want to share the video with others. Companies often use the following techniques to make their video as “contagious” as possible:

  • Humorous, ironic, or outlandish situations
  • Situations that seem groundbreaking, such as the introduction of the touch-screen iPhone [8]
  • Involvement of a celebrity in the clip [9]
  • Offering free products or services [10]
  • Exploiting behaviors, such as the desire to be popular or cool [11]

What are the benefits of Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing acts as an almost equal opportunity advertising market, allowing for previously unknown products, and people, to find markets without needing to invest in advertising companies.

For example, the product Orabrush provides one of the most impressive examples of the effectiveness of viral marketing campaigns. The original idea of a brush which relieved bad breath came about when Robert Wagstaff, PhD, heard that some of his associates were complaining about bad breath. After researching the causes of bad breath, Dr. Wagstaff invented a tongue-brush which he tried for several years to market through infomercials and large companies like Walmart and Walgreens. In 2009, Dr. Wagstaff approached a group of students in Brigham Young University’s Marriot School of Management in attempt to find a way to market his tongue-brush. One student, Jeremy Harmon, took on the project and with help from other students created a series of YouTube videos which advertized the brush. Innovative and amusing, these videos quickly attracted attention and have garnered over 37 millions views as of April of 2011. [12] orabrush.jpg This rags-to-riches story via a simple YouTube video illustrates the vast power of viral marketing, turning an unknown product into an eminent icon.

Other examples of viral marketing videos include viral videos like Old Spice, Liquid mountaineering, and Will It Blend.

What are the risks?

  • Not all videos that go viral are clean or appropriate. Just because something is popular doesn't mean that it's family safe.

How can I use it safely?

  • Talk to your children about the videos they watch online. Preview videos out for yourself to make sure they are suitable for your children.
  • Watching videos on Quietube can help families use YouTube safely. Quietube allows you to watch YouTube videos on a clean white screen that's free from potentially inappropriate ads, video previews, and comments.