Viral Marketing – How to spread your advertising message

Many try but fail: Viral marketing is one of the supreme disciplines in the marketing industry.

When your own marketing campaign becomes a sure-fire success, spreads rapidly, is shared, liked and commented on a thousand times on social networks, when the brand and the message are suddenly on everyone’s lips, then a dream comes true for marketers. 

And then one also speaks of viral marketing. But such a sure-fire success is not always easy to plan. So what is the secret formula for viral marketing? Is there a recipe for success that increases the chances of dissemination? You will find out the answer in this article.

Virales Marketing: Definition

Viral marketing is a specific marketing strategy that marketers use to try and spread their messages across different channels, much like a virus. Since no channel can spread information of all kinds as quickly as social networks, social media is ideal for sending messages around the world in the form of videos, images or texts.

Viral marketing is characterized above all by the fact that the recipients of the advertising message do not classify it as stupid advertising. Therefore, the aim of this discipline is to “package” the message in such a way that it is interesting, exciting and entertaining. Whether text, image or video – ideally, the message should trigger emotions. 

This is the only way to ensure that the recipients will share and spread this message themselves. It is therefore a matter of developing a momentum of its own that makes it possible to send messages around the world at high speed.

Viral Marketing: Characteristics and Success Factors

What does a message have to look like to become a viral hit? This is difficult to generalize because the decisive factor for success is often simply luck. Nevertheless, there are a few characteristics that an advertising message should definitely have. And these properties, and thus also success factors, are presented here in a bundle:


Your advertising message should contain a creative and preferably unique idea. Something that draws attention but is still easy to understand. You can also use the storytelling strategy for this and tell a story. This story should be perfectly placed around your product, brand, or service. It’s all about the perfect balance. Of course, the story or message has to be the centre of attention in order to attract attention, but it should not lose your actual focus in a targeted and subtle way.


Any good marketing strategy should be planned and follow a goal. This also applies to viral marketing. Although it is more difficult to follow a precise plan here, you still have to be strategic here. Which channels should be played? 

Where can the target group be found? Which is better to market my product, brand or service: a video, a photo or maybe just a text post? And can I easily integrate this format on my favourite channels? 

In particular, the selection of channels and the support of influencers or multipliers is an important part of viral marketing. It is also called seeding in technical jargon.


Nothing sticks in your head like touching stories. Whether they make us laugh or cry—or maybe both—messages like this don’t just spread faster. They also become better known through “word of mouth”. Because we tell friends, acquaintances, family or work colleagues what inspired us when we have the opportunity. Stories that we can identify with are particularly touching. So you shouldn’t neglect this aspect of your message either.


You can often create certain incentives to encourage users to spread the word. For example through sweepstakes. So if you share the post, the video etc., you can win something. However, because this quickly appears as an advertisement, this option is often dispensed with. So it’s up to you to decide whether and to what extent such an incentive could possibly harm your message.

Viral Marketing: Pros and Cons

Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. Also viral marketing. And that’s why we would like to present you with an overview of all the relevant advantages and disadvantages so that you can see and assess all the opportunities and risks at a glance.


If you compare viral marketing with other, classic marketing campaigns, the unbeatable advantages definitely include the low costs. Of course, this message has to be created and produced first, but it doesn’t cost anything to spread it via social networks. 

Of course, if you want to advertise your posts, you have to have a budget available for this, but a good and creative message can also do it without an advertising budget. So if you compare the costs with a TV spot or a nationwide poster advertising, the budget for viral marketing is convincing without exception.

In addition, viral marketing is very fast. Once in circulation, the message can spread rapidly. And at a speed that no other advertising measure allows. This means that you can reach your goal in a very short time, especially when the right multipliers are in play.

By spreading it to friends and acquaintances, viral marketing also achieves a significantly higher level of trust on the part of the recipient. Anyone who receives a video from a friend is more likely to watch it than when unknown companies spam their inbox.


Due to the spread of the Internet, measuring the success of the marketing campaign is more difficult. Data on purchases or an increase in awareness is difficult to draw conclusions about the viral marketing campaign. This means that a certain amount of research is necessary and that social media monitoring should also be carried out. For many marketers, these results are very important in order to get management approval for future campaigns.

Once in circulation, the viral marketing measure is hardly controllable or difficult to control. This circumstance means that there is always a certain risk. On the one hand, users can react negatively to your content and quickly trigger a shitstorm. On the other hand, of course, the opposite can also happen – namely nothing. No viral hit, no attention.

Viral Marketing: Successful Examples

A few marketing examples show that it can work wonderfully. We would like to briefly introduce you to three of the most successful viral marketing campaigns.


The so-called “Ice Bucket Challenge” started in 2014. Surely this will remain in many people’s minds. In principle, it was a kind of test of courage, which you poured over yourself with an ice bucket and then shared the video on social networks. 

At the end of the video, other friends were nominated to do the same. The aim of this campaign was to raise awareness of the incurable nervous disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and to generate donations. The Ice Bucket Challenge was not only shared on social media but also news channels and online magazines reported about it – and that worldwide.


Another viral hit was Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie at the 2014 Academy Awards. This selfie featured some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, such as Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. It was shot mid-show with TV cameras rolling and was posted directly to Ellen DeGeneres’s Twitter account. 

Thanks to the cross-media attention, the tweet received several million retweets and was seen all over the world. The highlight: The selfie was taken with a Samsung Galaxy Note, the sponsor of the award at the time. For the tremendous attention this tweet received, Samsung made available millions of dollars in charitable donations.

Viral Marketing – How To Spread Your Advertising Message


The YouTube video “First Kiss” also went around the world. In this video, ten couples kiss, but the special thing about it: they don’t know each other. The camera captures the couple’s first moments of getting to know each other, right through to their very first kiss. A very quiet video, but very touching. 

Because as a silent observers, the viewers are witnesses to a very intimate situation. And so many people liked it that this video went around the world and got over 100 million clicks. The initiator of the video is the fashion brand WREN. Although not the focus at any time, all couples wear clothing from this fashion brand and therefore only represent the brand very indirectly.

Conclusion: Viral marketing is more than a brilliant idea

As you have surely recognized, viral marketing cannot really be planned or controlled. Especially not nowadays. Because it doesn’t matter whether it’s TikTok, Instagram or other channels – there is always a trend or a challenge that competes with you and your marketing idea. Therefore, in addition to a brilliant idea, there is always a bit of luck involved.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about viral marketing

What is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing is a specific marketing strategy that marketers use to try to spread their messages across different channels, much like a virus. 

What is the goal of viral marketing?

The aim of this discipline is to “package” the message in such a way that it is interesting, exciting and entertaining. Whether text, image or video – ideally, the message should trigger emotions. This is the only way to ensure that the recipients will share and spread this message themselves.

What characteristics does a marketing campaign need to have in order to go viral?

Viral marketing should have the following characteristics:
– Creative and original idea
– Plan and goal
– Emotions and identification
– Incentives

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