Viral Marketing

If you dive deeper into the matter of marketing communication or sales policy, you will surely come across viral marketing. The concept includes various techniques and methods that are intended to encourage customers to pass on their own advertising communication concerning a product or service. It is aimed at consumers exchanging information through word of mouth marketing, the personal sharing of information about products and services.

This method allows the message to spread efficiently and quickly like a virus and is intended to enable exponential dissemination of advertising information, thereby increasing brand awareness.

This method has increased in effectiveness especially in today’s age of the Internet and social media since the speed of information exchange is far greater than before and consumers can communicate with one another very quickly. For example, content of the social news service Reddit can become rapidly viral, due to the large number of active users from about 190 countries who post and discuss texts and links. In addition, opinion leaders can be specifically addressed in a viral marketing campaign because they have a large network and thus can reach a large number of other potential customers.

Areas of applications[edit]

  • B2C (Business to Consumer)

Viral marketing works especially in areas where a constant communication exchange takes place. This category includes, for example, email users, social networks, chats or discussion forums. Platforms of this kind enable a continuous exchange of experiences and recommendations. However, customers who compete with others will not support this form of marketing. As an example, an online shop operator who benefits as a user from excellent search engine optimization software will not recommend it to others as it may potentially jeopardize his market position.

  • B2B (Business to Business)

As mentioned above, it can be assumed that companies do not exchange information relevant to each other for competitive purposes. It should be borne in mind that employees employed in a company are also involved in many other relationships, which may be of benefit to the exchange of information and experience. This category includes specialist associations for marketing, controlling or personnel who have members with the intention of making contacts or exchanging experiences.

In principle, however, the target group in which the specific message is communicated will be smaller. The challenge is that the content of the message has to be useful to the target group but does not affect the competition interests of individual companies.

Success factors[edit]

In order to generate success, the information must be of some use to both the sender and the recipient. Particularly suitable would be free services or products, as well as useful and entertaining information. Added to this is the use of motivators. Without the necessary motivators, there is no willingness to recommend something further. Too many motivators at once can, however, trigger defensive reactions in customers, which can result in deliberate manipulation of the system by the customer.

A simple way to forward newsletters or parts of content can increase the conversion rate (Conversion). Long forms, where personal data must be entered and which are time-consuming, reduce willingness. Last but not least, the company should count on a high level of traffic in the use of viral marketing measures. The offer, whether service or product, must be scalable. If, for example, a free download is available on the Internet, the server provided must also be able to withstand a large number of accesses.

The classic Hotmail example[edit]

The pioneer among viral marketing examples is the free e-mail service, which pursues a simple strategy. When the company was founded in 1996, it was agreed to include the following appendix in each e-mail sent via Hotmail:

Get Your Private, Free Email at

Hotmail had 12 million subscribers already after the first 1 1/2 years. The traditional print publication would reach around 100,000 subscribers within this period. Moreover, to get up to 12 million users, Hotmail expended less than 0.5 million US dollars for advertising and marketing. It’s competitor “Juno” used around 20 million US dollars and received only a fraction of the subscribers compared to Hotmail. Sometime later, an Indian joined the service and provided another 100,000 members within three weeks. 

Viral marketing examples[edit]

A viral video can spread rapidly when it is emotional, funny, innovative, or in some way touching. It will then get shared by consumers across a variety of platforms. Although the effects are not always scalable, it is clear that the scope of the partially hidden advertising message can suddenly be increased and the image of the company, the project or the campaign can be decisively shaped. Here is a small selection of very successful videos that have attracted great attention.

Volkswagen Darth Vader[edit]

The Volkswagen commercial has already reached more than 60,600,000 impressions, with a small Darth Vader trying out his magical powers on a Passat launched by his father with the remote control.

Evian Babies[edit]

This Evian commercial reached more than 77,600,000 impressions. It is intended to show the positive effects of Evian water on the human body. The leading actors are skating and break-dancing babies whose movements have been skillfully animated.

T-Mobile Dance[edit]

This viral commercial generated more than 39.580.000 impressions. It shows a flash mob dance at Liverpool Street Station. Hundreds of people record the event directly with their smartphones, likely to show it to other people, thus underlining the message “Life is for sharing.”

Video: T-Mobile Dance


Due to today’s popularity of viral marketing and the associated large number of emails arriving at potential customers, the likelihood of rejection is also great even if it is useful information. In addition, one should not forget that the reciprocal transmission of information and experience is not controllable and word of mouth of a dissatisfied customer is usually of greater extent than that of a satisfied customer.

Web Links[edit]