Viral Marketing Initiatives

As several experts in the marketing field, including Jonah Berger, say going viral is not about luck or chance, instead there’s a science behind it (Schawbel, 2013).

What makes a marketing initiative go viral?

  • Content itself (subject)
  • Relevancy
  • Emotion
  • Interaction
  • Social Currency

The content itself is what will help drive the whole ad into the social world. It must be able to spark interest in consumers and there needs to be a target market in mind as well. If the target market doesn’t get the message or doesn’t care, odds are it will not go viral. The ad needs to be relevant to consumers. It can either relate to current events, time of the year, trends, etc.

Emotion is very important in making content go viral as it drives consumers to share it with their friends. This can be humor, sadness, anger, etc, but it really does depend. Negative emotions like sadness decrease sharing, but it’s not so much about the positive or negative than it is about arousal – in what feelings it evokes in consumers to pass things on (Nicholson, 2013). There are countless viral ads that depict examples of evoking emotions in consumers and the one I picked is with the Jeff Gordon prank by Pepsi MAX. In this video, Jeff Gordon is disguised while taking a car for a test drive with a salesman. Now because Jeff Gordon is a professional racer, he drives the car very wild while the salesman is freaking out inside. The idea of this ad was to present how Pepsi MAX is a zero-calorie drink in disguise as well. Click here to watch the video. This ad provoked a lot of humor in consumers, which helped it go viral. Pepsi utilized hash tag to help spread this video by including #GordonTestDrive in the description on You Tube (Pepsi, 2013).

Another good aspect is interactivity. Consumers will get more out of content if they can interact in some way, whether that’s clicking on a link or commenting. Interactivity helps consumers connect more with the company or brand. It allows them to feel like they can contribute in some way if the interaction involves commenting for example. A good example for this is one of the first examples in viral marketing, Hotmail. When Hotmail users would send out an email, the bottom of every email contained a message stating “get your free email at Hotmail”, where users could click on that link and they were taken to Hotmail to either sign up or find out more information (Bianchi, 2012). This is a great example of interaction as users could click on a link in which they were taken to then be signed up with the company and be more involved with the brand.

Social currency is actually a good idea Jonah Berger had in his research, which is “the idea that people share things that make them look good” (Schawbel, 2013). So users can share information that will make them seem like they are smart or up on the latest trends. An example of social currency is with the Dove Real Beauty video. This ad features women coming in to describe themselves to an artist, of which many women pick out their negative facial features. Before doing so these women first met another woman involved in the ad and they were asked to describe her as well, which many women described their positive features. The women were then shown both sketches (the one they described and the one described by another woman). The one described by another person was much closer to the real than how the women described themselves. The overall message Dove portrayed with this ad is the idea that “you are more beautiful than you think” (Gray, 2013). This ad can help others feel good about themselves and want to spread that same message to their friends as well. Dove also helped make this ad more social by tagging it with their whole Real Beauty campaign and using a hash tag to help in the conversation (DoveUnitedStates, 2013).

There are several aspects that can help a campaign go viral including the overall content, the relativity, emotion, interaction, and social currency. All of these and many other factors are what contribute into consumers seeing these videos on a daily basis and hearing about news reports about the latest video that went viral. We live in a social world that just wants to keep sharing and companies will keep taking advantage of that!  



Bianchi, L. (2012 August 7). How Hotmail became a viral hit once. Retrieved from:

DoveUnitedStates. (2013 April 14). Dove real beauty sketches [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Gray, E. (2013 April 16). Dove’s ‘real beauty sketches’ ad campaign tell women ‘you’re more beautiful than you think’ (video). Retrieved from:

Nicholson, C. (2013 May 17). Q&A: Jonah Berger, Wharton marketing guru, on what makes things go viral. Retrieved from:

Pepsi. (2013 March 12). Pepsi MAX & Jeff Gordon present: “Test drive” [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Schawbel, D. (2013 April 25). Jonah Berger: How to make your marketing campaign go viral. Forbes. Retrieved from:


4 thoughts on “Viral Marketing Initiatives

  1. Very nice job breaking down what makes up a viral marketing campaign! I thought that the way in which you went into detail about the science behind a viral campaign held a lot of content and it allows for readers to further understand all that can go into viral marketing. Using the Dove Real Beauty video was a great example of viral marketing, nice job!

  2. Nice job on your blog. I see in a lot of viral campaigns that human emotion is probably the biggest factor in making them go viral. Like the humerous Jeff Gorden Pepsi Max commercial ot the heartfelt Dove commercial you described. I think the rest of the social media strategy are just “tools” used to get the media out but it is emotion that is key.

  3. The Dove Real Beauty campaign is a great example of a viral marketing initiative. The campaign really made consumers think twice about what defines beauty to oneself and how beauty is defined by others. The Dove campaign had an emotional element and became very soicalble across social media with consumers tweeting the video to their followers and tagging their tweets to discuss the video further.

  4. Love it!!! Very interesting campaign on Dove’s behalf.. there is a deep understanding of this beauty secret that Dove displays here that makes people think how they are compared to what they are actually perceived by others to look like… it makes you wonder and want to get involved in the video. As a sketch artist too (who looked into doing this type of FBI sketch artist work) its interesting and love the work they put into the scene.

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