Why It’s Impossible to Make Viral Marketing Happen


Every business dreams of having a video or article go viral, spreading like a beneficial bout of the flu and reaching millions or even billions without spending an extra dollar on marketing. When it happens, it’s electrifying; you’re deluged with visitors, your phone won’t stop ringing and your site analytics scramble for new parameters to track the geometric rise in site traffic. Like a bolt of lightning, you can’t predict where it’ll strike – but you can increase your chances of drawing that lightning.

Know Your Odds

You may have heard that about 48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, but that’s outdated; according to YouTube’s figures alone, the site receives about 100 hours of video uploaded per minute. That doesn’t include newcomers like Twitter’s Vine and Instagram Video. When you consider the torrent of images potentially pouring into viewers’ homes, offices and mobile devices, you realize just how slim the chances of hitting on the right formula to go viral can be.

It can happen, certainly. Grumpy Cat and Maru have become Internet celebrities and earned their owners tidy sums with commercial appearances and movie deals. Mentos have become almost as sought after for producing cola geysers as for freshening breath. Geico has a great track record of making memorable videos linked to its various ad campaigns. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign relies on highly shareable, discussable videos as an integral part of the marketing strategy.

All of these examples, though, involve major money, happenstance or adorable cats. If you don’t want to spend a fortune or turn Tiger into the next Internet superstar, you’ll have to depend on luck. While no one who’s honest can guarantee that your marketing campaign will go viral, you can increase your odds.

Viral Marketing Must-Haves: No, It Isn’t Just Cats

  • Make your audience feel. Powerful emotions, even negative ones, move people to talk about and share your content. While you probably don’t want to go for pure shock value – although that’s an option some organizations choose – you do want to give your audience something that stirs them enough to discuss.
  • Be surprising. We’re hard-wired to be fascinated by the unexpected. Whether it’s a candy dropped in a bottle of diet soda, a stunning statistic in an infographic or an insightful extended metaphor, showing your audience something new and surprising is a winning move.
  • Go beyond advertising. Your audience is bombarded with countless advertising messages in an average day; if you’re trying to compete by shouting down those messages with an even louder appeal for attention, you stand a good chance of losing. This is where meaningful content helps; by giving customers something empowering, insightful or controversial instead of just another advertising message, you’ve engaged their minds and hearts.
  • Let users share it easily. There’s no point in creating an integrated content strategy with the full complement of videos, feature articles and newsletters if your audience can’t easily pass along your well-crafted content. Viral marketing is only viral when it’s sufficiently contagious, so make it easy for people to spread it far and wide.
  • Know your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Viral marketing may seem as though it’s everywhere, but it starts with a highly specific audience – a small number of key vectors who act as your collective patient zero. Netflix successfully marketed its exclusive season of “Arrested Development” with images that appealed to the show’s most avid fans. Those who were in on the visual jokes couldn’t wait to share them.
  • Respect them, too. That’s a lesson Sony’s viral marketing specialists at Zipatoni infamously forgot when advertising the company’s new PSP hand-held gaming system for Christmas a few years ago. To reach young buyers, the company created what appeared to be a viral video series with a couple of teens who wanted the system for Christmas. Unfortunately, the viral campaign featured a video with a “teen” who looked about 32 and posts filled with synthetic chat-room slang. Teens and gamers didn’t buy into the artificial attempt to go viral, and the Federal Trade Commission issued an opinion letter about the lack of transparency in the campaign.

No one can make viral marketing happen, but when you respect your audience, surprise them, make them care about what you’re saying and give them easy ways to pass the message to others, you can maximize your chances of creating something bigger than the sum of its parts.

© Business Content, Inc. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

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