How do you Make a Marketing Campaign go Viral?
Answering the Million-Dollar Question

Have you ever stopped to think about how things go viral on the internet? From Grumpy Cat to the Ice Bucket Challenge and Gangnam Style? Why is it that certain content explodes and takes over the world and how do you replicate that? How do you make a marketing campaign go viral?

But first, what does it actually mean to go viral? ‘Viral’ is a term borrowed from the world of biology and the idea behind viral content (aka the Holy Grail of content marketers) is that it follows the rules of epidemics and viruses.

Think about it, certain ideas and phenomenon have the tendency to spread contagiously. Think about yawning for example. It has been proven that yawning is contagious to a certain extent. Just because you read ‘yawning’ twice in the last sentences and twice in this one, there is a chance that good few of you will actually yawn! Now if you are reading this in a shared office, for example and you yawn, the probability that a colleague of yours yawns as a consequence is quite high!

Viral content works on the same principle. It is contagious.

Now let’s get down to business.

At this point I would like to share some good and bad news with you. The bad news is that there is no one strategy or prescribed step-by-step guide that will make your marketing campaign go viral. Going viral is more of an art than science. You never really know what’s going to go viral.

The good news however is that upon examining a number of viral campaigns, content and ideas (I’ve seen a lot of cats on the internet in the last few days) I have found the common touch points between different types of viral content. These are the recommendations that would certainly help your campaign go viral.

Make People Look Good

The better something makes people look, the more likely they are to pass it on. It’s as simple as that! Think about the Ice Bucket Challenge. Did you do it? I know I did! I also know that for pretty much the whole of the summer my Facebook timeline was filled with people pouring buckets of ice water all over themselves. The idea was that if you do the Ice Bucket challenge, you also donate to charity. It makes you look like a good, caring and charitable person.

It is in our nature to share good news and deeds with friends and family. Just like the car we drive or the clothes on our back, the content we share affects how people perceive us.

Remember that next time you create an email marketing campaign for example. What type of content can you offer that will people look and feel good? Maybe posts like Did you know, Top 10 etc. If shared, this type of content makes the person sharing it look knowledgeable and well-informed. It also says ‘Hey, look at me. This is the type of interesting and informative reads I spend my time on’.

Emotion Provoking

Almost every viral campaign is somehow tied to a human emotion. Excitement, happiness, nostalgia, just pick one! Think about the Evian Baby & Me advert. It was hugely successful simply because it made people happy whilst the message (Evian water makes the body feel youthful) was closely tied to the campaign.

Think about the Galaxy Chocolate campaign featuring Audrey Hepburn. The ad plays on the nostalgic feelings about times gone by, the golden age of Hollywood and maybe even the taste of chocolate when you were a child.

How can you leverage this for your next campaign? How can you evoke emotion next time you create a social media campaign? I fully understand that you probably don’t have the marketing budget of Evian or Galaxy but, neither did Urban Hilton Weiner (a small South African clothing brand).

InTouchWhat Urban Hilton Weiner did was quite simple, but effective. They created an Instagram campaign offering customers $10 voucher for every selfie they post wearing their clothes and including the hashtag #urbanselfie. The results? Their sales went through the roof! Who doesn’t like a good selfie, they make us feel glamorous and special. All positive emotions the brand wanted to be associated with. Overnight the campaign went viral and Hilton Weiner acquired not only many new customers but also hundreds of brand advocates!

Can you emulate this strategy for your next campaign?

Current Events

Aim to create content that is timely, relevant and in tune with current events. Be it pop culture, news or sports events make sure your content and campaigns are on trend. What content can you create that observes and comments on a recent event? There was plenty of content around football during the World Cup. This was our angle on it, for example. Can you create something similar for your business?

In most cases viral content ties to an event. Public and national holidays are perfect examples! Think about the Coca Cola Christmas campaign that has been not only hugely successful but also it has gone pretty unchanged for years! Christmas is just around the corner (precisely 62 days away). I suggest you start planning your next campaign accordingly!

Make it Shareable

Social Media can really help you to improve your website trafficThis one is another obvious one but for a campaign to go viral it needs to be sharable. Sharable content is often the key to success in the case of many bloggers and vloggers (video and YouTube bloggers). Have a look at Mashable. Today cited as one of the most powerful blogs out there, Mashable was launched in 2005 in the humble surroundings of the then 19 year old founder Pete Cashmore’s flat in Aberdeen, Scotland. His high-quality, relevant, informative and sharable content is the reason people felt compelled to not only visit Mashable, but also pass on the information they discovered there.

So make sure you make it Social media friendly (nice, HQ images are a must), include social links so people can share instantly and make sure the heading of your campaign/email/post is sweet and short.

Keep it Simple

Most viral campaigns are simple and straight-forward. Nothing too complicated or too many ‘coded’ messages. Say it as it is. The idea behind viral marketing is that it should be appealing to a broad spectrum of people and (hopefully) it will be seen by a large number of different people, so a simple to understand message that many can relate to is a must.

These are the top recommendations on how to make a marketing campaign go viral. Just remember, viral marketing is like succeeding in Hollywood: every actor wants to do it, only a few succeed. You do the best you can do and hopefully success (and many many shares) will follow!

One last thing before you go. I am curious, did you yawn?

About Matthew Ruddle

Matt is one of the UK's Best Lead Nurturing Experts, with a proven track record in helping businesses achieve results through the power of lead nurturing. Helping clients to not only understand Lead Nurturing but to design and build campaigns for the best results. Having worked with the likes of Rugby World Cup 2015, RFU, Swansea City FC, Lords Cricket Ground, Xerox and many more, Matt brings a wealth of knowledge and skills to every project


  1. Matthew Ruddle
    24 October 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Excellent topic and post Didi. I came across a fantastic example of a concept designed for viral – David’s Tea in Canada and their #selftea campaign Check it out 🙂

    • Matthew Ruddle
      24 October 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Definitely will! Thank you for the kind comment Mark!

  2. Matthew Ruddle
    26 October 2014 at 12:41 am

    Great observations and examples Didi. I especially liked the Urban Hilton Weiner campaign example. Many will try to create truly viral campaigns. Few will succeed. Those that do will have many iterations before striking viral gold. Your have nailed many of the common elements of viral campaigns.The other key elements include creativity, persistence, willingness to test and perhaps some luck.

    • Matthew Ruddle
      28 November 2014 at 12:33 pm

      Thank you for the kind comment @ricknoelebizroiinc:disqus! You are absolutely right that quite a few people will try to create viral campaigns and only a few of them will succeed, however as long as you are really trying and putting all your effort in, you will eventually get there.