The Best Viral Marketing Examples
Many viral ad campaigns have capitalized on the massive popularity of viral videos. A viral video is a bit of online media that becomes a sensation and all of these viral marketing examples are proof of it.
People pass the links around to each other, and the video acquires a much larger audience than its makers expected it to garner. It needs to have a special quality that lends it to multiple viewings.
Advertisers have been smart to embrace viral videos. Attaching a brand name to a video is a great way for a company to expose itself to people who might not otherwise be interested in that brand.
The problem with trying to use a viral video to advertise a product is that you cannot always anticipate what will become a hit. A video goes viral because there is something new or exciting about it that resonates with people.
Viral videos are usually random in ways that are antithetical to carefully calibrated marketing campaigns. Successful companies are not generally willing to take risks when it comes to advertising.
There is no market research that would be able to dictate exactly what people want to see in a video. The whole point is that people want to see something that they have not seen before.
The best viral marketing campaign examples made this list in large part due to luck. Many of these brands released multiple videos, most of which failed to become sensations.
Update Nov 2014: I have to include the following example.
*ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Viral Marketing Example
The ALS association didn’t invent the ice bucket challenge, but they sure did took advantage of it to create an awesome viral marketing campaign that “soaked the world”. A couple of months before they “re-branded” the whole thing, people were simply throwing ice on their knuckle heads to avoid having to donate $100 to their “favorite” charity (not so favorite if they were trying to avoid the donation).
This was very blunt, but the challenge shifted, it wasn’t just a challenge or bet anymore, it was a caritative action. Instead of “…or donate a hundred bucks” it was “…AND donate” and not to just any charity, it was branded now, it was “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge”.
Huge celebrities and entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates were doing it. (Gates did a pretty unique and elaborate one by the way).
I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more challenge-wise viral marketing examples in the future, because I can’t think of any other one with an impact such as this one, although the examples below were very good too, but the fact that this one had people actually acting, participating and creating viral content is what made it huge.
Evian found great success with its Roller Babies campaign, which is the most-viewed viral advertisement of all time.
The video consists of computer-animated babies doing a rollerskating routine to The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.”
The video has been viewed nearly 70 million times to date. The content of the video is only tangentially related to the Evian brand.
The babies perform their routine after a title card indicates that drinking Evian water would make you feel as young and energetic as those babies.
This is one of the best viral marketing campaign examples because despite the video’s massive popularity, Evian’s sales actually dropped drastically.
This illustrates the difference between a viral video and a successful ad campaign. Just because millions of people watched the Roller Babies video does not mean that those people proceeded to go out and buy bottled water.
People are amused by the rollerskating babies but do not necessarily connect that imagery to the Evian brand. It is possible that the target audience for a video of animated babies is not the same demographic of people who would ever by Evian water under any circumstances. The footage of the babies was no more relevant to Evian than it would have been to any brand.
2. Burger King
Burger King’s Subservient Chicken is noteworthy because it was interactive. Unlike Evian, Burger King managed to come up with a viral concept that related to its products without being a literal representation of anything it sells.
Specifically, the Subservient Chicken was part of the 2004 launch campaign for the TenderCrisp sandwich. Though the website for the Subservient Chicken was targeted toward young men, people of all ages and genders visited it.
The site was meant to resemble adult webcam sites, which is why it resonated with men. The goal was to reach people who would not see commercials for the TenderCrisp on television because they were too busy watching videos on the Internet.
When you typed commands into the website, a person dressed in a chicken suit would follow those commands. The site was very clever because it seemed to anticipate all possible commands; the person in the chicken suit had been filmed previously, and that was the footage that you saw when you wanted to watch the chicken performing certain actions.
The website tied into the product’s “chicken the way you want it” tagline while providing entertainment value to people who were not interested in the TenderCrisp sandwich.
3. The Blair Witch Project
The Blair Witch Project ranks among the best viral marketing campaign examples because it was the first mainstream film to tap into the potential of the Internet. When the film was released in 1999, social media profiles did not exist yet, nor did user-friendly video platforms like YouTube.
The website for The Blair Witch Project created an air of mystery around the film. The premise of the film is that it is comprised of real documentary footage of an unsuccessful search for the truth behind an urban legend.
The viral campaign was so successful that to this day, some people still believe that the footage is authentic. In reality, the film starred hired actors who followed a loose script and filmed themselves on hand-held cameras.
The fake police reports on the website looked legitimate, and the timeline of the legend of the Blair Witch was detailed enough to convince nearly everyone who saw the film that, even if the footage was not real, it was surely based on an extant urban myth.
It was almost necessary to visit the website before seeing the film because the film, presented as an unedited and uncut stream of footage pulled straight from a camera, does not include a complete retelling of the central myth.
The thoroughness of the website makes the movie seem more authentic as an unfinished work. Another aspect of The Blair Witch Project’s website that makes it one of the best viral marketing campaign examples of all time is that its success was utterly accidental.
The previous two campaigns aimed to reach the built-in consumer bases of major corporations. The site for The Blair Witch Project was meant to be an inexpensive marketing tool for an independent film that had not advertising budget.
It is easy to forget that The Blair Witch Project was made for only a few thousand dollars and was never expected to be a major hit. Instead of paying for television commercials, the studio opted to set up and maintain a website.
The site went viral after the film premiered at Sundance. Early reviews of the movie were positive, and major media outlets began reporting on the site, which sparked a public discourse about whether the events in the film were true or not.
It is important to note that, in lieu of other forms of advertising, most of the early press about the film was actually about the website.
In the pre-Wikipedia age, it was very difficult to get straight answers about the so-called legend of the Blair Witch. People became wrapped up in the mystique surrounding the film and felt like they needed to see it to find out the truth.
4. Old Spice
There is no specific name for the 2010 Old Spice ad campaign that featured the handsome man who purported to speak directly to women when he said, “Your man could smell like me.” A single 30-second commercial effectively reinvented the Old Spice brand for a new generation.
Though the commercial was only advertising Old Spice’s body wash, it made all of the brand’s products seem cool and sexy.
The video went viral because it was seemingly shot in one take while the man listed all of the reasons why he is more desirable than any of the viewers’ partners. While he spoke, the background changed behind him, transporting him from a bathroom to a boat and then to a tropical beach.
His wardrobe changes slightly with each transition, and in one impressive instance, a seashell containing concert tickets falls away to reveal a towering cascade of diamonds.
When the camera pulls away for a final transition, the floor of the boat falls away, and the man is lifted up by the horse he is now riding.
The ad is a stunning feat of digital imagery, which is why it was viewed and imitated so many times. The final line of the commericial is, “I’m on a boat.” It is a humorous non-sequitor that spawned a meme, or an Internet trend, of people photographing themselves on funny objects while holding authoritative postures.
The man in the commercial, Isaiah Mustafa, became a legitimate celebrity in the aftermath of the ad’s popularity. The ad helped transform Old Spice from a brand that many people associated with their grandfathers into one that younger people felt spoke to them.
The cheeky, surreal nature of the ad placed Old Spice on par with other teen-oriented personal care brands like Axe. This commercial is unique among the best viral marketing campaign examples because it is so inextricably tied to the product it is promoting. It is a testament to Mustafa’s charisma and the unique concept of the ad that it worked as a literal commercial.
5. OK Go’s
OK Go’s video for the song “Here It Goes Again” was one of the first music videos to gain popularity due to online views, as opposed to being played on television. The 2006 video was filmed in one take and at virtually no cost.
It depicts all four members of the band performing a complicated dance routine on moving treadmills. Like the Old Spice ad, this music video inspired imitators to film themselves performing the treadmill dance.
The video’s lo-fi look and concept suited the band’s indie aesthetic and fed into the narrative of an underdog band becoming famous for making a goofy video in a gym.
This video deserves its status as one of the best viral marketing campaign examples because its success was a watershed moment for the entire music industry.
These days, artists make music videos under the assumption that they will only be viewed on YouTube.
Television rotation is no longer a concern for the large majority of recording artists. They know that their videos will probably never be played on music channels, so they make videos for their fans to pass around in miniature viral campaigns of their own.
Even hugely successful artists like Lady Gaga value Internet play over television play. Lady Gaga makes extended versions of her videos exclusively for web channels.
OK Go’s success is doubly interesting when you factor in the band’s current status as a one hit wonder. Like most viral sensations, the band has not been able to recreate the success of its first big hit.
The landscape of popular music is littered with one hit wonders, and it is a given that most bands will not have sustained success. This is not true of major corporations, who need to maintain high sales rates. Unlike businesses, a band can either fade away or move on to other promotional tactics after having a viral hit.
Lost was so popular during its initial run that it launched the sci-fi genre into the mainstream. Before Lost, sci-fi was the realm of geeks. Superhero films and shows about aliens and zombies are currently considered cool because of Lost.
The show also proved that audiences were interested in long-form storytelling with complicated plots that lead to huge finale payoffs. Its early promotion was fairly similar to that of The Blair Witch Project, at least conceptually.
It made audiences curious about the show by revealing as little as possible. In fact, the island setting made many viewers think that they were tuning into a reality show at first.
Lost was the sort of show that inspired deep analysis and discussion, so the ABC network released The Lost Experience in 2006.
It gave fans new information to talk about during the summer hiatus, including details about the show’s fictional Hanso Foundation and clues to the meaning behind the show’s mysterious repeating number combination. The campaign flattered fans’ intelligence by giving them phone numbers to call in cryptic commercials. When fans called the numbers, they were told to visit various websites.
By giving fans the opportunity to solve online mysteries related to their favorite show, ABC created a captive audience for advertising. The Lost Experience kept the previous season’s plot fresh in fans’ minds and built anticipation for the following season’s premiere.
7. The 2008 elections
The 2008 election proved how pervasive online marketing had become. This is one of the best viral marketing campaign examples to be an offshoot of equally large and expensive campaigns in other forms of media. For once, online marketing was not used in lieu of television or radio ads.
Obama’s youthful and personable public image lent itself to promo tools like Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
The other candidates could not be so easily pictured posting status updates. You were made to feel that you were doing your patriotic duty by spreading the latest updates about his campaign.
When Obama won, he implicitly shared the credit with everyone who had even a minimal awareness of his online presence. By embracing social media, Obama made himself seem trustworthy.
People felt as if they could relate to him. Those are important qualities for a president to possess. The simple act of signing up for a Twitter account made Americans confident in Obama’s ability to adequately serve and represent them.
The best viral marketing campaign examples inspire multiple views or visits. They reach people who might not end up buying whatever is being sold. They become their own subjects of pop culture fascination.
When you buy the a products, you become a participant in its meme. Just like you shared President Obama’s Facebook status updates, you insert yourself into cultural moments just by being a consumer.
The impact of viral campaigns is significant, even if you believe that advertisements do not qualify as valuable media.
Just like commercial jingles and cartoon cereal mascots, viral campaigns are memorable because they dovetail with forms of entertainment that people already enjoy.
Viral marketing campaigns are the natural result of the proliferation of DIY media projects and social network usage. When you share viral campaigns, you are entertaining your friends and doing PR departments’ jobs for them.
Do you think you could apply these methods to your online business? Share your thoughts below!