Viral advertising: mega effect at low cost

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Viral advertising is the holy grail of marketing. Everyone dreams that millions of people around the world will spontaneously speak about it. On the other hand, it carries with it some risks that must be considered before starting the campaign.  

Viral advertising is a phenomenon and at the same time a sign of our times. This is not an era of expensive campaigns devised for months by traditional advertising agencies. Instead, it is increasingly necessary to act quickly, responding to current trends and using the most fashionable platforms.

What is viral advertising? 

Viral (or Viral) Advertising spreads like a virus - this analogy is especially easy to understand after 2020. The carrier here are individual Internet users who spontaneously pass on a meme or a clip, distributing it to the farthest corners of the web. Viral advertising would not exist without social media, which are also invaluable in this case sales support as well as a range building tool.  

To some extent, viral advertising still spreads in the real world among friends, or via messages sent from one person to another. Mainly, however, is based on social media platforms. One share means hundreds of viewers, many of whom may decide to pass the message on to hundreds of more friends ... 

Viral Advertising - Definition

The wide access to the Internet and the enormous possibilities of using it mean that not only enterprises, but also users create content and pass it on. Organizations took advantage of this situation to create an informal way of marketing communication adopted as viral advertising.

The definition of this concept indicates, first of all, the specificity of this type of marketing, which consists in initiating a situation in which it is the users themselves who send information about our products or services. It's an ad that spreads by itself because it's so interesting and grabs the attention of potential customers. It quickly gains popularity, which increases the number of its recipients. Various forms are used for this, such as movies, photos, animations, and even online games.

There are many translations for what exactly viral marketing or viral advertising is. The definitions always focus on encouraging the audience to spread this advertisement via the Internet to increase brand, product, service awareness as well as increase sales. So it should be remembered that it is a form of online marketing that uses various digital media, such as: Instagram, Tik tok or Youtube. The detail is in the word "virus" - just like among diseases, just like in the case of product information - it spreads like an avalanche, at a rapid pace, reaching as many people as possible.

What is the purpose of viral advertising?

Defining your goal should always be the first step in your marketing efforts. A well-thought-out, detailed goal will provide a solid foundation for your marketing. Thanks to it, you can efficiently and effectively manage your campaign and ultimately achieve great success in the market.

And what does it look like in viral marketing? Viral marketing can bring more benefits than traditional forms of promotion. Why? Because well prepared and skillfully conducted, it will generate considerable ranges. Viral marketing is about getting users to pass on new information themselves. The aim is therefore to create such content that will be inspiring, attractive to the target group. Viral marketing is, in a way, advertising without advertising. It's a tactic to initiate a chain reaction around the content. Its interesting specificity allows you to gain great publicity in a short time and at the same time at a low cost. Viral advertising will easily create a demand for a product or service.

Viral marketing can be a great way to build a brand - also at the beginning of its existence. A well-planned one will make more people learn about the company, its products or services. This is a great way to gain popularity and gain new, loyal customers.

Viral advertising is a kind of word of mouth marketing. In both cases, the aim is to elicit a reaction from the recipient and make him disseminate the information. The difference is in the way it works. In viral marketing, the attractiveness of the message is important. The task of advertising is to interest and inspire the recipient in such a way that he would like to pass it on. What counts in word of mouth marketing is getting users to discuss a specific product. Word of mouth and viral marketing are not mutually exclusive. Both forms can be an element marketing strategy.

Viral advertising can be really effective. However, in order for it to bring good results, creativity and knowledge of the market and society's needs are necessary. A well-structured message will attract the interest of users who engage in its dissemination.

How to effectively use viral advertising?

In the era of high competitiveness, small companies have to put a lot of work into winning over the biggest giants. The limitation for less known brands is low promotional budgets. Fortunately, by using what the Internet offers us, you can stand out without large financial outlays. All we need is an idea!

Viral advertising is a way to arouse interest in a brand, to make hype around the company, its products or services, and to attract new customers. There are no hard and fast rules in creating viral marketing. Creativity counts! Marketers can let their imagination run wild and get a little crazy with the message. However, it is important to remember about a few important rules.

Viral advertising

First of all, you need to choose the right form of advertising. The message must be relevant to the distribution channel. Each medium has its own rules and has its own specificity. The key to creating posts that will reach hundreds (or even millions) of people is creating content in line with the specificity - for example, inspiring Instagram graphics. We cannot forget about matching the message to the target group.


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The preparation of a viral advertisement should be preceded by an in-depth analysis of the recipients. The company should learn about the group's features, values, interests and preferences. It is worth finding out what makes them laugh, what touches them, what is outrageous, what interests them. Detailed research will help to create an accurate message - one that will "click".

Viral advertising has to be emotional. It can amuse, move or delight. The message should be brilliant, original, memorable, and positive. An example of such advertising is the Allegro viral campaign "What are you looking for in Christmas?", Which touched millions of people. The advertisement showed an elderly man who, thanks to online purchases, overcomes his own limitations - in the presented case, the obstacle was not knowing English. The protagonist of the spot bought language learning materials, meticulously learned new words and phrases, and thanks to this, he was able to go to a family living abroad to finally meet his granddaughter who does not speak Polish.

Viral Marketing

The attractiveness of the content is of great importance. The message has to interest the audience in some way. Internet users are inundated with a variety of information from each side and only stop at those posts that stand out from the rest. In viral marketing, only inspiring, catchy ideas that combine advertising with entertainment in a subtle way count. Promotion of the brand / product is embedded in a context interesting for Internet users. And thanks to this, it is effective!

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Viral ads have a lot to do with RTM - real-time marketing. The message should relate to current, hot topics. It makes people willing to share it. A brand that makes good use of RTM is IKEA. An example of an advertisement referring to trends is an infographics advertising a chair brand "HARRY" with the note "Don't worry, Harry is still available". The slogan alludes to the wedding of Prince Harry.

Viral Marketing Mistakes

Properly planned, creative and well-implemented viral advertising will provide the brand with fame and popularity. Unfortunately, if prepared in an incompetent way, it can do more harm than good. What can be done wrong?

The first mistake is the illegibility of the message or the lack of a message beneficial from the sender's point of view. Pseudo-fun content that does not contain anything important does not refer to the brand in any way or its offer will not be effective. Viral advertising has to be "about something." It must present interesting content and present the brand, product or service in a subtle way.

What counts in viral marketing?

Creativity counts in viral marketing - but not at any cost! Balancing on the edge of offending someone, content that pigeonholes a given social group, harms someone's dignity, hurts feelings or is negative are out of place. When posting a viral ad, we must remember that we will not be able to control it.

Therefore, we must act sensitively and with good taste. We can laugh at ourselves, joke at the competition in a safe way (if our market image, industry and recipients allow it), and at the same time remember to be professional.

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Another mistake is the mismatch between the message and the brand image. Social media content spreads like viruses (and this is also the idea behind viral marketing). That is why you need to create them carefully. Careless fasting can ruin a meticulously constructed one brand image in social media. Why put yourself in such a danger?

Sales shouldn't be driving viral marketing. Brazen promotion does not match the assumptions of such marketing. The element identifying the brand should be presented in a subtle way. An example is viral ads with a humorous color. Internet users, amused by the message, will share the post, thinking primarily about its humorous values, and not about the fact that in this way they promote the brand, its product or service.

Other mistakes in viral marketing include:

  • throwing yourself into deep water, i.e. sharing a post without first testing its effectiveness on a small group of people,
  • mismatch of viral advertising with the target group,
  • inappropriate advertising format, not adapted to the distribution channel,
  • playing on the feelings of the audience in a negative way.

Where will you come across viral advertising? 

Viral advertising spreads through broadly understood social media. This can be: Twitter, Tik-Tok, Facebook or Pinterest. Content aggregators are other channels on which viral advertising spreads. Examples include Dig or 9gag. Additionally, users can provide each other content via instant messaging: Messenger, e-mail or Whatsapp.  

When the phenomenon or advertising becomes really loud, references are additionally made to movies or series, and even to the news. It is analyzed by industry and marketing portals. This further extends the reach to people who are not online or have missed the message there. 

Advantages and disadvantages of viral advertising 

The great advantage of viral advertising is its low production cost. It can be a meme or a photo that can be created in minutes. Sometimes so spontaneous marketing strategy gains recognition thanks to its directness and naturalness. You don't spend anything on advertising - customers tell the world about your campaign, sometimes acting as a brand ambassador. In this way, viral advertising can be part of wider activities in areas such as referral marketing or influencer marketing. It is your customers who say good about the company, and you don't have to do it anymore. Many viral campaigns of this type brought tangible marketing benefits. What's more, customers to this day are not aware that they were dealing with an advertisement. 

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In the world of artists, it is said that no matter how, it is important that they say (and do not twist the name). This principle also applies to business to some extent. However, you don't want your company or product to be synonymous with bad taste and a joke. Viral advertising can be unpredictable. It happened, for example, that a clip of one of the state-owned companies went online as an example of ineptitude and backwardness. Then a competitor made a sensation by parodying a clunky ad campaign, and one writer, describing a hopeless campaign by a state tycoon and his other sins, caused her readers to cry with laughter. Those who did not yet know him from the wrong side had the opportunity to learn about all his shortcomings. 

Viral advertising - what to watch out for? 

There is a lot of talk about the phenomenon of unverified information, fake news, and even deep fake, in which it is possible to imitate a recording with a famous person, using samples of her voice or adding words that she did not say. One must therefore be vigilant so that viral advertising (original and risky by definition) does not duplicate harmful half-truths or stereotypes. The viral spreading in social media, especially when the content relates to, for example, health, can be compared to a forest fire, in which damage occurs quickly with just one match, and the losses can be enormous. A Polish blogger made a video suggesting that he was a guest on the famous Ellen Degeneres show. Indeed, it got loud about him, and a harmless joke did not hurt the talk-show star. However, one can imagine a situation where impersonating a star or a politician in viral advertising will have serious consequences. 

Examples of viral advertising

Does viral advertising work? Just have a look at the most viral photos on Instagramto find out that among them there are many that were created in cooperation with person X or as a result of a campaign. These include a cute photo of a singer drinking Coca-Cola (over 4 million likes) or reality show stars dressed as Givenchy (14 million likes). 

Often, in content aggregators, you can come across viral memes and photos presenting an unusual use of the product or an amazing recipe. Usually, users pass on pictures showing a Nutella cake or Oreo milkshake without being aware that this type of viral advertisement is often created in cooperation with bloggers or is created directly in an advertising agency on behalf of the brand. Sometimes viral advertising takes the form of touching stories about a brave company employee or infographics showing interesting facts about the brand.

Viral advertising - how is it done?

Viral advertising most often spreads organically. Marketers who bet communication channels and strategies only affect the spread of content to a certain extent. Does that mean it's not worth trying? On the contrary! You have to create good, interesting and potential content vortexand even invest skillfully in Google Ads or advertising on social media to promote this content. Then the chance that users will spontaneously pass them on increases. 

Viral advertising must also be fast. Here again, mobile content-marketing agencies from the network or their own employee who understands social-media have an advantage over a traditional media house. We all associate advertisements based on a fashionable slogan, but ... with a delay of many months. Then the effect may be just opposite to the intended one. It can cause indifference or even worse: the embarrassment of the viewer who sees today a clip referring to IceBucket Challange or a meat hedgehog ... 

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