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Viral marketing: what is it, advantages, disadvantages and examples?

Viral marketing: what is it, advantages, disadvantages and examples

How about impacting an audience of millions of people, without needing to buy space in the media?

It seems like a great way to elevate your business and expose your brand, right?

Well, you can do it with viral marketing.

The strategy that has been successful among small and large companies. A good way to stand out in the market.

You probably must have already shared some viral content on social networks.

But can you tell me exactly what this means?

Don’t worry, throughout this article you will understand everything about viral marketing.

Also, learn about the advantages of investing in this strategy and some successful examples.

What is viral marketing?

Viral marketing is a strategy focused on creating a piece or campaign that reaches a large number of transmissions, visits and shares, in a short space of time.

In one word, viral.

Although the word virus commonly has a negative connotation, in this case, the term viral refers in particular to the way it is spread.

The idea is to produce creative, impactful content and reach a wide audience quickly, through a message that causes the epidemic effect of a virus.

The use of this strategy increased with the emergence of social media. But the first viral marketing action is attributed to the Hotmail provider.

The email service included a mandatory message at the end of each email sent by its users, which said:

“Hotmail: Powerful Free email with security by Microsoft. Get it now”.

The translation would go something like this: “Hotmail: powerful and free with Microsoft security. Get it now”.

Imagine that one person e-mails 10 others. These 10, in turn, send 10 more, and so on.

At the end of the day, Microsoft would be able, at no cost and with little effort, to reach out and “infect” large numbers of people with its message.

And that is the representation of viral marketing: making people share content spontaneously, without demanding great effort from the public or the company.

With that simple message and offering a free product, Hotmail became one of the most used email services around the world.

Viral marketing versus buzz marketing

When talking about viral marketing it is also common to hear about buzz marketing.

Although many believe that it is the same thing, the strategies have some differences that I will highlight here.

Buzz means whisper.

Therefore, the objective of buzz marketing is to generate impact, encourage people with the action of a product or service and get them to comment on it from all sides.

The main difference between buzz and viral marketing lies in the message.

Viral marketing focuses on telling a story and conveying a message with greater meaning.

In other words, a type of communication that goes beyond the product or service itself.

Buzz marketing aims to create a kind of chaos, to attract immediate attention, without being interested in spreading a specific message.

The important thing about the buzz strategy is to provoke reactions in the public, good or bad, assuming the risk of causing controversy.

Now that you understand the difference, you are ready to create your strategy.

Structure of the viral marketing strategy

A viral marketing piece or campaign, as well as any other type of advertising, is not just about content.

There is a set of decisions and actions that contribute to this going viral.

In short, the strategy needs to have a structure for the piece to be a great success: YouTube.

I am going to explain to you what the elements that make up this structure are.

The viral piece

Of course, this is the basic element of viral marketing.

It is the piece made with the intention of generating virility, the essence of the strategy.

The format of the piece differs according to the objective of the planning and the audience to be reached.

It can be an image, a game, an application and even a site, for example.

Today viral are often made on video.

An example that illustrates very well what a viral piece is Take This Lollipop, an interactive movie.

The action created by an American filmmaker was born with the intention of alerting people to the fact of excessively sharing their personal information on social networks.

To view the video, it was necessary to authorize access to your Facebook account.

The film then used the information from the user’s profile to bring him into the horror film.

The movie/app was published on YouTube and in just 24 hours, it reached more than 400,000 views. On Facebook, it received close to 30,000 likes.

But the piece does not have to be unique, it can also be a set of pieces, a sequence of videos or images.

The distribution network

The means by which the piece is transmitted is called the distribution or propagation network.

It is the physical support of the piece and also where people go to transmit and share the message.

Ideally, the medium should be free, easily accessible, and require little effort from the public to share the content.

As the message must be transmitted from Internet user to Internet user, social networks are the best propagation platforms.

You can choose more than one medium to spread the message, mainly, if it is a set of pieces.


You already have the piece ready.

The time has come to implement it in the key points of the propagation network.

At this stage of planting, you will choose how and where to start distributing the piece.

For example, if it will be in one medium or in more than one.

That decision is very important to the success of your viral marketing campaign.

It is not worth implanting the piece in a medium in which your company manages to reach few people.

Because the broader the initial audience, the more opportunities to increase the number of shares you will have.

Choosing a network with a good number of followers also avoids the rapid saturation of the target audience.

But remember that seeding does not guarantee that the piece will propagate.


To prolong the life of your viral piece, you must use some accessories.

It is about other content that will continue to seek to attract the public.

It can be a video making off of the campaign, or a playlist with music related to the piece.

There are infinite possibilities.

For example, the brand of hygiene products Dove, is famous for its viral campaigns.

A few years ago, the company incorporated marketing actions aimed at female empowerment.

In addition to creating several viral videos with this theme, in which some obtained more than a million views, the brand maintains a space called Dove Self-Esteem Project on its site.

In it, complementary content is published with articles for women of different ages, apart from all the campaigns that the project launches.

In that way, they continue to feed the virus.

So, try to think of ways to keep the content alive and current.

How to do viral marketing

It is a fact that some viral work more than others.

But there is no formula that will ensure the success of your viral marketing campaign.

A formula is something exact that always gives an accurate result.

In this case, there is no way to predict whether the plan will be successful.

However, there are some principles that help make a great viral.

Not necessarily every viral marketing plan must contain these six elements.

Although the more you use, the more powerful your plan will be.

1. Distribute for free and do not restrict accessHow to do viral marketing

There is no viral content that is not free.

Whether it is a large campaign that requires an expressive investment or a simple video recorded on the cell phone, the viral product has to be delivered to the public for free.

Making the audience pay to see your content makes it difficult to go viral, the same happens when paying for a space in the media.

Offering content for a very low price can generate interest from many people.

But offering it for free is going to attract much higher interest and faster.

Most importantly, don’t restrict access to your content.

What you want most is for you’re viral to be shared by the public freely and spontaneously.

Therefore, do not ask for anything in return, such as the person’s email or special software download.

It allows anyone to modify, translate or transform the content.

It leaves the way free for the public to contribute to the recreation of said content.

2. Choose a medium that does not require effortHow to do viral marketing

Viruses only spread if they are easy to spread.

Then, the medium you choose to release yours needs to have that agility when transferring or replicating the content.

Communities and discussion forums, social networks and emails are some of the conducive ways to do this.

These platforms are excellent because they were fully designed to share content and information.

Therefore, the user does not need to make a lot of effort to spread his viral.
It will be enough to click a button, for example.

The other advantage of these resources is that they are free. There is no fee to distribute content.

Nor will you have to spend on a space in the media.

Viral marketing is not conventional propaganda.

Paid media restricts the possibility of a content going viral. Well, the public cannot share it with other people.

For all this, viral marketing works so well on the internet, because communication is instantaneous, cheap, and simple and does not require a great effort.

3. It generates emotions and produces something surprising

Individual motivations and behaviors are the key to a good viral piece.

People are driven by emotions and desires. For your viral strategy to be successful, it must contain a significant emotional dose.

Fear, happiness, fright, love.

So don’t convey a neutral message. The objective is to provoke the reaction of the public and surprise them.

What is not easy?

You must understand your audience, step out of the box to deviate from the ideas and strategies that generally guide your marketing campaigns.

Several years ago, Heineken launched a campaign called “The Odyssey.” The idea was to show that every consumer has real talent.

Between juggling and dancing, it is possible to realize that there is something different in the video. But only at the end is the surprise revealed.

It is an excellent example of making a difference.

4. Don’t advertise, tell a story

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that viral marketing focuses on the message.

In other words, you don’t want to sell a product or service, you want to tell a story.

Well-narrated stories are the best way to engage your audience in the message you want to give.

According to research, our brains are activated more intensely when we hear a story.

In addition to the part related to language, the brain activates areas that would be used, if we were living the situation that is being told to us.

This means that stories stimulate our memories and feelings.

Another advantage is that telling a story is one of the best ways to retain information.

And you want to be reminded when your audience is ready to take a certain action.

5. Take advantage of viral marketing to position your brand

It is very common to see companies that use viral content for their brand positioning.

For example, Red Bull has a prominent position and has already produced a series of viral content for that purpose.

The brand wanted to be associated with adventurous, determined, fearless people.

And to give that impression, they began sponsoring Felix Baumgartner, a paratrooper who trained with scientists to jump from space.

In 2012, Baumgartner performed this jump in free fall and Red Bull recorded the entire process transforming it into viral content.

Today the video has more than 3 million views on YouTube.

At no time did the brand try to sell its energy sources. He only told the story of preparing and realizing a paratrooper’s dream.

6. Don’t forget the sales cycle of your product or service

This topic may seem strange to you, because I told you that viral marketing is not about your product or service.

However, that does not prevent your product from being present in the strategy and in the content.

If this were the case, it is necessary to be prepared not to stop meeting the consumer’s need and offer something that they cannot buy, something that only exists in the viral.

If you are going to show any of your products or services in the content, make sure it is available for the public to consume.

It is useless to propose a sale, even in a subtle way, and not be able to meet the demand.

Viral marketing aims to potentiate your brand, being so, get ready for a great return from the consuming public.

Advantages of viral marketingAdvantages of viral marketing

You got this far, in such a way that you have better understand what viral marketing is.

But do you know why you have to invest in this strategy?

The answer is very simple!

When the content becomes viral, the chances of popularizing your brand and gaining more customers grow.

The shares of the viral piece also work as a kind of recommendation. This also helps increase the number of conversions.

Surveys indicate that the recommendation of a brand or product by a well-known person influences our purchase decision more than advertising.

And when you share viral content, you are telling others that you liked what you saw and you want them to see and know about it too.

Last but not least, this is a strategy that requires little investment, since it is not necessary to pay for a space in the media.

The center of it all is getting organic shares.

Disadvantages of viral marketing

Since nothing in this life is perfect, there are also some downsides to producing a viral.

Because it is content that aims to evoke the emotional reaction of the public, it is more difficult to control what people will feel.

What something may be fun for someone, may not be for another.

Disclosure on social networks, spaces in which everyone can speak and express themselves in the way they want, is difficult to exercise full control over public opinion.

For this reason, incorporating the piece on social networks means not being able to interrupt the spread of content if something goes wrong.

The internet allows and encourages users to download and reproduce information, regardless of the original source.

This means that, even if you delete your viral, it is possible that other people have already stored the content and can share it using their own resources.

Another disadvantage of viral marketing is related to the user base (fans and followers).

The fewer the number of people who receive your content first, the more difficult it will be to vitalize it.

But it does not mean that it is impossible. Having a large number of followers can only be a facilitator of vitalization.

Examples of viral marketing

It is not difficult to find viral marketing pieces or campaigns online.

ConclusionViral Marketing Conclusion

When you finish reading this article, it is clear that viral marketing is a strategy that envelops and manages to attract attention to your brand.

Despite not having a formula, nor the guarantee that the content will go viral, you realized that there are some rules to give a little push to vitalization.

Now, put your mind to work, unleash your creativity and create a piece that excites the audience.

Don’t forget to create plugins to keep the “virus” alive and host it on an easily accessible page.