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Viral Marketing

“It’s gone viral”! Wow, when we hear that about a campaign we know it’s often mission accomplished.

Going viral, it’s a phrase that gets banded about more frequently now than ever, but what does it really mean to go viral online? In essence the saying is pertaining to or involving the spreading of information and opinions about a product or service from person to person, especially on the Internet or in e-mails.

Recently we have seen two staggering examples of the ability of the web to spread information FAST:

Stephen Sutton sadly passed away in 2014, however before his passing from cancer this year he created a bucket list of things he would like to do on Facebook. In addition, he dedicated himself to spending as much time as possible raising funds for a charity very close to his heart – Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT).

It was Stephen’s zest for life in the face of extreme adversity that inspired a nation to like, share and give. Through social media online and word of mouth offline Stephen Sutton became a national figure almost overnight in raising more than £3 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

In fact, at the time of writing this article if I head over to Stephen’s Just Giving page, I can see that there have been donations today 19th September 2014 (Stephen passed away on May 14th, 2014), and that the total raised currently stands at £4,397,413.45.

He liked to say that “life isn’t measured by the amount of time you’re here; it’s measured by your achievements”.

Secondly, we can discuss the phenomenon that is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge!

The Ice Bucket Challenge, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, is an activity involving dumping a bucket of ice water on someone’s head to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research. It went viral on social media during July–August 2014. It even has its own Wikipedia page!

Oh yes, the power of engaging an army of volunteers!! It simply knows no bounds or limits to spread across the planet before you can blink, or tip a bucket of ice cold water over your head. All in the name of charity, of course.

The obvious question therefore is ‘what caused the above two examples to go viral’?

Well in respect of Stephen Sutton it was without question a story that pulled at the heart strings of 99.9% of all who came across it, and importantly moved us sufficiently to pass it on, talk about it and to give generously to Stephen’s chosen charity TCT.

We could empathise with the situation Stephen found himself in, and this coupled with his evident determination, humour and voracity for life inspired us to ACT. The cause, the respect, admiration and giving for Stephen and his chosen charity was something we could feel good about sharing, and acting upon.

Many of us in digital marketing circles have been fascinated to watch the evolution of the Ice Bucket Challenge from local cause to global sensation.

WHY, did the ice bucket challenge take off, when there is literally hundreds of this type of activity broadcast each and every year? According to the ALS Association the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100 million in donations in just one month! What led to this tipping point? What is the secret sauce of viral marketing? Is there a secret sauce?

We can see from the above two examples that the common thread running through both is urgency. By this I mean to create a foundation for stimulating action, sharing and liking we must generate and maintain urgency.

I have listed below factors which are prevalent in the ice bucket challenge and which one can incorporate into many viral different marketing campaigns:

It’s 1-2-1
 It’s exponential
 It’s charitable not commercial
 It’s time bound/limited
 Participation is formulaic and easy (you don’t need any skills)
 It’s a visceral, visual stunt. (Think Gangnam Style)
 It enables us to show our courage and discipline

Too many brands still believe that content put on the web will automatically go viral. The reality is that there are very few truly, organic viral campaigns.

Act fast on novel ideas as they can gather pace and momentum quickly. Seize these opportunities before they stop trending. Brands need to plan for and measure the impact of paid, earned and owned support for even the most creatively strong content.

Going viral does not just happen and only by measuring all contributors to success can brands understand how best to be successful time and again.

Paul Brewster, September 2014