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Viral marketing is essentially a network marketing technique that exploits consumers either knowingly or unknowingly to act as advertisers in spreading messages and/or promotions throughout pre-existing social networks. Viral marketing is a type of word-of-mouth advertising. And while word-of-mouth advertising has been around for quite some time, information technology has enhanced the proficiency and effectiveness of an individual’s ability to spread a message to others to the point where if successful viral messages have the ability to be viewed exponentially. The messages objectives are typically aimed at creating exposure and influence in an effort to increase brand awareness or to achieve other marketing related goals such as increased sales. Viral marketing is a fairly new phenomenon, and has only existed on the internet for about a decade now. The technique was dubbed “viral” because of its inherent ability to spread a marketing message “like a virus through each customer’s social network, bring news of the product and service to a wide range of potential customers” (Bidgoli, 2004, p.580).

Viral marketing can either target a specific group of consumers, or broad audiences. The content of viral messages typically utilizes humor, entertainment, edgy/trendy, sexual, or other related attention grabbers that will entice individuals to view and share the message (KHNK, 2005). The viral objects commonly passed around include: video clips, images, text messages, email messages, blogs, web pages, branded software and apps, and so on (KHNK, 2005). To date, some of the most common transmission vehicles for viral messages have been: pass-along based, incentive based, trendy based, and undercover based (KHNK, 2005). However, due to the creative nature of viral marketing there are an endless amount of potential forms and vehicles the messages can utilize for transmission.

According to Wilson (2000), the six elements of a viral marketing strategy include: “gives away products or services, provides effortless transfer to others, scales easily from small to very large, exploits common motivations and behaviors, utilizes existing communication networks, and takes advantage of others resources” (9). However, Wilson (2000) states that “a viral marketing strategy need not contain ALL these elements, but the more elements it embraces; the more powerful the results are likely to be” (4). The benefits of viral marketing can be vast if utilized effectively. Some of the benefits include: low cost, far reach, and high credibility. Some of the disadvantages include: failed campaign, lack of control, and message misinterpretations.

In the late 1990’s, was one of the first business’s to achieve a great deal of success using viral marketing, and is now referred to as “the classic example of viral marketing” (Wilson, 2000, p.5). “Hotmail was able to sign up 12 million users in 18 months by inserting the tagline “Get your free e-mail at Hotmail” at the bottom of every e-mail sent out by its customers” (the internet encyclopedia). At the time this was historically the fastest growth of any user based media company (Subramani, Rajagopalan, p.1). By the time Hotmail reached “66 million users”, the company was establishing “270,000 new accounts each day” (Subramani, Rajagopalan, p.1).

Today, a decade after Hotmail’s success, as more and more businesses are having trouble reaching consumers through traditional advertising, many of them have turned to alternative marketing methods such as viral marketing. Some of these companies had success while others have failed. Research conducted by Millward Brown (2010) concluded that “fewer than one in six video ads achieve high viral viewing”. A few of the successful blue chip companies have included: “Old Spice, Audi, Coke, E-Trade, and Google” (Brown, 2010).

Old Spice’s latest viral marketing campaign which focused on promoting the company’s body wash gained widespread popularity, and has become one of the more famous viral marketing campaigns. How it worked was Old Spice collected fan questions and then created direct video responses to the questions featuring NFL player Isaiah Mustafa that were posted on Latest figures state that the video responses “attracted over 35.7 million unique views”, and “sales of the body wash jumped 55%” in the three months following the viral campaign (Leggatt, 2010).

The future of viral marketing currently remains uncertain, although, the possibilities and potential of this tactic of reaching and marketing to consumer groups are endless. Moreover, as more forms of communication are created by technology and more of the population maintains a presence online involved in social media interactions, so will the inventiveness of marketers as they attempt to permeate these networks. Furthermore, we can be certain that marketers will continue to attempt to achieve mass marketing success by utilizing consumers as vehicles for transmitting their viral messages.


Reference List

Bidgoli, H. (2004). The Internet Encyclopedia: Volume 2. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Brown, M. (2010). Old Spice and E*TRADE Ads Provide Lessons in Viral Marketing. Marketing Research World. Retrieved November 17, 2010, fromhttp://www.marketresearchworld…..;Itemid=77

KHNK. (2005). Viral Marketing. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from…..keting.htm

Leggatt, H. (2010). Sweet smell of success for Old Spice video campaign. BizReport. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from…..aign.html#

Subramani, R., & Rajagopalan, B. (2003). Knowledge-Sharing and Influence in Online Social Networks via Viral Marketing. Communications of the ACM, 8(12), 300-307.

Wilson, R. (2000). Demystifying Viral Marketing. Web Marketing Today, Issue 70.