Updated: Mar 5
Over 20 years ago when I started Promotions West, my own public relations and marketing consultancy, we coordinated many viral marketing campaigns without knowing the term. As a team, we developed clear and consistent communication strategies to help our clients promote their brands and innovative ideas that created interest within desired priority communities they chose to reach. Honest work ideas and creativity never change, although the terms attached to them seem to change every few years to make us think they are new ideas created this morning.
Viral marketing is a promotional technique that aims to spread a campaign quickly and widely. When using this marketing strategy, content is created to encourage sharing by an initial priority audience. The goal is to make it appealing and approachable enough to inspire the masses to engage.
Viral marketing is a marketing strategy that uses social media, email, or other online communication channels to create buzz and excitement around a brand or product. The idea behind viral marketing is to create content that is so interesting, funny, or provocative that people can't help but share it with their friends and followers. Viral marketing is a digital marketing strategy whose goal is to reach as many people as possible through word-of-mouth (WOM) and social sharing.
One of my favourite campaigns created by Promotions West for the San Francisco Department of Public Health STD Section was called 'Dogs Are Talking'. Dogs Are Talking was a viral marketing campaign to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases among men having sex with men in San Francisco. The promotion focused on educating and creating awareness about syphilis that encouraged testing. We thought of the idea when it became more difficult to get a face for the campaign. Most communities, especially those of colour didn't want to be associated with yet another illness they would be accused of starting or spreading. After many brainstorming sessions, the PR West team got together and decided to have dogs be the voice and face of the campaign. In the process, we learned that a large percentage of the population loved their dogs, cats, and other pets.
To make an impact we conducted focus groups throughout the communities to ascertain why people loved their animals so much, what type of dogs would grab people the most, and what message would they like to hear from their dogs and cats. It was an overwhelming success in the amount of positive feedback received. Our initial press release announcing the campaign went viral almost immediately. We were contacted by pet stores, grocery stores, pet hotels, and the media for interviews. Gavin Newsome, the Mayor of San Francisco at the time decided to host a press conference to launch the campaign. To be honest, the Promotions West team was overwhelmed by how fast things were moving. Once we realised that a dog spokesperson was needed, we decided to create a dog audition call and brunch in one of the lovely parks in San Francisco. We expected 10 or 15 contestants, but we received over 100 requests for auditions.
Overall, the event was a success, dogs had fun with each other, our photographer took photos of the dogs with their owner, and the local gay newspapers covered the story. The dogs selected were our models for the next 3 years. The campaign was a huge success. Pet stores facilitated point-of-sales advertising in all their stores to promote the campaign. Large grocery stores supported the campaign by providing canvas bags with the 'Dogs Are Talking' logo on them that were provided at no cost to customers with all the contact information about the campaign. I still believe the campaign was successful because of the humour used to grab the attention of our audience.
The biggest question from our clients is where do we go to conduct viral marketing? Today, there are many places to simultaneously start promoting your campaign or brand. If using Instagram, use tags liberally. It helps to use trending hashtags, and reposts to grow your audience and potentially go viral.
The benefits of viral marketing include:
Low cost: Viral marketing campaigns can be very inexpensive to create and distribute, especially when compared to traditional advertising methods.
High reach: If your viral marketing campaign is successful, it has the potential to reach a massive audience. This can lead to increased brand awareness, website traffic, and sales.
Increased engagement: Viral marketing campaigns are designed to be shareable and engaging. They can encourage people to interact with your brand in a way that traditional advertising cannot.
Authenticity: Because viral marketing relies on people sharing content with their friends and followers, it has the potential to feel more authentic and trustworthy than traditional advertising.
Measurable results: With the right tracking tools in place, you can measure the success of your viral marketing campaign in real time. This can help you adjust and optimize your campaign for better results.
We often advise our clients to create a social media platform calendar to help the team to brainstorm and discuss topics to be shared on social media. It's important that your posts are interactive and engaging. Here are a few helpful tips for composing your posts:
Create quizzes and polls to engage your audience.
Ask for recommendations or opinions.
Start a challenge. For example, I will not complain for one week.
Always use humour.
Promote meaningful causes.
Check out TikTok videos. They are one of the leaders in the creation of viral marketing campaigns.
Overall, viral marketing can be a powerful tool for building brand awareness and driving sales. However, it's important to remember that not all viral marketing campaigns are successful and that creating a successful campaign requires careful planning, creativity, and a deep understanding of your priority audience.
For more information, please contact Promotions West. We would love to hear about your campaigns and any of your lessons learned.