Viral Marketing Ingredients

Nico Brooks

April 10, 2010

Viral Marketing Ingredients

For a little while now, I’ve been watching the ways that marketers and others use to get viral attention. Along the way, I have noticed that certain ingredients help blog posts, videos or other media get forwarded from person to person. This post is the first in a series exploring what those ingredients are. Doing research for the series has helped me understand how businesses can benefit from and create viral media. I hope my findings are helpful to you too. I’ve also tried to use funny and interesting examples – some are probably familiar, and some surely not.

What gets me most excited is when I find a small company that has created a successful viral marketing campaign without big celebrities or a hefty marketing budget. For example, have a look at this video on the home page of Biota Spring Water. The video tells the story of how their bottles bio-degrade, and has been viewed many thousands of times. It is not shocking or hilarious, but it does communicate what is special about Biota Spring Water and has captured the interest of a lot of viewers. I believe that most small businesses have a compelling story to tell. If you can get at the heart of your story with a clever video, web site or email, you have a shot at going viral.

Here is my list of viral marketing ingredients. As I do example posts, I will link to them here:

  • Pass-it-on – the desire to help someone spread a message because the reader agrees with its point of view. Click here for examples.
  • Is It Real? – when something seems too freaky or amazing to be real. Click here for examples.
  • The Piggyback Effect – an event that resembles or mimics another well-publicized event. Click here for examples.
  • Absurdity – CEO’s with blenders, subservient chickens and other unlikely characters. Click here for examples.
  • Ohmygod! – the sense of ‘I can’t believe I’m really seeing what I’m seeing’.
  • Make-believe – we all like to play make-believe, we’re just not supposed to do it as grownups.
  • Virtuosity – watching sheer talent in action. Click here for examples.
  • Misdirection – the surprise ending. Click here for examples.
  • Play – having fun with people, people having fun.

I haven’t called humor out as an ingredient, but it has to be said that most successful viral media┬ámakes us smile or laugh – the desire to share laughter is a universal and wonderful human trait. I am also not including celebrities, news events, sporting events and cute baby animals as ingredients. I don’t mean to downplay their effectiveness in viral media, I’m just not as interested in researching those topics.

If you know of other ingredients or examples, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Credit where credit is due – these are some particularly good resources for tracking viral media: