Viral Marketing Ideas

The right idea paired with the right execution carry incredible power. Get enough people interested and they’ll start spreading it themselves. That is the essence of viral marketing. So how can you put that to work for you? In this article we’ll take a look at a few viral marketing ideas and see what elements help make them stand out.

You can find many of these ideas on a thread devoted to them on SEO Chat’s forums ( That thread inspired this article. So let’s dive in and look at some of the suggestions. Perhaps some of the elements that work for these viral campaigns can be put to work for your business.

After a summary of items covered by Wikipedia under viral marketing, Dropbox was mentioned. This company provides an online storage service, and if a friend of yours signs up through a referral from you, you both get additional storage. If a Dropbox user maintained a blog, they could always blog about the service and include the referral link, allowing strangers to sign up. If the stranger was inclined to sign up for the service anyway, there was no reason NOT to use the link – after all, they’d get additional storage for free. It’s a “double incentive” of sorts.

This is a good way to get people who already use your service to sign up more people: give both the current customer and the new customer something for free if the new customer signs up. This tactic is as old as the hills, but the ability to spread referral codes through blogs and other social media gives it new momentum.

A compelling video seems to be one of the best ways to get the word out about something. takes this approach in spades. The website tries to encourage motorists to watch out for cyclists, by showing that it’s easy to miss something you’re not watching for. Their videos make this clear by setting you up to pay attention to one thing – and then sneaking in something you wouldn’t think you’d miss. The trick is, you DO miss it, even though it was actually there.

{mospagebreak title=Let’s Go to the Replay}

Sound confusing? Let’s take an example video. Two teams of five basketball players, one dressed in black, the other in white, line up, and the viewer is asked how many passes the white team makes. There are two basketballs, and both teams weave in and around each other on a plain grey asphalt sidewalk, with an equally plain backdrop. You’re so busy counting passes for the white team that you totally miss the person dressed in a bear costume that quietly wanders into the middle of all this activity, moonwalks, and wanders out. So when the announcer says “The answer is 13…but did you see the moon-walking bear?” you’re totally surprised.

The video runs again, and this time, of course, you see the bear. (The bear was there the first time, too; I ran it through completely twice, just to make sure). The video ends with the tag line “It’s easy to miss something if you’re not looking for it” and the warning to watch out for cyclists.

This organization has found a compelling way to get their message across that really engages the viewer. They’ve proven their own point in a simple way. The very nature of the video makes the viewer pay attention – and yet, like a magician doing a trick, even while it makes you pay attention, you miss something vital. Yet you don’t feel cheated, because the misdirection was the point of the video, and the heart of the message they’re trying to convey.

You can find a number of videos on the site which convey this theme. Best of all, the web site offers several ways to share the videos and get the word out. Hey, if you’ve been fooled by something cool like that, don’t you want to see if your friends fall for it, too?

Call in Your Ideas

BT found another way to get people involved in their ad campaign ( The company’s campaign features Adam, played by Kris Marshall, and his partner Jane, played by Esther Hall. These two have appeared in various  BT ads as a couple for about five years now – and for the most recent ad, the phone company asked viewers to vote on whether they should announce that they’re expecting a baby. BT received around 1.6 million votes. That’s a lot of interest!

BT marketing director Matthew Dearden explained that “The strand of ads we are doing at the moment are all about human interaction and human relationships [facilitated by BT products] and we thought about building the connection by getting people involved in the story of the campaign itself.”

Obviously, you’re not going to be able to create a five-year campaign from scratch; BT had the advantage of a large fan base when they started this “vote on our couple’s next step” move. But you can probably use the idea of showing how  your products facilitate your customers to achieve their goals – perhaps in some surprising ways. Maybe you could even ask for videos from your customers that show some unusual uses for your product or service.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss a few more ideas from campaigns that did things right. Coming up: the Old Spice guy, the Last Exorcism, and more. See you then!     

[gp-comments width="770" linklove="off" ]