What viral marketing really refers to is a message that spreads itself via casual contact: an advertising campaign so compelling that those who are exposed to it want to spread it to their peers.
Viral marketing on the internet is considered by most to be a relatively new phenomenon: it's only been around for about decade or so by most accounts. Viral marketing can be very inexpensive when compared to traditional means of advertising. This is because of the fact that anyone who can get online has the ability to spread a message, and it won't cost them a dime. If the recipients of that message are motivated to relay the message to their peers, and their peers do the same, this results exponential growth of the messages' impact.
Today, people are subjected to a tidal wave of advertising, and it is nearly unavoidable. As a result, a majority of these ads are ignored. Magazines are filled with pages of flashy ads that are thumbed past without a second's thought, Commercial breaks on TV mean that consumers can run to the kitchen for a snack, and popup ads are shut before they even get a chance to load. The solution to this problem comes in the form of entertainment: make your message amusing enough, and the public will not only listen to what you have to say, but they will spread your message for you.
The internet is an ideal place for a viral marketing campaign to propagate: countless websites are dedicated to showcasing the day's most amusing content, and word of mouth travels at lightning speed. Once something starts to gain popularity, it spreads like wildfire, resulting in exponential growth. Not only will a successful internet marketing campaign spread itself, but people will actually pay attention to it and remember it's content.
The movie "Snakes on a Plane" had an extremely successful viral campaign. The citizens of the internet have embraced this franchise without a second thought. The title of the movie inspired people to create songs, clothing, fan fiction, poster art, parodies, mock movie trailers and short film parody competitions.
Hotmail.com is a great example of a successful viral marketing campaign. They were one of the first free web based email services. Their successful strategy went as follows: First, they gave away free email addresses and services. They attached a simple message to the bottom of every outgoing email:"Get your private, free email at http://www.hotmail.com". When email recipients saw this, they would sign up for their own free email service, thereby spreading Hotmail's advertising even further. These tactics caused their user base to balloon very rapidly over the period of a year.
In order to be successful, a viral campaign should be able to do six things:
1. Give away seemingly valuable products, services or content
2. Make transferring it to others effortless
3. Scale easily from small to very large
4. Exploit common motivations and behaviors in people
5. Utilize existing communication networks
6. Take advantage of others' resources
There are several different types of viral marketing:
Pass-along: A message which prompts the user to send the message to others. The simplest form of this would be chain letters, where a message is put at the bottom of an that e-mail tells the reader to forward the message. More effective methods include funny videos which are spread by viewers. Many of these types of viral campaigns, such as the Cog (television commercial) from Honda started out as TV commercials and then were circulated on the web by word of mouth. The number of people reached through this method is often far beyond the number of people who viewed the original ad.
Incentivised viral: this is what it is called when a reward is offered for passing a message or providing someone else's email address. This can cause a dramatic increase in referrals. However, this is less effective unless the offer requires another person to take action. Many online contests offer improved odds of winning depending on the number of referrals given. Referral participation is much greater when the referral must also sign up in order for the first person to obtain those extra chances of winning.
Undercover Marketing: as it suggests, is a viral message that is presented as a cool or unusual website, piece of news, or activity, minus encouragement to spread the message. Regardless, it should not be immediately obvious that something is being marketed. An effort is made to make the discovery of the item seem spontaneous and informal, thusly encouraging natural word of mouth distribution. Real world "clues" may be used to entice people to hunt for a presented "mystery", such as graffiti appearing in cities featuring key viral words. Because there is a massive amount of unusual and entertaining material on the internet, this can be one of the most difficult types of viral advertisement to spot, especially since marketers may attempt to imitate the style and content of amateur websites or actual underground movements.
"Edgy Gossip/Buzz marketing" include ads or messages that stir up controversy by pushing the borders of good taste or appropriate behavior. When people discuss the resulting controversy, it is considered to be generating a buzz and helping spread advertising via word of mouth . Before a movie is released, some Hollywood movie stars get married, divorced, or arrested, or otherwise involve themselves with a controversial event, directing attention to them.
User-managed Database/Anonymous Matching: this works by means of users creating and managing their own contact lists, by using databases provided by online service providers. When users invite other people to participate in their community, they are creating a viral, self-propagating chain of contacts. It naturally grows, with users encouraging other people to sign up. Examples of this include anonymous matching services such as friendfinder.com and evite.com.
The web is a very flat and direction-less medium, and companies have discovered that getting noticed means actually producing worthy advertisements. Television, on the other hand, is a linear medium; the viewers must wait for commercials to play before their show comes back. The internet is the opposite of this in that failure to grab you're audience's attention means that they will be gone before an animation is done playing.
The internet is a free distribution platform. Word of mouth has always had it's role in advertising, such as the watercooler banter that occurs following the SuperBowl. The internet simply greases the wheels of word-of-mouth in an extraordinary way, and innovative, amusing advertising will always attract attention to itself.