Why some things go viral … the memetics of contagious marketing, catchy pop songs you can’t get out your head, and cute or crazy tweets

July 10, 2015

We know that marketing has fundamentally shifted from a landscape where marketers can utilize mass media to speak at consumers, to one where marketers are simply part of the crowd themselves.  The bullhorn of radio, television, printand other one-way interruptive marketing approaches are quickly losing efficacy. So how do you get your brand noticed?

A recent article by Mitch Joel argues that brands must publish more content, that the old standbys of frequency and repetition that worked so well in decades past are still worthwhile today. Truth be told, he’s right. Publishing more content, even if the content isn’t viral or noteworthy, can be a great way to maintain or even grow existing large audiences.

But what if your brand or company doesn’t have an active audience of avid content consumers already?

In this case, piles of mediocre content certainly won’t do the trick. If you don’t already have a large built-in audience, you must attract them from elsewhere. Viral marketing is hands-down one of the best ways to do this.

Successful viral campaigns regularly produce 1 million+ impressions, with standouts garnering 10x to 100x that number, often crossing over into the mainstream, and picking up free exposure on television and radio and in print media. For instance, in 2012, the viral campaign “Kony 2012” for the Invisible Children organization garnered nearly 100,000,000 views, and was covered by most mainstream news organizations. The campaign has more than 2,000 results in Google News.

When Dove’s Real Beauty sketches campaign went viral, it garnered nearly 30 million views in ten days. Additionally, it single-handedly added more than 15,000 YouTube subscribers to Dove’s channel over the following two months, not to mention substantial increases in followers on Twitter and Facebook as well.

Robert Plutchik’s comprehensive Wheel of Emotion offers some advice:

1. Negative emotions were less commonly found in highly viral content than positive emotions, but viral success was still possible when negative emotion also evoked anticipation and surprise.

2. Certain specific emotions were extremely common in highly viral content, while others were extremely uncommon. Emotions that fit into the surprise and anticipation segments of Plutchik’s wheel were overwhelmingly represented. Specifically:

  • Curiosity
  • Amazement
  • Interest
  • Astonishment
  • Uncertainty

3. The emotion of admiration was very commonly found in highly shared content, an unexpected result.



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