Viral Marketing- The Ultimate Bonanza

Viral marketing is the ultimate bonanza for digital advertisers. It allows for brands to promote their offerings to a huge audience at relatively little cost to gaining the same reach in traditional media. However, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Although it seems that almost everyone tries, very few hit the jackpot.

In their article How to Waltz the Social Media/Viral Dance Kaplan and Haenlein aim to devise a  successful formula for online viral campaigns. This article gives some direction as to how to instigate a viral epidemic, however, one point that they constantly reiterate is luck, i.e. being in the right place at the right time.

I found Kevin Allocca’s short Ted Talk- Why Videos Go Viral- to be a better explanation of the phenomenon.


By identifying only three key criteria, Alloca breaks it down in far more simple terms than Kaplan and Haenlein.

  1. A Tastemaker
  2. Community Participation
  3. Unexpectedness

The trick is creating the unexpectedness in order for the Tastemaker to catch on. If this is achieved, community participation and an exponential reach will follow.

So how do you create unexpectedness? It almost seems like a paradox. You can try to create it and get close to recreating it, but it will never be authentic. In trying to create it, so many get it wrong as they usually go over the top to compensate. One thing that is clear is that it is an art, not a science.

As Srinivas Rao points out, there is no formula to viral content. The one concept that links viral content is that it triggers a strong emotional response. This is best achieved via authenticity, which cannot be manufactured.

So we can add to Alloca’s list of helpful hints (which is NOT a formula).

4. Must trigger a strong emotional response
5. Authenticity helps


Take the above Youtube video for example. It’s hard to believe that this was part of a 2006 Sony campaign “All I Want for Xmas is a PSP”. The marketing company manufactured a fake blog (flog) supposedly written by young “Charlie”, covering his escapades while trying to convince his parents to buy him a PSP. This video was apparently recorded by Charlie’s cousin “Pete” who also wanted a PSP. Lame is an understatement (I guess it did trigger an emotional response).

5 thoughts on “Viral Marketing- The Ultimate Bonanza

  1. Some very good insight. Unexpectedness is key to the success of many of these videos and campaigns, but how can one predict the unexpected…? Not sure if there’s an answer here, but I think a good pun is always a great place to start, puns are timeless.

    1. Hi Reidy,

      The video on the youtube link you posted is no longer available. What was the video relating to? Do you have another link?

      1. It was this great viral marketing campaign by K-Mart that highlighted a new service they offer in a funny way via a classic pun. I think it does a pretty good job of appealing to a wide demographic through basic humor, something I could see kids posting on each others walls and older people chain-emailing to each other. Plus, the service sounds really great – imagine how convenient it would be to just stop and ship a new pair of underwear, no matter where you are??

  2. Hi Anna, great post! Because I use Kaplan & Haelein so I think the theory is quite similar. Tastemaker is probably the messengers, isn’t it?
    Unexpectedness will be very important to the business! It can bring many viewers and audience if they can make campaign that is unique and can’t be found anywhere else.

    1. Hi Natasha, I think Kaplan and Haelein’s ‘messengers’ and Alloca’s ‘tastemakers’ are similar, but not exactly the same.

      Kaplan and Haelein identify three different groups of messengers;
      – market mavens
      – social hubs
      – salespeople

      A ‘market maven’ is the one who identifies and picks up the message. They then hand it (or suggests it) to the ‘social hub’- someone with a very large audience. Sales people come if the market maven does not have a direct connection to the social hub. i.e. they connect the market maven and the social hub.

      This is a more complicated idea than the concept of a’ tastemakers’, which Alloca describes as those that introduce us to knew and interesting things and bring them to a larger audience. For example talk show hosts or extremely popular bloggers.

      I suppose that Alloca’s idea of the ‘tastemaker’ is a combination of Kaplan & Haelein’s ideas of the ‘market maven’ and the ‘social hub’.

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