11 Examples of Viral Marketing Campaigns

Viral marketing. The term just sounds sinister,   doesn’t it? Like its name implies, it’s a way of spreading your message like a virus from person to person. How do you do it? By creating content that begs to be shared with others. Sometimes, it’s a funny video. Other times, it’s a unique application that performs a really cool function.

So, which companies have used viral marketing to spread their brand to the masses? Here are 11 viral examples we can learn from.

1. Hotmail- Hotmail is one of the most classic examples of successful viral marketing. They offered free e-mail to the masses, and simply attached a signature at the bottom of each e-mail message that promoted their free service. Every single e-mail sent by a Hotmail user contained this message, thus spreading it like a virus. Recipients would see the ad, and as a result, they too signed up for Hotmail.

2. Subservient Chicken- Burger King’s 2004 viral marketing campaign for their chicken sandwiches shows just how fun going viral can be. The Subservient Chicken was a man dressed in a chicken outfit who would perform whatever action you commanded him to. Just one day after the site’s launch, one million people had already given their commands to the subservient chicken.

3. Watchmen- One of the most recent examples on this list, Watchmen’s viral campaign has consisted of fake newscasts and mock PSAs. Judging from the buzz online, these videos are doing their job. Fans are pumped up, and anxiously awaiting the movie’s release.

4. Jack in the Box- The latest Jack in the Box campaign is another new example of viral marketing. During the Super Bowl, Jack in the Box ran a commercial (in some regions) that featured Jack getting hit by a bus. The commercial urged people to visit www.hangingtherejack.com . Unfortunately, the site wasn’t ready for the surge in traffic, and it crashed during its biggest chance to go hot.

5. Dark Knight- The Dark Knight viral campaign was one of the most widespread of its kind. It included everything from websites for Gotham Cab company to a real life campaign for Harvey Dent. The point is this—the campaign engaged people on a different level. And you can’t argue with the results. The Dark Knight made ridiculous amounts of money at the box office and on DVD. Of course, there were other factors involved (Heath Ledger’s death, and just how great the film looked,) but the viral campaign succeeded in creating unprecedented amounts of hype.

6. Transport for London- This is one of my favorite examples on the list, because I can say from personal experience that I helped spread their virus. In this video, you’re asked to count how many times the white team passes the basketball. Of course, there’s an unexpected surprise that accomplishes two things—it makes the video highly share-worthy and it promotes their message without shoving it down your throat.

7. Smirnoff- Smirnoff’s viral “Tea Partay” video was an instant hit. It features preppy, Ivy League white boys doing a rap about throwing a tea party. The video just begs to be shared with others, making it a viral success.

8. Dove- The Dove Evolution viral ad is effective because it sends a unique, positive message about the true definition of beauty. And this video really did spread like a virus. Not only did it get nearly 2 million hits within a month’s time, but it also received attention from top TV shows Ellen, The View, and Entertainment Tonight.

9. Peerflix- At the time of launching their viral campaign, Peerflix was a new company offering P2P DVD trading. Playing off the Hollywood theme, they created an online paparazzi game that made participants capture scandalous photos of celebrities. Within just 90 days, 2 million people had played the game, and 5% went on to view the Peerflix website. That’s a significant boost in brand exposure.

10. Bob Dylan- To help promote his greatest hits boxset, a viral campaign was created that allowed users to send messages in the form of the classic Subterranean Homesick Blues video. I love this idea because it’s simple, effective, and engaging.

11. Simpsons- When the Simpsons Movie came out, it boasted one of the biggest opening weekends of the year. While it’s easy to say this was because of the show’s illustrious history, the producers believe there’s more to it than that. In fact, they said the viral marketing campaign was the reason for the film’s great success. This campaign consisted of everything from changing 7-11s to Kwik-E Marts to allowing online users to “Simpsonize” themselves.

Which viral marketing campaigns are your favorites? Share them in the replies!

41 thoughts on “11 Examples of Viral Marketing Campaigns

  1. Sorry but Media coverage and TV ads or branding a tag line under a free service like Hotmail is NOT Viral marketing. In fact there is little to nothing that can be attributed to successful viral marketing. Perhaps the pet rock was a close call to viral.

  2. There’s some stella examples of digital marketing here but I can’t agree with your viral categorization. Some of the examples you have are alternate reality gaming or social media marketing or referal / WOM etc, all of which have different markering potential and achieve differrnt goals & ambitions to viral. Viral is specifically something that grows exponentially as each recipient forwards to it more people. A funny picture can spread virally and things like Christian Bale’s rant or “Daniel At the Dentist” started to spread virally, then got the mash-up/UGC treatment until they entered the realm of a meme…. But there’s no formula or repliacable process that can taken from that and consistently applied to any product, service or brand. Certainly there are some great flash games companies thay consistently deliver but they tend focus on niches, with realistic ambitions of reach and conversion targets.

    Even then viral is, in my opinion, *mostly* about the quick-fix world of raising brand awareness, brand positioning or data capture – not long-term strategies like engagement, sales, brand equity, loyalty, building long-term customer value…. Etc

    That’s where an ARG or social media strategy, in the right hands, can produce levels of engagement, loyalty, user-led innovation, consumer insight, and much more than a “viral” video can only ever dream about.

    You’ve made a good list (subserviant chicken is one of my personal favourites and so much better than BK’s short-lived facebook app) and you’ve done a great job collating them but it’s undermined by the blanket “viral” label.

    Play down the word “viral”, use digital marketing instead and, if possible, add some links or images and you’d have an exemplary piece that I’d recomend.

    You might also enjoy looking-up elf-yourself, frameafriend.com, ARG’s like the Lost Experience and world without oil and social marketing like the Twitter experiment on skittles.com (which happened after you had published)

    Sorry for all the criticism, hope it’s constructive and useful rather than just negative and best of luck.


  3. The KFC/Oprah “grilled chicken” campaign was one of my favorite. Their viral attempt led to strong buzz marketing as well. Everyone was searching for the coupons they provided.

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  8. I think this article needs a more concrete example of how a concept is promoted through viral campaign. An experimental example is the website http://www.kijkhiersnel.nl .
    This is a dutch website intended to promote content in a viral manner, by spreading the url over several websites and social networks.
    This message is the example, because it turns a simple message into page views.
    You can do the same for your own product, as long as you have an url.

  9. This post was right on! Hotmail being the best of the examples for me personally. I did exactly as the post mentioned. Got an email saw the mention of free email, and then got one myself. Did the same at Yahoo, Gmail, and a few others. Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the post. Puts viral marketing into prospective for those of us that are having a hard time thinking outside the box. One thing that most of these campaigns had in common was the ability to build major hype – that will be the challenge for those of us that aren’t mainstream like the Simpsons, Batman or Jack.

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  12. I really like your 11 examples of marketing:

    Thank you for posting such article. Its great to see such eye opening post.There are still many things to learn and more surprises to come.

  13. That game an idea for a viral campaign.. 🙂 I will post once I am ready to launch one.. Shared your post on twitter and Facebook. Cheers 🙂

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