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Viral Marketing

Viral marketing, a term almost exclusively used when referring to the internet, is a “marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message”, similar to that of a virus (Marketingterms). This is primarily achieved through the motivation of individuals to quickly and efficiently spread the desired content among consumers—with the hope of gaining exponential growth. Marketers have attempted to utilize a variety of stimuli; including such e-merchandise as, screen savers, wallpaper, games, e-postcards, and e-books; however attempts have been mostly unsuccessful (Viz).

One of the first, albeit successful, examples of viral marketing is Microsoft’s Hotmail. The campaign was as follows, as per WilsonWeb:

1)      Give away free e-mail addresses and services

2)      Attach a simple tag at the bottom of every free message sent out; “get your private, free email at” and,

3)      Then stand back while people e-mail to their own network of friends and associates,

4)      Who see the message,

5)      Sign up for their own free e-mail service, and then

6)      Propel the message still wider to their own ever-increasing circles of friends and associates

According to BlogStorm, the success of Hotmail’s viral marketing propelled the service from 500,000 registered users in 1996 to over 12,000,000 the following year.


In addition to campaigns that offer potential for substantial growth, simpler tactics may also provide useful. Friend-Tell-Friend marketing uses links which allow consumers to share content either through email, social networking, or other online community (Viz). One of the most widespread adoptions is the Facebook like button, which now appears on a variety of websites. By utilizing these links consumers automatically share the webpage with their friends and associates on whichever social platforms they may use.

Viz also goes into detail to acknowledge a variation of Friend-Tell-Friend which uses email. The primary distinction is that, in the original message, it kindly asks the reader to pass it onto their friends. The downside however, is this increases the difficulty for consumers to share and initialize the viral process.

Key Components to a Marketing Strategy

According to WilsonWeb, successful marketing strategies are comprised of a unique combination of six essential elements in viral marketing.

1)      Gives away products or services

2)      Provides for effortless transfer to others

3)      Scales easily from small to very large

4)      Exploits common motivations and behaviors

5)      Utilizes existing communication networks

6)      Takes advantage of others’ resources


–          Possibility of large reach to consumers

–          Relatively low cost

–          Greater trust among consumers (WOM Marketing)


While viral marketing offers unique and attractable advantages, it is not without its disadvantages. One of the most noticeable difficulties in viral marketing is initializing a successful campaign—most attempts go nowhere. Second, depending on the stimuli offered to consumers, the campaign may quickly rack up marketing promotional costs; such as Threshers viral campaign offering 40% off. Lastly, depending how the content is spread among consumers, there is a possibility that it may be either altered, or have messages added to it which may affect the brand (Viz).

Related Articles:

Top 10 Viral Marketing Campaigns

PS: I Love You. Get Your Free Email at Hotmail