Viral marketing

Viral marketing is a technique used to rapidly grow awareness of a brand or campaign where a viral asset is amplified using digital word-of-mouth, i.e. sharing on social media, email and forums. It is often boosted by featuring in traditional broadcast media.

People often think of ‘viral videos’ as the assets, but viral amplification can be simpler. For example, Hotmail, originally grew rapidly based on the signature in the footer of each mail recommending it to other contacts of its early adopters.

One of the best-known video examples is this, which has 25 million views and launched a startup, which went on to compete with major players in the sector:

In WNIM Episode 3, Ritchie Mehta recommended how Kevin Allocca, Trends Manager at YouTube, hosted a talk on TED Talks, outlining the reasons videos go viral.

He outlines three major factors that contribute to a viral video:

  • Tastemakers: essentially, this means people with an audience pick up on a video and spread the word.  This article summarizing the talk explains how “Double Rainbow”, a video posted months prior to going viral, went viral after a Tweet from Jimmy Kimmel. So, A tastemaker is someone who commands a large following; they mention it, post about it, Tweet it or otherwise bring attention to the video.
  • Communities of participation: community participation is how we become part of the phenomenon, either by spreading it or doing something new with it. Many videos inspire a myriad of parodies, remixes and copycats. This changes it from just static entertainment, to something people can be a part of through active participation. Rebecca Black’s music video, “Friday” went viral and within the first week there were parodies for every other day of the week.
  • Unexpectedness: only videos that are truly unique and unexpected will be interesting enough to go viral. The ordinary doesn’t catch on; things that are surprising and/or humorous just might.


Welcome to my personal site where I blog about the latest developments in digital business to help students, professionals or lecturers using my books in their studies or careers.

Visit my main Smart Insights Digital Marketing Strategy site to download planning templates, strategy guides and daily updates on the latest developments.

I also write about assistive technology to help others teaching the visually impaired as part of my volunteering work for charity AbilityNet.

My latest books

Full details on Amazon:

Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice
8th edition

Digital Marketing Excellence
6th edition

About Smart Insights

Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of digital marketing advice site Smart Insights. We’re a publisher and learning platform that helps our 150,000 active members in over 100 countries plan, manage and optimize their digital marketing activities by applying the actionable advice in our planning templates, guides and interactive e-learning tools.

Free members can download our free templates and benchmark their digital capabilities.