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Types of Viral Marketing Campaigns

There are two types of viral marketing campaigns:

  • Organic (or in-the-wild) campaigns
  • Amplified (or controlled) campaigns

Organic Viral Marketing

Organic (or in-the-wild) viral campaigns grow with little or no input from the marketer. Sometimes, a message is passed around in a viral nature without any intention from the marketer. Usually this happens with negative messages about a brand, but it can also be a happy coincidence for a brand if the message is positive.

Organic word of mouth is credited with the sudden increase in the popularity of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid-1990s. Word of mouth increased sales from an all time low of 30,000 in 1994, to 430,000 in 1995, and to four times that the following year.

This is an example of an organic viral campaign:

  • It was not planned (though it was very welcomed) by Hush Puppies.
  • Participants made an active choice to pass on the message.

When successful, this type of campaign can build tremendous brand equity at a marginal cost. Because the communication takes place directly between consumers, the marketer has to be prepared to let go of their brand so that the message and flow of communication is not restricted. This is vital to ensuring the viral campaign is a success, as people are more likely to try a new product or fulfill the campaign goal if their friend or a trusted source referred them.

Amplified Viral Marketing

Amplified (or controlled) campaigns have been strategically planned, have defined goals for the brand being marketed, and usually have a distinct method of passing on the message (that can be tracked and quantified by the marketer). The Hotmail example above is a controlled campaign:

  • The goal was to grow membership.
  • The e-mails being sent were automatically passing on the message.

A viral campaign can be an important part of an eMarketing strategy. Viral marketing campaigns contribute in a number of ways:

  • With correct planning, a viral campaign can provide plenty of link love for your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Campaigns should be built with that in mind. While there might be a microsite created for the viral campaign, ensure that it is easy to link to the main Web site.
  • It can be difficult to measure brand awareness, but this is usually the chief aim of any viral campaign. Bear that in mind, and make sure that the campaign is targeting the right demographic and that branding is clear without detracting from the social nature of a viral campaign.
  • Viral campaigns can also drive direct response, from newsletter sign-ups, to collaboration on consumer-generated media (CGM), to purchases that can be directly correlated to the campaign.


  • Viral growth occurs when a message is spread exponentially.
  • Viral marketing campaigns are tricky and unpredictable. But exponential growth means that they are being attempted more often.
  • There are two main types of viral marketing campaigns: amplified (or controlled) and organic (or in the wild).
  • Viral marketing uses people’s electronic connectivity to increase the velocity of word of mouth. People with similar interests, needs, and lifestyles tend to pass on and share interesting and entertaining content.
  • When sponsored by a brand, the message builds awareness of a product or service and can provide qualified prospects for the organization to pursue.

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