We all know a great advertisement when we see it. Whether it makes you laugh, weep, or gasp, an outcry of, “I need to see that again,” typically follows your reaction. What’s more, you feel compelled to share it with everyone you know so that they too can experience the same humor or shock that you did. If this sounds familiar, congratulations. You’ve just participated in a viral marketing campaign.

You can thank the Internet for that. Trying to generate hype for a product has been a marketing goal for centuries, but with the age of the Internet upon us, it has now become a prime focus for business big and small. And there’s no bigger arena for viral marketing than the Super Bowl.

Why is viral marketing important?

Say you want to go into the soft drink-selling business. How exactly are you going to get customers to notice you? Or more to the point, with established behemoths like Coca-Cola and Pepsi as your competitors, why would consumers give your unknown product the time of day? It may sound harsh, but that’s the reality of the market. Not only will you be going up against companies that have been around for much longer than you, but also you will be opposing hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses trying to do exactly the same thing as you: getting consumer dollars. With so many vendors from which to choose, the public needs to see something that will get them to sit up and notice you instead of your competitors.

What technologies can play a role in viral marketing?

Two of the entities first praised for their viral marketing savvy just happen to be companies that other businesses have since used for their own viral marketing campaigns. By offering free subscriptions and including a conspicuous tagline at the bottom of every email, Hotmail became one of the first email service providers to go big. Even more impressive is the rise of YouTube. Just eight years after its inception, the video-sharing site has approximately 490 million unique users every month. This number demonstrates both the effectiveness of viral marketing and its growing importance for commercial ventures. Emailing friends. Uploading to YouTube. Posting to Facebook. Tweeting your Twitter followers. The digital domain has facilitated word-of-mouth marketing strategies by allowing users to instantly share noteworthy ads with millions of others.

Who can benefit from viral marketing?

Viral marketing doesn’t necessarily demand a huge budget for impressive effects and famous names. It requires only a great idea. For this reason alone, viral marketing is key to start-up companies trying to get out the word about their services. DollarShaveClub.com is but one example that underscores how viral marketing can give a new enterprise immediate exposure. In less than a year, a funny, clever – and sincere – video posted to YouTube by DollarShaveClub.com has now garnered close to 9 million views. The ad’s expenses came in under five thousand dollars, and in the first day alone after posting the video, the company had 5000 new customers. Even if each of those customers chose the most affordable razor package, DollarShaveClub.com paid for their advertising costs in just 24 hours.

 

When have Super Bowl ads utilized effective viral marketing strategies?

Unfortunately, an exponential divide exists between the price of making YouTube videos and the cost of broadcasting Super Bowl commercials. So why do companies drop 3 million dollars for a 30-second ad? For many reasons. Midsized companies like GoDaddy made good use of their Super Bowl airtime – and a few scantily clad women – to increase their exposure and profits. Larger entities like Pepsi have used the Super Bowl simply to remind viewers that Coca-Cola isn’t their only soft drink option. One of the more recently famous Super Bowl commercials, Volkswagen’s Mini Darth Vader ad, tapped a cultural icon to draw in consumers from the Star Wars generation.

How do print advertisements factor into viral marketing?

So if viral marketing revolves around the digital medium, where does that leave print campaigns? As social media sites like Pinterest are proving, print is far from dead. When it comes down to it, consumers are attracted to what grabs their eye. Given the public’s increasingly small attention span, sometimes all a marketer has is a single second to get consumers interested in their product. So while viral marketing continues to increase in importance, print advertising is the seed from which any successful campaign grows.