The Psychology Behind Successful Viral Campaigns

A viral campaign is a marketing campaign that spreads rapidly from person to person, usually through social media, email, or other digital channels. The key to a viral campaign’s success is its ability to inspire users to share it with their network, leading to exponential growth in reach and engagement.

To create a successful viral campaign, it is important to understand the psychological factors that drive people to share content with others. By understanding the emotions, social influences, and motivations that lead to the spread of the content, marketers can create more effective and impactful campaigns that resonate with their target audience.

Emotion is a driving force

Emotions play a critical role in marketing. They are a powerful driver of human behavior and influence what people share with others. Emotional content is more likely to be shared and remembered, making it a key component of successful viral campaigns.

The most common emotions that drive viral campaigns

Humor. Humor is a powerful tool in viral marketing, as people are more likely to share content that makes them laugh or smile.

Example: “The Long Road to Denton” — This video campaign, filmed by our team, leverages the emotion of humor to raise awareness about AdvisorPeak’s attendance at a FinTech event, and went viral within a FinTech award company in 2021.

Example: The “Ice Bucket Challenge” — This campaign leveraged the emotions of humor and awe to raise awareness for ALS and went viral in 2014.

Shock. Shocking content can also be viral as it evokes a strong emotional response and people want to share it to elicit a similar reaction from others.

Example: “The Truth Is #BlackLivesMatter” campaign — This campaign leveraged the emotion of shock by highlighting police brutality and racial injustice and went viral in 2020.

Awe. Campaigns that evoke a sense of awe or wonder can be viral as they evoke a strong emotional response and people want to share it to show others the beauty or spectacle.

Example: “The Mannequin Challenge” — This social media challenge leveraged the emotion of awe by freezing people in dramatic poses and went viral in 2016.

Anger. Content that elicits anger can also be viral as it motivates people to share it in order to bring attention to the issue or spread their own anger.

Example: “The Flint Water Crisis” social media campaign — This campaign leveraged the emotion of anger by highlighting the water contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan and went viral in 2016.

Happiness. Campaigns that evoke happiness or positivity can also be viral, as people are more likely to share content that makes them feel good and spread happiness to others.

Example: “Share a Coke” campaign by Coca-Cola — This campaign leveraged the emotion of happiness by personalizing the product with popular names, encouraging people to share with friends and family. There were many versions of this ad.

Interactivity of viral campaigns

Viral marketing campaigns are often interactive in nature, meaning that they encourage the audience to participate and engage with the content.

This type of marketing creates a two-way dialogue between the audience and the brand, which helps to build a stronger connection and relationship. Interactive campaigns often involve challenges, quizzes, games, or other forms of user-generated content, which allow the audience to express their creativity and share their experiences with others.

This type of marketing is effective because it not only captures the audience’s attention but also makes them feel like they are a part of the brand’s story. By creating an engaging and interactive experience, viral marketing campaigns are able to generate more buzz, increase brand awareness, and drive conversions.

The power of social influence

The opinions and actions of others can have a significant impact on our own behavior and decision-making.

In the context of marketing, this means that when people see their friends, family, and peers sharing and engaging with a particular brand or campaign, they are more likely to do the same. By tapping into the power of social influence, viral campaigns can quickly reach a large audience.

Word of mouth is a very powerful form of social influence. When people share a brand or campaign with their network, they are essentially endorsing it and increasing its credibility. As a result, their friends and family are more likely to take notice and share the content with others. This creates a chain reaction… i.e. “going viral.”

Relevance and timing for going viral

Relevance and timing are two important elements of going viral. A campaign that is not relevant to the target audience or timed poorly is unlikely to generate much interest or engagement.

To create campaigns that are relevant to your target audience, you must have a deep understanding of their needs, wants, and pain points. This requires researching the target audience, monitoring trends, and staying up-to-date with current events.

Timing refers to the moment when a campaign is launched. A campaign that is launched at the wrong time is unlikely to generate much interest or engagement. Companies need to stay up-to-date with current events and monitor trends to identify opportunities for relevant campaigns.

Marketers must be creative and innovative in their approach, using relevant, modern themes to grab the audience’s attention.

The end goal: creating a lasting, positive impact

The goal of a viral marketing campaign is not just to reach a large audience, but also to create a lasting impression that will have a positive impact on the brand. Campaigns that are authentic and aligned with their brand values are more likely to connect their audience on a deeper level.

By staying true to brand values, understanding these psychological factors, and flexing their creative muscle, marketers can create impactful and memorable campaigns that create long-lasting impact.

Related: 9 Marketing Strategies to Make Events More Successful