Notable examples of viral marketing.
Early in its existence, the television show Mystery Science Theater 3000 had limited distribution. The producers encouraged viewers to make copies of the show on video tapes and give them to friends in order to expand viewership and increase demand for the fledgling Comedy Channel network. During this period the closing credits included the words “Keep circulating the tapes!”
Between 1996–1997, Hotmail was one of the first internet businesses to become extremely successful utilizing viral marketing techniques by inserting the tagline “Get your free e-mail at Hotmail” at the bottom of every e-mail sent out by its users. Hotmail was able to sign up 12 million users in 18 months. At the time, this was historically the fastest growth of any user based media company. By the time Hotmail reached “66 million users”, the company was establishing “270,000 new accounts each day”.
In 2000, Slate.com described TiVo’s unpublicized gambit of giving free systems to web-savvy enthusiasts to create “viral” word of mouth, pointing out that a viral campaign differs from a publicity stunt.
Burger King has used several marketing campaigns. Its The Subservient Chicken campaign, running from 2004 until 2007, was an example of viral or word-of-mouth marketing.
The Blendtec viral video series Will It Blend? debuted in 2006. In the show, Tom Dickson, Blendtec founder and CEO, attempts to blend various unusual items in order to show off the power of his blender. Will it Blend? has been nominated for the 2007 YouTube award for Best Series, winner of .Net Magazine’s 2007 Viral Video campaign of the year and winner of the Bronze level Clio Award for Viral Video in 2008. In 2010, Blendtec claimed the top spot on the AdAge list of “Top 10 Viral Ads of All Time.” The Will It Blend page on YouTube currently shows over 200 million video views.
In 2007, World Wrestling Entertainment promoted the return of Chris Jericho with a viral marketing campaign using 15-second cryptic binary code videos. The videos contained hidden messages and biblical links related to Jericho, although speculation existed throughout WWE fans over whom the campaign targeted. The text “Save Us” and “2nd Coming” were most prominent in the videos. The campaign spread throughout the internet with numerous websites, though no longer operational, featuring hidden messages and biblical links to further hint at Jericho’s return.
In 2007, Portuguese football club Sporting Portugal integrated a viral feature in their campaign for season seats. In their website, a video required the user to input his name and phone number before playback started, which then featured the coach Paulo Bento and the players waiting at the locker room while he makes a phone call to the user telling him that they just can’t start the season until the user buys his season ticket.
The Big Word Project, launched in 2008, aimed to redefine the Oxford English Dictionary by allowing people to submit their website as the definition of their chosen word. The project, created to fund two Masters students’ educations, attracted the attention of bloggers worldwide, and was featured on Daring Fireball and Wired Magazine.
Between December 2009 and March 2010 a series of seven videos were posted to YouTube under the name “iamamiwhoami” leading to speculation that they were a marketing campaign for a musician. In March 2010, an anonymous package was sent to an MTV journalist claiming to contain a code which if cracked would give the identity of the artist. The seventh video, entitled ‘y’, appears to feature the Swedish singer Jonna Lee.
On July 14, 2010, Old Spice launched the fastest growing online viral video campaign ever, garnering 6.7 million views after 24 hours, ballooning over 23 million views after 36 hours. Old Spice’s agency created a bathroom set in Portland, OR and had their TV commercial star, Isaiah Mustafa, reply to 186 online comments and questions from websites like Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Digg, YouTube and others. The campaign ran for 3 days.
Companies may also be able to use a viral video that they did not create for marketing purposes. A notable example is the viral video “The Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments” created by Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz of EepyBird. After the initial success of the video, Mentos were quick to offer their support. They shipped EepyBird thousands of mints for their experiments. Coke were slower to get involved.
On March 6, 2012, Dollar Shave Club launched their online video campaign. In the first 48hrs of their video debuting on YouTube they had over 12,000 people signing up for the service. The video cost just $4500 to make and as of November 2015 has had more than 21 million views. The video was considered as one of the best viral marketing campaigns of 2012 and won “Best Out-of-Nowhere Video Campaign” at the 2012 AdAge Viral Video Awards.