Viral Marketing

Viral marketing is a method that encourages customers and users to recommend certain offers and services. Viral marketing focusses primarily on a modern form of mouth-to-mouth-recommendation.

The term „viral“ comes from an association within medical science. Analog to a virus, information shall jump from one person to another, virtually causing an epidemic, by which information, offers and services of a company spread very quickly. Especially in the last few years, viral marketing became an integral part of the internet, due to internet platforms such as Facebook, StudiVZ, Twitter, You Tube or other big networks.

One distinguishes between active and passive viral marketing.

Active viral marketing

Regarding active viral marketing, the possibility to easily spread advertising messages must be given. Concerning this, there is often the possibility on websites to „recommend to friends via email“ an article or a message. As a further possibility, Social Communities, such as Facebook or the business platform Xing offer to invite friends to use the platform.  In some cases, the forwarded content may only be viewed after an active subscription and therefore requires friends or business partners to register beforehand.  By doing so, the user becomes an advertising ambassador for a company and its services, partly unconsciously, partly consciously.

Active viral marketing also means that users are actively ask to spread messages and in return user are promised to receive rewards, for example discounts in case of new customers.

Passive viral marketing

Regarding passive viral marketing, the advertising messages and service offers are being spread when using a service.

A classic examples for this are free email providers, such as or When sending an email there will be a signature containing advertisement automatically attached - – „Free Email Address….“. The recipient receives the advertising message that tells him to use the service since it obviously works very well. After all, the sender uses the service as well.

Basic requirements

A marketing campaign regarding viral marketing is basically an enticement and shall address a large target group, thus the mass.  The message and/or the offer should therefore be interesting and uniquely designed so that the user is stimulated to share it with friends and acquaintances.  First and foremost it should be accessible for everybody, meaning that the offer, for example a promotional video, is provided for free. The dissemination can be supported by means of rewards, such as vouchers or promotional games.

Networks for dissemination

Especially in the age of Web 2.0, also in connection with further development of internet portals and the resulting changes concerning the perception of the internet, a number of useful platforms were born that are highly suitable for viral marketing. In the following, some possibilities for using viral marketing campaigns are introduced:

• Tell-A-Friend functions
By using forms, on a lot of websites user selected products can be sent via email to friends, relatives and acquaintances in form of a recommendation. In order to make the sending as easy as possible, in most cases only an email address and the name must be given.

• Email forwarding
The email function „forward“ is also very popular to send advertising messages. It is basically similar to the Tell-A-Friend“function.

• Weblogs
Blogs (in English weblogs – a mixture between web for internet and log for log-book) in their various versions are probably known to most internet users by now – these can be used indirectly regarding viral marketing. Particularly when promotional games are offered in addition, it is worth to call attention to it in order to stimulate bloggers to write. Thus, the popularity may be increased due to the fact that every blogger has a a circe of readers that can thus be reached by the message – and amongst these readers there might well be some interested bloggers.

• Furthermore, product-tests and connected reviews by bloggers are conceivable.

• Social networks
Also social networks, such as Facebook, Xing or Twitter are suitable for the dissemination of information – especially due to the function of sharing entries (pin board, guest book) a lot of users can be reached in very short time. Each user has a certain number of friends, meaning that the firth user reaches his friends and acquaintances.  But if these, in turn, share the message, their friends and acquaintances are also provided with information – thus funny and interesting advertising messages can be spread like a wildfire.

• Classic word-of-mouth advertising at meetings and events

• Collections of signatures and petitions

• Surveys on current issues

Examples for viral marketing

A current example is the Darth Vader clip from Volkswagen on Youtube ( – an internet platform on which thousands of videos, advertising videos among them, are published on a daily basis. The clip, also also broadcasted on television, was produced relatively inexpensive and has spread – like a wildfire – within hours within the internet. The dissemination happened primarily via word-of-mouth advertising by using serviceslike Twitter, Facebook or instant messengers.

This advertising video was interesting and somehow „cutely“ designed so that it was remembered by many with the Passat by Volkswagen. Another advantage came additionally along – almost everybody knows the Starwars movies. The identification possibilities were very high and Volkswagen could present itself even close to the people.

Another example for viral marketing was the computer game „Moorhuhn“ – even during lunch breaks, on schoolyards and in recreational time Moorhühner were taken down from the sky and were thus spread further, while using it or consciously by providing links for downloading it. At the bottom line, only the game was remembered.

Here, the idea was to promote the Whiskey producer „Johnnie Walker“. It was of limited success: the brand’s advertising campaign was quickly eclipsed, because the users focused on the game. This meant that the campaign caused costs that were not proportional to the given success. After all, it was the campaign’s goal to create an additional value for the products and brand.  At the bottom line, only the „Moorhuhn“ game was remembered.