The Secret to Overnight Viral Marketing Success

Catchy title, no?

Utter horseshit, yes?


I’ve said it before—and I’ll probably have to say it a zillion times again before anyone listens: YOU CAN’T CREATE “VIRAL.”

Viral is the happy by-product (or the unfortunate side-effect, depending on your perspective) of a campaign that artfully blends 6 key ingredients:

  1. Value
  2. Fun
  3. Creativity
  4. Timing
  5. Distribution
  6. Magical pixie dust

Ok, I’m kidding about ingredient #6. But the other five are not optional—they’re MUST-HAVEs. And they’re anything but “one size fits all”.

Recently, I had a client look me straight in the eye and say, “We need some good viral. And we need it FAST.” Some time between my desire to laugh hysterically—and cry hysterically—I found a moment to Tweet about my frustration with this ridiculous and ubiquitous request.

Here’s a quick sampling of the responses I got:

@mdurwin: Did you here this: Client asked for a viral video, I collected best ones showing kick to the groin, then asked for volunteers.

@meggiepoo: amen sister. i love it when a client says “i want to make a viral video.” it’s so adorable i want to smoosh their cheeks.

@mdaniel79: you mean there’s not a “Create viral campaign” key on your keyboard?

Sadly, no, my Mac did not come with the “create viral campaign” key. Perhaps if I upgrade my operating system?….

The next time a marketing pro or agency tells you they “do viral,” my suggestion is to run away. Fast. Or, just for giggles, ask them to show you the “create viral campaign” key on their keyboard.

Because it just doesn’t work that way. Your campaign might be brilliant, original, artful… but have no intrinsic value to the target audience—and it wont ‘catch’.

Or it could be immensely valuable but poorly distributed (read: Facebook aint a silver bullet)—and it wont catch.

It might even be useful AND strategically distributed… but boring as a conference room full of narcoleptics. If you don’t have all 5 of the first 5 ingredients… you’d better get yourself some pixie dust or kiss that promotion goodbye.

And speaking of promotion… let’s pause for a brief moment of shameless self-promotion, shall we?

The Genius is more than happy to help you—yes, even YOU—whip up some “really good viral, really fast”. So to speak.

At the very least, I’m happy to knock some sense into your boss/colleagues/clients about what viral really is and demystify the process of crafting a campaign that has the essential ingredients, and therefore, the potential to generate “tech-fueled word-of-mouth momentum” (a.k.a. BUZZ).

Gotta run… phone’s already ringin’…!


15 Responses

  1. I don’t think you should be kidding about the pixie dust.

  2. Loved this column!

  3. But just think how many books you could sell if you wrote the “Ultimate Guide to Creating Viral Marketing.” These people would obviously buy anything!

  4. Amen! Seems like a lot of client/companies (bill payers) confuse viral for social media. Nimrods.

  5. This is great! I think pure luck should be added to the list too.

    And if all else fails, bring out the pixie dust 🙂

  6. It’s much like a client calling an ad agency and saying, “We need a Cannes Lion Award winning campaign.”


  7. Pixie dust is in fact the only thing you need.

    I got asked to do something similar internally, “Hey, I’ll do that once I climb Everest at lunchtime.”

  8. Clearly I’m not the only marketing genius to feel this pain. We should start a support group, perhaps? 😉

    Thanks for comments – and for those of you who wrote me directly to ask where you can buy some pixie dust, I’ll tell you: it’s right there on the same shelf as the Cloak of Invisibility and the Magic Love Potion.

    @Matt Hames — I’ve actually had that request (and others like it, too). Apparently some of my clients think I’m a magician, not a marketing genius.

    @Karl — I’m filing that comeback in my Swipe File. Good one 😉

  9. Seems that technology was supposed to make everything easier AND faster AND smarter, Same old story, though: Garbage in. Garbage out.

  10. Given my teensy background in science, when I hear viral, I think…about viruses. Let’s see. First you need a virus. Then you need a vulnerable “host.” Then you need to find a way to get the virus into/onto the “host.” Then you need to wait for the virus to multiply in the “host.” Then you have to hope that the “host’s” immune system (read: bullshit detector) is weak. Then the “host” gets sick, starts sneezing, and, with any luck, spreads the virus to other “hosts.” Yep, that’s a lot of steps, and it doesn’t happen overnight…

  11. […] Post here from the perennially provocative Marta Kagan, distilled with significant loss of charming […]

  12. Loved reading this… I would also add that some of the best viral marketing i’ve seen has a high degree of user interactivity (but that’s part of the Fun)

  13. I have had success in viral marketing.’ Success’ is relative, sure. However, my guerrilla style marketing has worked enough that my business is sustained by it.

    You have to understand the internet and how it works, you have to study it, you have to understand what certain types of people are doing and why. You have to understand the social sites, and blogs.

    I do not rely on pixie dust. And frankly I do not joke about it. Every moment I am in front of the computer, I am not enjoying outside with my five kids.

    So, it is funny I guess…but it is as real as the products that I sell.

  14. Hello,

    Please check my entrance for a viral campaign contest I’m in for a chance to attend the Cannes Lions 2009 Festival, in France. Please tell others to do so and comment / rate it please.

    It’s in spanish, so here’s the translation of the copywrite:

    – “Doesn’t the video load?”
    – “Switch to Tricom’s Broadband Internet”

    Thank you for your support,

  15. I read your posts for a long time and should tell you that your articles are always valuable to readers.

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