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Viral Marketing Case Studies: What Made These 5 Campaigns Successful and How You Can Apply the Same Ingredients to Your Marketing Strategy

Viral marketing is a strategy that uses social media, email, and other online platforms to spread a message or promote a product, service, or idea. The goal is to create content that people want to share with others, resulting in exponential growth in reach and engagement. In this article, we will examine five case studies that exemplify viral marketing campaigns, analysing what made them successful and what lessons we can learn from them. Often misunderstood, viral marketing at its core is a social interaction and engagement between a brand and its audiences –intended or unintended.

In India, many brands engage in what we refer to as moment marketing, or responding to a particular moment or trend with content that’s on-brand, i.e. ties in with the brand’s positioning, or communication style. 

  1. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a fundraising campaign that went viral in the summer of 2014. Participants were challenged to dump a bucket of ice water over their heads and donate to the ALS Association, a nonprofit that funds research and support for people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The campaign was successful because it tapped into people’s desire to do something fun, silly, and for a good cause. Participants were encouraged to challenge others, creating a sense of friendly competition and social pressure to participate. Celebrities and public figures also got involved, amplifying the message and creating a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) among their followers.

  1. Dove Real Beauty Sketches

The Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign was launched in 2013 with the goal of redefining beauty standards and promoting self-esteem among women. The campaign featured a forensic sketch artist who drew portraits of women based on their own descriptions and then based on descriptions given by others who met them briefly.

The campaign was successful because it tapped into people’s emotions and desire for self-improvement. It resonated with women of all ages and backgrounds who had experienced self-doubt and negative body image. The campaign also leveraged social media and earned media, with the video going viral and being featured on major news outlets.

  1. Dollar Shave Club

The Dollar Shave Club was launched in 2012 with the goal of disrupting the razor market dominated by major brands like Gillette and Schick. The company offered a subscription service that delivered high-quality razors and other grooming products to customers’ doors for a fraction of the cost 


The founder, Michael Dubin, starred in a video that went viral, showcasing the company’s quirky personality and value proposition. By using humour, the company was able to showcase its offering and connect with audiences that were accustomed to big brands selling razors on the merits of manliness, and other selling points. Refreshing as a take, the campaign also leveraged social media and influencer marketing to reach a wider audience.

  1. Oreo’s Lights Out Super Bowl

During the 2013 Super Bowl, there was a power outage that caused a delay in the game. Oreo seized the opportunity and tweeted a picture of an Oreo cookie in the dark with the caption “You can still dunk in the dark.”

The campaign was successful because it was timely, relevant, and clever. It demonstrated the brand’s quick thinking and agility in response to unexpected events. The tweet went viral and was retweeted over 10,000 times, earning the brand significant media attention and brand awareness.

  1. The Dress

Back in February 2015, there was a viral image on social media that caused a lot of buzz. The image was a picture of a dress that people couldn't agree on the colour of – some saw it as blue and black, while others saw it as white and gold. This caused confusion and curiosity, and the phenomenon quickly spread. The viral sensation generated millions of views and thousands of tweets from people all over the world who wanted to weigh in on the colour debate. Interestingly, some brands even took advantage of the situation to join the conversation and use the viral moment to their own advantage. Overall, the dress picture was a simple but highly effective way to generate a lot of engagement and get people talking. It just goes to show how powerful viral marketing can be when something as basic as a dress can create a global sensation.

While there was no brand associated with it, many brands used this as an opportunity to jump into the conversation and leverage the conversation to piggyback on the subject. 

What makes these 5 case studies universal benchmarks of success?

These five case studies are benchmarks of success due to reach, engagement, and brand awareness they generated through these campaigns. They tap into people’s emotions, desires, and values, creating content that people want to share with. Many well-known brands tapped into these moments and essentially established themselves into a moment of pop culture that is immutable. Social shareability, conversation building and simplicity of the idea is what drives virality of the campaign. 

Is there a measure for viral marketing campaigns? 

The single best measure for a marketing campaign’s effectiveness off social media [apart from the mentions, hashtags impressions, and reach of the content] is the direct, and organic traffic spike you might see on your website, or app. One such example was when WhatsApp was faced with rumours of privacy issues, the new platform Signal was inundated with traffic. This started on Twitter, but soon the surge crashed the servers till the small team was able to add extra traffic. This surge is never a delta but in fact a seismic shift in the brand’s perception. Thanks to the earned media, any brand that is able to leverage viral marketing gains more in organic SEO, domain ranks, page links and much more as a result of one possible campaign.