Reactive Viral Marketing

Written by: Lisa Scheider


“Word of mouth marketing” may sound familiar to you, but have you ever heard of the term “e-word of mouth marketing” or “word of mouse marketing”? It is related to the term “viral marketing” which is a phenomenon due to digitalization and modern forms of communication. Nowadays more and more companies and brands are engaged in creating viral marketing campaigns in hopes that their content will create a buzz and go viral (Kostić et al., 2015). Dove and Evian are best examples for brands that have undoubtedly created viral marketing success stories. With over more than 200 million views the first month both companies have done a great job in using that modern marketing technique (Ankeny, 2014). And yes, viral marketing has some considerable advantages: it is a very cost-effective and modern form of marketing that can create brand awareness, drive sales and trigger interest (De Bruyn and Lilien, 2008; Dobele et al., 2007; Kostić et al., 2015). Viral marketing is also a very effective way for a brand to stay up-to-date and to be in top of mind for customers. This all sounds like a very tempting marketing tool but “How Can Companies Create Reactive Viral Marketing Content?” Most viral marketing campaigns are well planned but how is it possible to be quick and responsive in a fast moving environment?

Best Reactive Viral Marketing Example

So is there an option to create content in a very quickly way as a response to a current happening, event or trend? Yes! It is called reactive marketing or “agile marketing”. The main importance about reactive marketing is that the content only last for a shorter time, like a few hours or days. Other viral campaigns might last for weeks or months. This can be a difficulty but also a great thing (Butters, 2015). 

The probably best example for reactive viral marketing is Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” post, which was tweeted out about 10 minutes after the power went down at the Super Bowl 2013. 

Responding to a just occurred happening is reactive viral marketing at it’s best! That witty tweet was retweeted over 12,600 times and was favorited nearly 4,000 times in one hour (The Huffington Post, 2013). This great post capturing a moment in time and connecting it to the brand shows even more the benefits of viral marketing: offering marketing content at low-cost and a great possibility for market impact (Dobele et al., 2007). It is being said that Oreo’s tweet cost roughly $4 million less than paying for broadcasting a TV ad (Watercutter, 2013). It is still left in the dark if that tweet might even have a higher payoff than Oreo’s actual Super Bowl commercial, which amounted millions more to invent (The Huffington Post, 2013). 

Being Reactive Helps The Brand To Stay Relevant

Consumers talk about brands in their everyday life; therefore, it is essential to stay up-to-date and give them something they can talk about. In a fast moving world companies need to produce thoughtful and reactive content that is related to the news or big events to stay relevant. Real-life marketing can be a reaction to a current topic on the news people are already talking about. This way brands can go easily viral and achieve a high reach because it is mostly a parody of something that is already in mind of everyone. Brands like Kit Kat or LEGO created an impactful story when Red Bull Stratos was all over the news and media with the Sky Dive from Space. But can companies react on a scandal or serious topic that is on the news without losing their credibility? Mini made use of the European horsemeat scandal and created a simple but jokey ad with which it reached its customers easily. During a period where the news was covered with important topics, all those three brands leveraged a creative content to stay relevant and to keep people talking about their brand (Simmonds, 2012; The Whip, 2013).

But is every event suitable for viral campaigns and does viral actually fit to every brand’s positioning? The answer is no! Viral campaigns are not compatible with every brand. Companies need to keep in mind their strategy and positioning and weigh up if viral marketing is an appropriate tool for them. Because viral can indeed have drawbacks and can include damages to the brand. A wrong event or incorrect words can damage the brand’s reputation. American Apparel for example created an ad reacting on Hurricane Sandy with offering a “storm sale” – very insensitive and most inappropriate (Hollis, 2007; Smith, 2015)! And when something once went viral and failed it can never be deleted and it is very hard to edit.

According to Dobele et al. (2007) “Viral messages must be cleverly targeted”. As already mentioned, viral marketing might not be suitable for every brand so they should ask themselves – is my target group using social media or modern ways of communication? Motorola’s viral success was well-targeted by using e-mail addresses of previous registered people on their website. Facebook for example is a great medium to spread videos among the 18-to-22-year-olds and it should be made sure that videos are produced in good quality, especially with Generation Y customers (Botha & Reyneke, 2013). 

Planning And Being Proactive Will Lead To Success

Rather than only being reactive, marketers should be proactive as well and plan some content. There are certain events companies know that will be happening – they should make use of them and develop relevant marketing piece in advance. Those preparations can allow brands to create richer and more valuable content. Pantene illustrates a great example of using the red carpet at any award ceremony - they planned a campaign around the hairstyles of the stars. With the hashtag #WantThatHair they tweeted “behind the scenes” pictures. Moreover, they developed content that included stories they did not know before. That way they filled gaps and reacted in real-time, which gave the campaign a reactive but also proactive touch (Smith, 2015).

Oreo’s blackout post could have only been created and posted since proactive steps were taken before. On that Sunday night, the brand and their agency 360i had a mission control set up, which means monitoring Twitter conversations, blogs, and online and social media performance (Busby et al., 2010; Ostrow, 2010) and they reacted immediately. Having the room full of Oreo executives led to a quick approval and that way the post could be tweeted in minutes. This shows another example of proactive and reactive acting (Sanders, 2013). 

Twitter As Real-Time Marketing Tool

The emergence of social media has made viral marketing so popular. Companies use Facebook, Youtube or Twitter for content to go viral. Those are all media that are suitable for a post being shared or spread. But is there a social media tool which works best for a viral marketing campaign? It can definitely be argued that Twitter is the best platform since it is “a viral marketing strategy all on its own” (Gunter, 2016). Twitter is moreover described as a mechanism to develop electronic word of mouth or as a form of online word of mouth branding (Jansen et al., 2009). That format is all about spreading a message from person to person and can easily reach even more people than only their followers. Organizations use Twitter mostly as a one-to-many channel; however tweets can also be one-to-one (a reply to individual) – the only difference hereby is that those posts are visible to a greater audience. Twitter can be used as the right place to promote positive messages with using hyperlinks, a combination of retweets and hashtags (Burton & Soboleva, 2011). Using hashtags is a trend in Twitter that increases viral marketing possibilities. Those hashtags allow people to search for trending topics or recent events. The before mentioned Pantene campaign used their hashtag for the Oscars in 2013 and 2014 and continued itself during the Oscars in 2015. An amazing hashtag campaign that went viral on Twitter and pursued itself without any official help from them. So that is why Twitter can be used as a true real-time marketing tool where content might not be gone tomorrow but remains and is being continued (Gunter, 2016; Smith, 2015).

Positive and Emotional Content Goes Viral

So when companies decide to create reactive viral marketing content, what do they have to keep in mind? What makes content go viral? According to Dobele et al. (2007) marketers that want a campaign to go viral should try to find a fit between a key emotion and their brand. Fun brands like Apple or Virgin can for example use joy in their viral content; whereas anger in viral marketing campaigns may be beneficial for brands that fear competition. Very importantly to mention is that culture’s influence on viral marketing need to be kept in mind. Campaigns built on bad taste might work for cultures that find that funny; in other countries it would just be inappropriate. Specific viral content should only be targeted to women or men since there are gender differences in the efficiency of viral campaigns. In general, it is being argued that the more positive the content is, the more likely it is to get viral. However, some negative emotions like high-arousal ones (i.e. anger, awe) are also very certain in getting viral (Berger & Milkman, 2013). Here is another handful and useful tips for content creation for marketers according to Berger and Milkman (2013): (1) Marketers should not try to only focus on opinion leaders but create contagious content, which can be more beneficial. (2) Viral marketing campaigns that amuse the audience are more likely to go viral rather than content that relax or make consumers content. (3) As before mentioned negative emotions might hurt the brand; however if it activated it does not harm the brand. (4) Sadness is definitely not the best viral content piece and hinders people to share the content. (5) Even though angry marketing campaigns do not work best for virality, negative online feedback from customers might be a harm for companies. Sometimes it is not the content marketers create for their brands that goes viral, but the content customers produce. And of course – this cannot always be positive. It is important to address all comments; however it can be helpful to correct experiences that make customers anxious rather than frustrated. Again, the content that involves anger is most likely being spread. So apparently there is not one rule for content that works best for viral marketing, however marketers need to focus on positive and emotional content.

Concluding Words

Viral marketing is indeed a very useful and cost-effective tool to increase brand awareness. Although the answer to the question: “How Can Companies Create Reactive Viral Marketing Content?” cannot be answered in one sentence. However, marketers should keep a few things in mind: they should prepare and stay proactive in order to be reactive. Moreover, they should be aware of what is happening in the world – is there an event, whether sports or political, coming up that can be related to the brand? Setting up Google Alerts that notify companies with trends and up-to-the-minute happenings might help to stay relevant (Sait, 2014). Yet, the viral campaign needs to fit to the brand; marketers should not make the mistake to force the brand to a topic that is not related to the brand, this could harm the brand. A reactive viral campaign should be simple and emotional, that way the content will most likely be shared (Botha & Reyneke, 2013). The company is not sure which social media platform to use?  Twitter is a great real-time marketing tool and the right place to post content that includes hashtags. So marketers out there – try your best and create your first reactive viral marketing campaign!


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