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Unbelievable Viral Marketing Examples

By: Viral Nation | 10 mins read |
Social media has become the “great equalizer” for marketers, especially digital marketers. The meteoric rise of platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have paved the way for social media marketing to take its place in the pantheon of today's marketing age. And the best part? You don’t need millions of dollars to run a successful marketing campaign. If you are creative and know your audience, you can achieve astounding results. Stories of huge marketing campaigns from go-to brands like Coca-Cola or Bud Light are commonplace. Whether it’s a Super Bowl commercial or a viral influencer marketing campaign starring A-list celebrities, every marketer takes note from the greats. Though to no one's surprise, not every brand has the luxury of spending upwards of $4 million on a single 30-second ad. But it’s no longer just about the size of your budget. It's more about how you spend those marketing dollars. And even the brands that do have millions to spend on their marketing efforts have shifted their focus towards social media, in order to enhance their brand visibility and simply maximize their reach and results. Even still, at the end of the day, it all comes down to your brand's strategy and execution. If you lack good ideas and a plan to put them into action, you are all but assured to fall flat. So if you’re short on ideas, no need to worry. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. And with a little bit of luck, inspiration can even fall into your lap. Even better, sometimes a little fate and favorable social virality may just benefit your brand by proxy. Here's a list of unbelievable viral marketing examples over the past few years.  

IHOP Becoming "IHOB"

This one sent both social and traditional media ablaze when it dropped last year. But what began as a laughed off attempt at re-establishing market relevancy, has turned into one of the best content marketing wins in recent memory. In fact, IHOP’s name change should probably be recognized as one of the greatest brand awareness campaigns of all time. The concept, while inherently risky, was simple in nature. The company was introducing something fairly ordinary in the restaurant industry (a range of burgers), yet the virality they generated was greater than anyone likely could have imagined.     This was more than a gimmick. The famously pancake-focused brand literally went as far as to actually change the signage on their restaurants that reflected their (temporary) name change. Talk about taking an idea and running with it! And while many people (and competitors) universally mocked the company for this campaign, the results likely silenced those critics. IHOP generated more conversation than McDonald’s, Burger King and the uber social media savvy Wendy’s, with a simple niche that captured the entire world’s attention. And oh yeah, the campaign quadrupled the company's sales. So for all the laughs the name change rouse induced with viewers, it ended up producing a massive spike in business for the pancake house. So it's fair to say that IHOP got the last laugh on this one.  

Roman Originals "The Dress"

If you were alive in four years ago, you remember the most infamous question of the year, the question that seemingly produced differing opinions from everyone who came across the image. The question? White and gold? Or black and blue? What is now infamously known as "The dress" was a photograph that became a viral internet sensation in February of 2015, when viewers disagreed over whether the dress pictured was colored black and blue, or white and gold. The phenomenon revealed differences in human color perception, which have been the subject of ongoing scientific investigations into neuroscience and vision science, with a number of papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals since the image went viral. The photo originated from a washed-out color photograph of a dress posted on the social networking service Tumblr. Within the first week after the surfacing of the image, more than 10 million tweets mentioned the dress, using hashtags such as #thedress, #whiteandgold, and #blackandblue.       Although the actual color was eventually confirmed as black and blue (sorry "white and gold" advocates) the image prompted numerous discussions, with users debating their opinions on the color and how they perceived the dress in the photograph as a particular color or shade. Members of the scientific community even began to investigate the photo for fresh insights into human color vision. The dress itself, which was identified as a product of the retailer Roman Originals, experienced a massive surge in sales as a result of "The Dress" incident. The retailer also produced a one-off version of the dress in white and gold as a charity campaign. This is an example as a brand where a combination of luck and good fortune melded into a successful blend of web virality that translated into a huge spike in popularity for a brand. And the best part is, it was all by accident.  

Yanny vs. Laurel

As mentioned above, the internet melted down over the color of a dress. Just three years later, another enthralling debate created a similar fervor amongst social users. An obscure audio file had friends, family members and work colleagues questioning one another’s hearing, and even their own.

Is the voice saying “Yanny” or “Laurel”?

The sound clip paired with an online poll was posted on Instagram, Reddit and other sites by high school students who said that it had been recorded from a vocabulary website playing through the speakers on a computer. Redditor RolandCamry was responsible for the initial posting. But three days later, vlogger Cloe Feldman (below) started the latest country-dividing conversation when she posted on Instagram and Twitter, "What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel," accompanied by the recording of a computerized voice. 

The virality of this particular instance became instantly relevant in pop culture, and in turns, brands got in on the action. Everyone from Sony and Carl's Jr. to PETA and T-Mobile touched on the debate craze on social, all of which only enhanced brand visibility for all involved, and maybe most important: inserted these brands into the social conversation in a way that made them both more relatable, and more in touch with the pulse of social media as a whole.  

Fyre Festival

Unless you have been living under a rock and taking a vacation from social media, or any media for that matter, chances are you have heard of the now infamous Fyre Festival, and how it crashed and burned. The event itself was ultimately intended to promote the launch of the Fyre app, which was built as a high-end booking app for people to book high profile artists for private events. It was designed with the affluent in mind, offering access to those who could afford to have an artist the likes of, say, Lil' Wayne at their Sweet 16th birthday party. Festival organizers spent jaw-dropping sums of money on an extravagant launch campaign with 10 of the world's top supermodels all sharing gorgeous promotional pictures and videos of themselves partying on a luxurious, sun-drenched island in the Bahamas. Supermodels like Bella Hadid and Hailey (Baldwin) Bieber shared a mysterious orange tile to Instagram with a link to the Fyre Festival website. The mystery only fed the intrigue of the audiences who viewed the posts. A-list celebrities and social stars like Kendall Jenner were reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post announcing the launch of ticket sales for the event, offering her followers a discount code in the post. This was influencer marketing at a scale we had arguably never seen before. And while the public backlash over the execution over the festival has been harsh and completely valid, all is not dark. "If anything (the Fyre Festival documentary) was showing utilizing influencer marketing was part of its success in terms of marketing the event," says Werner Geyser, founder of the Influencer Marketing Hub. Geyser says that since the release of the documentaries, he has seen his web traffic spike as a curiosity in both the industry and the general public has increased. There were other positive elements of the festival's fallout. Though done so in vain, elements of the campaign were deployed with tact. First is the sheer scale of the social effort to reach as many eyes as possible. BBC covered this subject and released some intriguing data that sheds light on the value of this marketing in volume and beyond, shown below. The firm Neoreach offers data on influencer industry growth. According to its research and forecasts:
  • The number of Instagram posts using popular hashtags to denote advertising or promotion has risen from 1.1 million in 2016 to 3.1 million in 2018
  • They predict there will be 4.4 million officially promoted posts in 2019
  • The average return on investment in 2018 was $5.20 for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, according to a study of 2,000 campaigns
  • Instagram is the most popular platform for influencer campaigns, followed by Facebook and YouTube
  • The influencer market size has grown from $1.7 billion in 2016 to $4.6 billion in 2018 and is forecast to hit $6.5 billion in 2019
In an industry driven by data, numbers don't lie. People do. Simply ask all the victims of this dramatic failure of a festival. Every thread in this tangled web seems to have been bamboozled by McFarland in some fashion. At least that's what a lot of the media sentiment and inside information is built around. But the influence (no pun intended) of this campaign tactic at its core, and the publicity it generated, displays its effectiveness on an emotional level that is measured outside of most data metrics. They were selling a dream.  

Coca-Cola: "Share A Coke"

The company's "Share a Coke" 2014 summer campaign is one of the best-performing marketing campaigns in Coca-Cola's history. And that's saying something, considering Coca-Cola has been around for well over a century and is the most recognized brand on the planet. The campaign traded out the company's iconic logo on 20-ounce bottles for 250 of the US's most popular names. Consumers are encouraged to find bottles with names that hold a personal meaning for them and to share them with friends and family. Coca-Cola has generated exorbitant amounts of social media content by specifically targeting consumers who use social media, and in turn asking them to share photos and stories. The company gives full creative control and brand ownership to these consumers, prompting people to feel like they aren't promoting the company so much as they are starting their own social media conversations. The online results of the campaign have been a massive success. Within the first year, over 500,000 photos were shared using the #ShareaCoke hashtag, consumers created over six million virtual Coke bottles, and Coca-Cola gained roughly 25 million Facebook followers. We even went online and made our own custom bottle.   For teens and millennials, personalization is not just a fad or a trend. It's a way of life. This demographic of consumers place a high value on self-expression, personalized storytelling and staying connected with their friends and peers. The "Share a Coke" campaign gives consumers the ability to do all of these things while unknowingly (or at least inadvertently) promoting the Coca-Cola brand. So when a consumer shares a name-branded Coke bottle with their closest friend, they feel as if they are honoring their friend rather than actually promoting the Coke brand itself. Additionally, the main slogan of the campaign, "Share a Coke," is a great call-to-action phrase. This slogan, both catchy and easy to remember, prompts consumers to actually go out and buy a Coke, and then share their Coca-Cola stories online. This makes the call to action stick with the audience, which makes it a constant reminder to consumers. Coca-Cola purposefully used the "Share a Coke" phrase to encourage consumers to not only have a Coke themselves but also to give one to someone else, created a culture of generosity that should be admired by consumers and marketers alike.

"The Egg"

This one is the newest viral craze sweeping social media. We all have a social feed these days that seems to be overflowing with baby pictures, celebrity gossip, and inspiring images and quotes to bestow wisdom upon our everyday lives. However, none of these even hold a yolk against an egg. Like, an actual egg. A photo posted by the aptly-named @World_Record_Egg account cracked the record for the most-liked Instagram photo last week. There's nothing special about it. Seriously. It's literally just a picture of an egg.  
To date, the Instagram post has generated a staggering - wait for it - 52.8 million likes. The previous record was held by Kylie Jenner's birth announcement. Making Jenner responded to her record being broken by reposting an old video of her trying to fry an egg on a tarmac with the caption, "Take that little egg." Guinness World Records verified the achievement last Monday and identified the post as originating in the United Kingdom. The world record egg's identity has been revealed as Eugene, and while many elements of the account and it's intention is shrouded in mystery, some details are beginning to emerge. It turns out Eugene has struggled to cope with the pressures of Insta-stardom. On February 5th, the world’s most famous egg cracked in a video, urging others who suffer from social media anxiety to seek help.
It has now been brought to light that this concept was devised by The & Partnership creative Chris Godfrey in an apparent attempt to increase awareness around mental health. Many PR professionals believe the campaign demonstrates the sometimes vacuous and vain nature of social media, but also how it can also be a force for good in the world. A campaign steeped in values that produced the most liked Instagram post of all time? All while doing so with an air of mystery that veiled its true intention? This epitomizes what a truly viral marketing campaign entails. As a reminder, Influencer marketing doesn’t have to be fluff but can be a sales channel and an imperative part of every marketing strategy. Our influencer marketing agency caters to all of our clients’ needs, we aren’t simply an influencer marketing company. Grow and Measure your Brand’s Social Engagement with the Influencer Marketing Agency of the Year

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_About the author
Viral Nation

Viral Nation is a new media innovation group that powers the social ecosystem through integrated solutions that align strategy, talent, media, and technology. As pioneers in the influencer space, Viral Nation is comprised of a full-service creative agency, a creator and athlete-influencer representation agency, and a technology division creating modern marketing solutions for the social media age.