3 traits of a viral advertising campaign

Today’s bootstrapping entrepreneur knows that the holy grail of marketing on a tight budget is to get one of your advertising campaigns to go viral.  How lucky would it be for you to get the very first ad you publish for you new venture to go viral within 30 days of launch driving millions of visitors to your website?  But is it really luck? Well there are two schools of thought on this.

The first school does comes from a place of luck. The belief here is that the chance of your advertising campaign going viral amounts to the chance of you winning the lottery. The second school comes from a place of strategic planning relying on specific scientifically proven techniques.  This school also believes that by using these techniques properly you will practically 10x the chance that your audience will talk about and share your advertising message over and over again until it goes viral.

The fact is that regardless of what viral advertising school of thought you come from, there are 3 traits that all viral advertising campaigns have. Unfortunately, having these traits don’t guarantee that your advertising campaign will go viral. However, if your advertising campaign does not have these traits you can guarantee that it won’t. So without further ado, here are the 3 traits of a viral advertising campaign.

  1. Stimulation of the activating emotions
    According to research done by Jonah Berger and Katherine L. MiLKMan, and documented masterfully in the Berger’s new book Contagious: Why Things Catch On not all emotions stimulate the desire for someone to share a message.  Only activating emotions such as amusement, awe, anger and anxiety work.  On the contrary, deactivating emotions such as sadness have the opposite effect.
  2. Doesn’t immediately come off as an advertisement
    The bottom line here is that people don’t want to share advertisements.  They want to share things that are either interesting or surprising.  That is why most viral advertising campaigns start with a great story, and within that story is the advertising message.
  3. Viral spark is ignited through a Niche market
    People who share a niche tend to gravitate to each other.  As it turns out, this gravitational pull is a fantastic conductor for information.  That is why it is critical that viral advertising campaigns convey a very specific point of view.  Bland perspectives targeting general markets fail.   A viral advertising campaign speaks to a very specific type of person who is part of connected community.  It is this community who ultimately gets the viral ball rolling.

To close, I want to reiterate that these are three traits of viral advertising campaigns  not viral content in general.  These same traits may or may not impact how viral a “cat” or “Harlem shake” video goes.  However, when it comes to messages specifically intended for advertising purposes, these traits are a must.