The Implications of Virality in Digital Marketing

What makes a video viral and another not? It all does seem random doesn’t it? This post will talk about the aspects of virality and the potential repercussions of a viral marketing video.

According to Kevin Allocca, there are three ingredients for virality namely tastemakers, communities of participation and unexpectedness.

1. Tastemakers

The chart below taken from a Ted Talk by Kevin Allocca shows the views per day for the double rainbow video.

It shows that the double rainbow video did not go viral until Jimmy Kimmel, a ‘tastemaker’ tweeted about it and shared it to all his followers who in turn shared them to their peers. This chain effect resulted in the video gaining millions of views in a few days.

2. Communities of participation

Friday Music Video

I am sure that virtually everyone knows this song. After the “Friday” music video was shared by tastemakers such as Michael J. Nelson and Tosh.0, the video took off, garnering 1.2 million views in 2 days. Numerous parodies of Friday started to be created by people and within days there was a parody for every other day of the week. This promoted the original video’s shareability with other people, increasing the hits it received.

3. Unexpectedness

A protest against the ticket he got for not cycling in the bike lane
Fast forward to 1.15 to skip the intro

This video has, to the date of this post, 22 million hits on YouTube. By using an unique and unexpected way of protest, Casey Neistat managed to make his video viral. According to smarp, one of the main reasons people want to share content is to bring enlightening and entertaining content to others.

Is there such a thing as “too viral” though? Some may argue that a marketing video that becomes shared too much might lose the video’s original intended meaning. In this information age where everyone has an opinion about something, marketing videos that are too viral might backfire and cause public relations issues and what not.

Hyundai advertisement

An example would be Hyundai’s advertisement depicting their cars having fewer emissions compared to other cars. Hyundai used suicide as the subject of the advertisement in the hopes of making it unique and unexpected. Suicide, however, is a sensitive subject and should not be used in marketing videos. This advertisement was pulled shortly after it was released but imagine the amount of backlash Hyundai would receive if it became viral.

Image result for viral marketing

In summary, virality is important to companies. Companies want to be seen and heard among the clutter and may try many different ways to achieve this. In doing so, however, companies should be mindful about the content they put out. In this information age, everyone can see their marketing videos. All it takes is one badly interpreted advertisement to spark the start of a public relations nightmare.

Join the Conversation


  1. I agree with your sentiment on the danger of badly interpreted advertisement, as virality applies not only to good ideas but bad ideas as well. But sometimes companies should not be afraid to take a stand even if it risks offending some of its customers.
    For example, Nike took a hit after releasing the Colin Kaepernick ad, but I believe they are playing a long game. What do you think?

    Please do check out my blog as well! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you with regards to Colin Kaepernick’s Nike advertisement being a long term marketing strategy. Nike’s choice to feature Colin Kaepernick after the US National anthem protests was a bold but calculated move. The campaign’s slogan, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” strongly relates to Kaepernick’s stand and situation. I was taught in RMIT that brands need to be consistently disruptive or disruptively consistent in their marketing strategy to stand out from the crowd. I am sure that Nike knew its advertisement campaign was going to be controversial but not cross the line. This campaign sparked discussion and debates surrounding Nike. Many people boycotted the brand and even burned their products ( These discussions, however, did exactly what Nike wanted. The reinforcement and spread of Nike’s brand name.

      There are some subjects that are more sensitive culturally though. Examples of this are mental disabilities, suicide, death and incurable diseases. These subjects, in my opinion should never be used as the subject of a marketing campaign.


    1. Great question! I think that the video fulfilled the 6 STEPPS for success. According to John Berger, there are 6 elements that makes something viral, social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value and stories. John Berger calls this the 6 STEPPS for success (

      Social currency refers to the post’s ability to make the sharer look good to those around him. The video displayed heroism which has high social currency.
      Triggers are things that are easy to remember about a product or idea. The firefighter’s uniform triggered people to think about the heroic acts firefighters do.
      Content that evoke strong emotions are more likely to be shared. The GoPro vidoe evoked strong emotions of suspense and joy.
      Public refers to the fact that the content is easy to spread formatting-wise. The video was put on YouTube which is a public platform.
      Content with practical value are more likely to be shared as they appeal people generally want relevant content that can improve their lives.
      Good stories get passed along through generations. Content with a good story thus will get people talking about it. The video showed how firefighters saved a kitten from a burning house which tells a very strong story.

      These STEPPS, if fulfilled will help a video become shareable and eventually viral.


  2. Seems like viral marketing is an effective tool but it can also be a double-edged sword as messages have a high chance of being misinterpreted along the way, especially during the process of spreading from people to people. What do you think marketers should focus on in order to reduce the possibility of messages being misinterpreted in a negative way?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Research. Research is paramount in marketing. It is difficult to predict how different cultures will interpret marketing messages. Touchy subjects like sex, drugs or violence should be avoided to prevent people from getting offended (

      Response from the use of foul language can be hard to predict as shown in the famous marketing advertisement, “Where the bloody hell are you?” ( That campaign was met with controversy due to the use of the word “bloody”. Many people were offended with the word in the context of the ad. Another advertisement, however, used the same word but to great effect. Carlton’s “Big Ad” used the same word, “Bloody” but won 30 awards globally ( Words that are acceptable in a context can be offensive in another. It is thus imperative for marketers to conduct research before releasing an advertisement.


  3. Virality can sometimes be detrimental to a company’s image. However, there is little evidence that viral marketing messages equate to actual marketing performance. What do you think companies can do to tap on the virality of their messages to garner maximum conversions? What are some other examples of virality gone wrong in marketing?


    1. Thank you for your comment. Companies must opitmise their digital platforms to the possibility of the brand going viral. Their sites must be searchable and educate the customers on what their brand stands for (

      Mat Carpenter published a “Wheres MH370” search and find activity book ( This book became viral (obviously) for all the wrong reasons. People were upset that Mat poked fun at a tragedy. The book did not do well in terms of sales.

      Virality can be a powerful tool, however, if used incorrectly can garner negligible or even negative results. It is thus important for marketers to conduct research and carefully monitor the results of their marketing campaigns.


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