If you’ve been on this site and read my articles before, you know I love a good case study (haha). I always enjoy coming across new ones as there’s always new things you can pick up that you can add to your marketing ideas bank or your own swipe file.
Now for this particular guide, this was really fun to create and analyse/summarise.
I’m excited to introduce you to some of the top viral marketing examples and campaigns that truly went viral (some of the numbers these campaigns have achieved are insane).
You would have seen many of these campaigns over the years play out in real-time, and whilst there’s always good analysis at the time of people sharing their thoughts/ideas (you know, over LinkedIn and the Twittersphere in particular), it’s actually awesome to look back and see what the end results were, and how it impacted the business in terms of awareness, acquisition, sales, and overall business growth.
So, what makes these case studies and examples worth reading further into?
There are lots of ‘viral’ studies and examples out there, but I picked a good balance between those businesses who experienced insane viral numbers, to then those who achieved impressive results based on the budget/resources they had available at their disposal.
What can you can learn from going through the summaries and reading the dedicated studies? Also, what makes these case studies good quality?
Here’s what I kept in mind when going through these case studies (and a small checklist of what to analyse/pick up as ‘golden nuggets’ that you can learn from and potentially incorporate into your marketing strategy):
- Strategies/tactics they used - Is there a good analysis and why campaigns were successful? (some do a really good job at this, whilst others brush over it a bit. However, they were still good to include).
Note: In many of the summaries, I shared my own thoughts/takeaways.
- Data/stats performance - Do they share a good breakdown in terms of numbers?
- Budgets - some of the studies share budgets, but most of the time, you can tell whether or not serious investment went into it due to the nature of the campaign.
- Uniqueness of campaign - what made the campaign stand out in their industry, and why were audiences drawn into engaging/sharing?
- What made the campaign perform? - what were the psychological/emotional triggers that sparked people to share?
- When it comes to the content, what’s the nature of it? Do you think it involve numerous resources to achieve the outcome? Was the content entertaining in nature? Or was is thought-provoking, problem-focused content that sparked further thoughts and actions from audiences?
Depending on your context and the industry/role you’re in, you’ll naturally have some other attributes and criteria that you’re looking to get out of those studies.
So, can you replicate similar success like these example viral campaigns?
This is obviously down to the business you’re involved in, but this should be a criteria you should think about (I mean, that’s the primary reason you’re probably here, right?).
Some of the video campaigns are hard to replicate due to the nature of the videos, and keeping in mind how big the brands are. Unless you’re someone from a bigger brand reading this with a big customer and subscriber base across your channels, it can be hard to replicate success if you’re a smaller startup or eCommerce brand on a lean budget.
However, there are always (yes, always) key takeaways that you can cherry pick from and formulate into your own strategy.
Without further ado everyone, I hope you enjoy this guide I put together.
Oh, and feel free to share with other marketing friends, founders, colleagues (or even family members) that you think will enjoy this. :)
Related reading: In this guide, I talk about social media, UGC and viral competition campaigns that brands utilised to generate some epic results. Some of those platforms/tools that these brands have used (and that I have used as well) are in this pre-launch waitlist and viral competition platforms guide I put together. The good news is that there is a plethora of software solutions that are cost-effective and accessible to any brand, regardless of their size. So, it’s worth the read if you’re serious about viral growth.
Video Viral Campaigns
1. This video campaign reached the Youtube Top 100 charts in over a hundred countries
Watch the video here (over 270+ million views).
- Created to inform the public about rail safety, Dumb Ways to Die has over 270 million views on Youtube.
- When ideating, the team emphasised the thought process of the audience.
- They produced a relevant video with a catchy song, appealing to a wide market.
- This turned into karaoke versions, posters, books, and more.
- After the campaign was released, there was a 21% decrease in railway accidents and near misses.
2. This campaign incited engagement, generating over 338,000 UGC photos in two weeks
Watch the video here (over 42k+ views).
- TOMS’ One Day Without Shoes Campaign promised that for every photo without shoes posted on Instagram with their hashtag, they will sponsor a pair of shoes for a child in need.
- The premise is simple, easy to do, and builds towards a greater purpose.
- By participating in the campaign, people feel like they contributed to a good cause.
- This resulted in more brand exposure for TOMS’.
- The participation of big stars and brands also helped spread the word.
3. This challenge-based campaign took a viral trend and turned it into something better
Watch the video here of the Ice bucket challenge with Bill Gates - you’ll find plenty of others with a simple search on YouTube (over 37+ million views).
- Good chance you won’t forget how big the ice bucket challenge was (and the amazing viral success and eyeballs it gained).
- The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took the existing ice bucket challenge and made it into a fundraising tool.
- People who did the challenge were tasked to nominate others to help raise money for research towards ALS.
- The ice bucket challenge campaign was literally shared everywhere (like you couldn’t stop seeing it at the time), across different social media channels, gaining impressive traction.
- The campaign made waves in over 150 countries, raising $220 million.
- Hashtags and celebrity endorsements propelled the growth of the campaign.
4. Volvo launched a video that gained over 90 million views
Watch the video here (over 116+ million views).
- Volvo Trucks decided to make an ad that would appeal beyond their usual audience, and it worked.
- They used to focus primarily on physical marketing materials, and this was their way of making a name in the digital space.
- The video included a stunt done by a famous action star, sparking spoofs and challenges.
- Themes in the video were 100% relevant to their target market and were designed to be entertaining for others.
5. This Dove video ad hit over 100 million views a month after it was released
Watch the video here (over 70+ million views).
- Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” experienced insane view counts across multiple platforms and media outlets, and even became one of the most-watched video ads of all time.
- The video was made available in over 30 languages and sparked a series on Youtube.
- By appealing to the beauty pain points that women may experience, the campaign became an encouraging and empowering tool.
- Because of its messaging, women naturally shared it with other women, inciting virality.
- To maintain the distribution, Dove did a seeding strategy by launching in key markets before releasing the video worldwide.
6. The Range Rover video which has managed to gain over 100 million views
Watch the video here (over 100+ million views).
- The Range Rover Evoque's marketing campaign in London successfully tackled a notorious speed bump by showcasing the car's capabilities.
- It went viral on social media platforms, resulting in millions of views, which increased brand awareness.
- The team behind the campaign addressed a common problem faced by drivers and connected with the audience emotionally, which made the campaign effective.
7. This campaign was the most popular ad in 2015
Watch the video here (credit: Droga5)
- Google’s Furever Friends campaign was shared over 6 million times across different social media channels.
- These numbers actually make it the most shared video ad of all time.
- The ad tapped into the affection and nostalgia people would generally feel for pets.
- This incited strong feelings of warmth and investment from the viewers, leading to them sharing the video.
8. The Old Spice deodorant commercial which drove an increase of over 100% in sales
Watch the video here (over 60+ million views)
- Ah yes, who could forget the infamous Old Spice ad which was seen all over the net back in 2010 - "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign. - it was designed to be multi-platform, incorporating TV ads, social media, and a dedicated website. Almost like I couldn't escape seeing it everywhere at one stage.
- The company established a unique brand voice by creating a humorous and irreverent character that connected with their market.
- They had a team respond to comments and create personalised videos during the campaign to increase user engagement.
- When the video went viral, followers were further encouraged to participate in user-generated content and social sharing.
- Overall, the strategies leaned into the importance of data-driven marketing.
9. The "Love Has No Labels" video focused on breaking biases and promoting gender acceptance
Watch the video here (over 60+ million views).
- The "Love Has No Labels" campaign celebrates diversity and inclusion, highlighting the beauty and uniqueness of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, age, religion, or sexuality.
- Upworthy leveraged social media to reach a wider audience, using hashtags and images to encourage user engagement and sharing.
- The video fostered an emotional connection with the audience, showing people and their loved ones embracing each other in public, which elicits feelings of love, acceptance, and unity.
- This drove millions of people to the campaign website, increasing the reach across all channels.
- Media support eventually resulted in over $6 million in coverage.
10. The "World's Toughest Job" campaign got over 6 million views within two days
Watch the video here (credit: Mullenlowe)
- The "World's Toughest Job" campaign featured a fake job interview for a position that requires standing for 135 hours straight, working on holidays, and having no breaks.
- There was then a revelation that this job perfectly fit mothers everywhere.
- They utilised a hashtag, #worldstoughestjob, encouraging people to share their stories and appreciation for their moms.
- Measuring the success of the campaign as two-fold: it positively impacted the brand's perception and sales, as well as the cultural conversation around Mother's Day and motherhood.
- In the end, the campaign generated over 25 million views, millions of social media engagements, and significant media coverage and awards.
11. This toilet deodorant campaign went viral with over 40 million views and counting
Watch the video here (over 44+ million views)
- Poo Pouri released a video advertisement titled "Girls Don't Poop", which quickly gained the attention of people on the internet.
- It features a woman in a fancy bathroom explaining the benefits of using Poo-Pourri - hilarious yet relatable.
- The campaign’s humour and real messaging helped it gain widespread popularity.
- Its approach departed from traditional advertising techniques and relied on social media for attention.
12. Budweiser promoted responsible drinking and went viral because of it
Watch the video here (over 2+ million views).
- The Budweiser "Don't Drink and Drive" ad featured an emotional storyline that resonated with viewers and encouraged them to make safer choices.
- It established the heartfelt relationship between pet and owner and used this relatability to convey their message effectively.
- The ad received widespread recognition and has won multiple awards with the fact is resonated with large audiences (and a super important message to push).
- Its messaging also helped Budweiser establish be seen in the market as a socially responsible brand, helping reinforce strong brand credibility.
- This shows us how effective marketing can be used to promote social responsibility and make a positive impact on society, all while scaling the brand name.
13. This Super Bowl ad helped boost a cat food brand
Watch the video here (over 4+ million views).
- "Dear Kitten" is a video ad campaign created by Friskies to promote their cat food products, which they released during the Super Bowl.
- It features a series of videos with an older cat giving advice to a new kitten in the house, using humour and relatable situations to engage its audience.
- Beyond the Super Bowl, the ad was promoted through social media and online advertising, making it accessible to a wide audience.
- This helped Friskies establish a strong brand identity and increase sales of their cat food products.
- The success of the campaign shows the importance of understanding the target market and using creative and innovative marketing techniques to connect with them.
14. Volkswagen's "The Force" ad banked on pop culture to gain traction
Watch the video in link below (credit: Time.com)
- Volkswagen's "The Force" ad, which also aired during the Super Bowl, is widely considered one of the most successful ads in Super Bowl history.
- With almost 100 million views, it’s also the most shared Super Bowl ad to this day.
- The ad's use of nostalgia and pop culture references helped it connect with its target audience on a deeper level.
- As released during a time when Volkswagen was facing controversy, the ad helped improve its image and restore positive marketing.
Social Media & Hashtag Campaigns - TikTok, Facebook & Instagram
15. This campaign by Coca-Cola helped pull in millions of dollars over the past decade
(image credit: Coca-Cola Company)
- One of my personal favourite campaigns from Coca-Cola, which anyone reading this would know quite well, is the "Share a coke" campaign.
- It was certainly one of the more highly successful marketing campaigns Coca-Cola has run (and they've done plenty of them over the years) that aimed to make the brand more relatable and shareable - which ultimately helped them to an increase in sales.
- It used personalisation to engage its audience at scale, which is great for audiences to feel connected more with Coca-Cola.
- The team behind the campaign had to run through thousands of ideas in order to come to their catchphrase, “Share a Coke with…”
- This happened during a time when most other brands were still banking on traditional marketing.
- The campaign encouraged user-generated content and social sharing, which helped it go viral and reach a wider audience.
16. The “Do Us a Flavor” campaign in just 10 months saw over 20 million page visits per week
- Frito-Lay Lay’s was an already popular brand, but they wanted to create buzz about their flavour line-up.
- They came up with a campaign, “Do Us a Flavor”, which is a contest primarily targeting millennials.
- The goal is to have contestants submit ideas for new Lay’s flavours.
- An app was created to increase access to interested participants, where they could also see mock-ups of their proposed flavour.
- In the end, almost 4 million flavours were submitted, and enthusiasm for the brand was reignited.
17. Purina, a pet food company, used a hashtag to reach almost 40 million people on Twitter
(Image credit: Shorty Awards)
- The Purina #PetsAtWork campaign won the Best in Pets Social Media Campaign at the 6th Shorty Awards.
- The program aims to encourage companies to allow pets in the workplace, based on the idea that pets in the workplace can improve employee well-being and productivity.
- Purina conducted research to support this claim and created a toolkit for companies to help them implement a pets-at-work policy.
- User-generated content ran this campaign, including photos and stories of pets in the workplace.
- As a result, the Purina Pets at Work program has been adopted by many companies worldwide, with over 5,000 companies participating.
18. An organic interaction inspired this hashtag campaign crafted by Audi
- Audi's hashtag campaign on Twitter, called #WantAnR8, started when a user wouldn’t stop tweeting about wanting an R8.
- After a while, Audi decided to give her a chance to drive an R8 for one weekend, then went on to use the hashtag she started as an entire campaign.
- The hashtag quickly became popular on Twitter, with celebrities and influencers joining in on the conversation.
- It generated over 75,000 tweets and over 100 million impressions, and Audi's Twitter following grew by over 700% during the campaign.
- This ended up birthing a sequel campaign, #WantAnRS5
19. This UGC campaign by Red Bull is 100% organic and drew up thousands of posts - one of the first UGC successes
(Image credit: Redbull)
- The Red Bull #PutACanonOnIt campaign won the Best Use of Instagram at the 7th Shorty Awards.
- It encouraged users to share creative photos featuring their Red Bull on top of vehicles.
- This spiralled and drew users to put cans on top of places, people, and even pets.
- Overall, the #PutACanonOnIt campaign is an example of how a brand can use social media to engage with its audience and increase brand awareness through user-generated content.
20. This campaign by Chipotle was a huge hit among the Gen Z market
- Chipotle’s "Lid Flip Challenge” encouraged users to upload videos of themselves flipping their Chipotle bowl lids onto their bowls.
- The challenge was started by a Chipotle employee, who was really good at assembling the bowls.
- This helped increase sales, as participants had to use an actual Chipotle bowl.
- TikTok saw over 100,000 videos use the hashtag within one week.
- Engagement with younger customers and positive brand recall were boosted after the campaign.
21. Peloton leaned on social impact to gain greater brand awareness
(image credit: Pelobuddy)
- Peloton’s marketing approach focuses on building a strong community of users who feel connected to each other and the company's values.
- They promote their products as a way to achieve fitness and health goals, while emphasising the social and emotional benefits of working out with others.
- The company has also launched various social impact initiatives, such as “The Comeback,” where people can nominate someone they think deserves a free bike.
- Partnerships with charitable organisations and fundraising events also helped further these initiatives.
- This approach helped Peloton build a loyal customer base and establish a strong brand identity as a responsible and community-oriented company.
22. This hashtag campaign by Apple ended up on over 10,000 billboards across the world
(image credit: Adweek)
- The #ShotOniPhone campaign was released by Apple to showcase the iPhone's camera capabilities.
- Apple selected the best photos and videos from the hashtag and featured them on their website, billboards, and even in-store displays.
- This led to a huge success, with millions of people using the hashtag to showcase their photography skills.
- In the process, Apple was able to establish a reputation for producing high-quality cameras on their iPhones.
- The campaign also helped create a community of iPhone users, further building their brand loyalty.
23. The e.l.f Cosmetics hashtag challenge got over 9 billion views on videos in 6 days
(Image credit: TikTok)
- e.l.f. Cosmetics partnered with TikTok creators to create a successful marketing campaign, #TikTokGGT.
- It aimed to build brand awareness and reach a younger demographic, featuring music, dancing, and creative use of e.l.f. Cosmetics products.
- Their videos went viral, and the company gained millions of views and new followers on TikTok.
- It was a big success in terms of view counts due to the authenticity and creativity of the TikTok creators, who were able to showcase the products in a fun and engaging way.
Related reading: I talk about the effectiveness of creators as part of your TikTok growth strategy when it comes to accelerating growth.
24. ASUS saw over 80,000 UGC submissions through their TikTok hashtag
(Image source: TikTok)
- ASUS came out with a targeted TikTok campaign to reach gamers and promote their ROG gaming laptop, called #CreateWithASUS.
- The videos were created by TikTok creators who were gamers themselves and had large followings within the gaming community, amassing over 220 million views.
- Delivery was highly targeted, with the company using data analysis to identify potential customers and deliver the videos to them.
- The authenticity and expertise of the creators made this ASUS campaign a success, as they were able to showcase the features of the laptop in a way that resonated with gamers.
- This helped ASUS establish a reputation for producing high-quality gaming laptops.
25. Grammarly reached over 5 million people on Facebook and Youtube
Watch video here.
- Grammarly’s “Write the Future” campaign used a storytelling approach to generate brand awareness.
- The videos are designed to appeal to a large audience, showcasing customer archetypes and the impact Grammarly had on their lives.
- It was successful, reaching over 5 million people and achieving a lower CPM and higher engagement rate than direct response campaigns.
- Video-view rate increased by 33%, and cost-wise, they landed on $0.02 video views, and $0.59 video completes, with a reasonable CPC of $1.87.
26. This campaign saw over 4 billion image impressions within the first three months
(Image credit: Effie)
- Always came up with the #LikeAGirl campaign to challenge gender stereotypes and inspire girls to stay confident.
- It started with an ad that highlighted the negative stereotypes associated with doing something "like a girl" and how these stereotypes can affect a girl's self-esteem.
- This went viral, sparking a global conversation about gender stereotypes.
- The company expanded the campaign with the social media hashtag #LikeAGirl and encouraged people to share their stories and pictures using the hashtag.
- They also partnered with organisations like TED and Girls Scouts of the USA to amplify the message of the campaign.
27. Under Armour saw over 4 million views in 8 days
(Image credit: from article)
- Under Armour launched its #IWillWhatIWant campaign, which targeted women and aimed to challenge traditional notions of femininity and beauty in sports.
- The campaign showcased female athletes who had overcome obstacles to achieve success in their respective fields, such as Misty Copeland and Lindsey Vonn.
- They also had a digital component with a website that allowed users to create inspirational messages using the hashtag.
- Their sales increased by 28% in the quarter following the campaign's launch, leading to an increase in brand awareness and affinity.
- As a plus, its success led to the expansion of Under Armour's product line for women and the inclusion of more female athletes in its marketing campaigns.
28. KFC’s campaign was released across multiple channels, resulting in an almost 20% increase in sales
(Image credit: from article)
- The #UnboringMorning campaign of KFC came out in Singapore, aiming to promote its breakfast offerings and attract a younger audience.
- While the ad was released in traditional media like television, the brand leveraged social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to reach its target audience and encourage engagement with the campaign.
- The campaign also included interactive elements such as a social media contest that encouraged users to share their own "unboring" morning routines for a chance to win prizes.
- They partnered with local influencers to create buzz around the campaign and generate more attention.
- Search activity increased by 18% in the first month of the campaign, significantly increasing brand awareness and affinity.
29. Calvin Klein, the clothing giant, became even more iconic after it launched its social media campaign
(Image credit: from article)
- Calvin Klein had the #mycalvins campaign, featuring celebrities Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, and other young stars, to target millennials.
- The ads featured the stars and other well-known internet personalities in their underwear, using their massive social media following to drive engagement and shares.
- This helped the company increase their followers by millions across all social media channels.
- The brand used the campaign to move away from its previous branding, which was seen as too conservative and not targeting younger consumers.
- Through this move, Calvin Klein became a brand perceived as current and cool.
30. Adidas, the footwear and sportswear clothing behemoth, made personalised videos for over 30,000 athletes
- Adidas' "Here to Create Legend" campaign utilised cutting-edge technology to personalise content for each runner joining the Boston Marathon.
- It was based on the idea that young people want to create their own legacies rather than just follow in the footsteps of others.
- The company used data to understand the interests and preferences of its target audience and created content that resonated with them.
- This meant utilising a mix of content formats, including video, social media, and experiential activations.
- Personalised efforts made the athletes feel seen and important, which led to a sales spike of over 1,000% post-marathon season.
31. This Disney campaign raised millions of dollars for charity
(Image credit: Disney)
- The #ShareYourEars campaign was run by Disney and involved asking people to take photos of themselves wearing Mickey Mouse ears and sharing them on social media.
- Disney committed to donating $5 to Make-A-Wish Foundation for every photo shared, up to a total of $2 million.
- It was timed to coincide with the holiday season. Good timing for a campaign like this when audiences/people in general are in a ‘giving’/charitable state of mind.
- Use of user-generated content (UGC) also helped to build a sense of ‘momentum’, inclusiveness and community, which in turn helped encourage more every day people to get involved in some way.
- In the end, so many people joined in that Disney saw itself making a profit of $150,000 because of how many ears were sold during the campaign.
32. Zoom banked on community to build its audience (and paid off big time)
(image credit: from article)
- Zoom's success during the COVID-19 pandemic can be attributed to its leveraging user-generated content to build engagement and credibility with its audience.
- They used humour and light-hearted content to connect with their audience and show they understood the challenges of working from home.
- The company also responded to customer feedback and complaints on social media, demonstrating its commitment to customer service.
- This social media strategy helped to drive brand awareness and adoption.
- Zoom's success on social media shows the importance of staying agile and responsive during times of crisis and how providing value to customers can help build brand loyalty and trust.
Viral & UGC Competitions
33. GoPro, an established action camera brand, launched a contest with a million-dollar prize
- GoPro came out with the Million Dollar Challenge, which asked users of the new HERO8 Black + MAX to come out with highlight reels of their shots.
- The contest was promoted primarily through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, with the use of influencers helping to increase reach and engagement.
- There was a big focus on UGC, which in turn helped build a thriving and engaging community for GoPro.
- In total, the company got over 40,000 videos amounting to over 350 hours of reel time.
- As a plus, the contest provided valuable insights into consumer behaviour and preferences by analysing the data collected.
34. This viral contest leaderboard generated over 7,000 leads
(Image credit: Vyper)
- Vyper's viral leaderboard contest is an effective marketing tool for increasing engagement and driving user-generated content.
- It incentivised participants to share the contest with their friends and followers, which helped increase the reach and impact of the campaign.
- The company platform makes it easy to track and measure the results of the contest, which helped their marketers understand what was working and make adjustments as needed.
- The turnout also saw 8,000 new email sign-ups as new people became interested in the brand through their campaign.
35. IKEA used targeted UGC to increase conversion by 3x
Watch video here.
- IKEA invited customers to submit photos of their homes, and the company selected some of the best ones to feature in a print advertisement.
- As a result, the campaign captured IKEA's products in real-life situations and helped build a sense of community and connection with its customers.
- It also helped create a more diverse and inclusive representation of IKEA's customer base.
- The UGC element helped drive social media engagement, as people shared their photos and encouraged others to participate.
- Overall they got an epic result where they saw a 27% increase in reach and 3x increase in conversion.
36. FlySafair went from inception to a famous carrier in four years
(Image credit: Viral Sweep)
- FlySafair, a low-cost South African airline, used a social media contest to make a name for itself.
- They created a contest that asked people to submit photos of their pets, and the winner received a free flight for themselves and their pets.
- Along the way, FlySafair was responsive to customer feedback and complaints on social media, which helped demonstrate its commitment to customer service.
- The prize was attractive and aligned with the airline's brand personality, which helped to strengthen its overall image.
- Further, the contest fostered a sense of community among participants who shared their photos and engaged with the airline on social media.
37. Adore Me, a lingerie company, ran a contest to gain market share
(Image credit: Gleam.io)
- Adore Me created a giveaway that asked people to follow them on social media and share the contest with their friends for a chance to win a year's worth of free lingerie.
- Leaning into the sharing aspect of the contest helped increase the brand's reach and exposure.
- The prize promoted the brand's product offerings, which added to the contest's appeal - they’re offering things customers won’t get anywhere else.
- Propping up the brand’s items helped increase sales by driving traffic to the website and encouraging people to purchase.
- Their social media strategy also utilised Pinterest, with product images as the focal point.
38. 40,000+ followers were added to this eCommerce store’s audience after they ran a giveaway (one of my favs)
(Image credit: Vyper)
- The Instagram giveaway of Coconut Bowls was also used to collect over 40,000 email addresses and drive sales - and guess what!? It only cost them $1,000 to run the campaign (wow!)
- They capitalised on FOMO messaging, partnering with influencers to get the word out.
- Because the campaign was set up to generate UGC, they saw over 15,000 posts come up promoting their brand within 4 weeks.
39. This music producer capitalised on his connections to run a viral campaign
(Image credit: Upviral)
- Gabe Schillinger is a hip-hop engineer who has worked with Snoop Dogg.
- By banking on this connection to promote his campaign, he was able to set up a collaboration with Snoop Dogg as a prize.
- He ran a referral program to incentivise customers with a chance to win this on top of other rewards.
- Gamifying the program, people understood that they could win more if they did more - so they did.
- Along the way, he was even able to sell out a product he had propped up within minutes, just from the traction he got through this contest.
40. Mailchimp used company swag to increase brand recognition
(Image credit: Viral Loops)
- Mailchimp launched a series of giveaways, each with a unique theme and a grand prize of company merch.
- They used a variety of promotional channels, including social media, email, and influencer partnerships, to reach a wider audience.
- The company created a sense of urgency by limiting the time frame for entering the giveaways and promoting them heavily in the days leading up to the deadline.
- Centering on swag helped to create a sense of community among Mailchimp's customers and incentivised them to engage with the brand on a deeper level.
- It came to the point where the merch became collectibles, driving up value.
41. This bank used social media influencers to help them gain over 3,000 new Twitter followers
(Image credit: article below)
- Axis Bank's marketing strategy focuses on "The Thought Factory," which is a platform for innovation and creative thinking.
- They launched an event to which influencers were invited, which had a huge pool in their local market.
- Further, the messaging is centred around the idea of "Progress," which resonates with its target audience.
- The company backed this up with visual branding.
- Making sure that their action follows the message, they leaned hard on customer service, which has helped to build trust and loyalty among users.
42. Netflix used a TikTok filter to promote a new show
(Image credit: Neo Reach)
- Netflix came out with its own creative filter and hashtag to promote Cobra Kai.
- They identified and partnered with influencers who had a significant following and who would resonate with the show's target market.
- Going with a mix of macro and micro-influencers helped them reach a wider audience and create more engagement.
- This was a massive success, with #CobraKaiChop gaining over 4 billion views.
- As a plus, they helped foster a sense of community among show fans, which helped build loyalty and excitement.
43. American Standard, a bathroom brand, created a renovation campaign to promote their products
(Image credit: The Shelf)
- American Standard collaborated with micro-influencers who had a strong following in the DIY and home improvement niche, as well as home design and lifestyle bloggers.
- The campaign was centred around #MyAmericanStandardJourney, which aimed to emphasise the role of the brand in their home living.
- Before and after images and videos helped drive the hype and interest of the general public.
- They were allowed to experiment with various content formats, including blog posts, Instagram stories, and YouTube videos.
- This resulted in positive sentiment towards the brand, with many consumers expressing interest in purchasing the product after seeing the influencers' content.
44. Bacardi, a mojito company, used UGC to improve sales by 14%
(Image credit: Tribe Group)
- Bacardi, the spirits brand, leveraged organic marketing to promote their drinks as the product of choice.
- First, they teamed up with several influencers to create content promoting the #MojitoMoment.
- Then, they took the content tagged with the hashtag and scattered them across digital panels, which were located 15 minutes away from bars where their products were sold.
- This allowed them to subconsciously incite desire among passers-by and old consumers alike to participate AND get the drink.
- Overall, they generated over 1.5 million social media impressions and over 25,000 engagements.
45. This computer company partnered with influencers across Twitch, Youtube, and Twitter
(Image credit: Neo Reach)
- Nvidia made sure they were visible on the platforms where their target market was present.
- The influencers were chosen for their expertise in PC gaming and their influence over their respective gaming communities.
- Content included product reviews, gameplay footage, and live streams showcasing the company’s new graphics cards in action - things that their audience would want to watch in their free time.
- This helped Nvidia increase brand awareness and reach new audiences, particularly among PC gamers.
- From just partnering with 11 creators, they saw over 40 million impressions.
Related reading: if you’re looking to replicate similar success to these studies below from some of these household names, then make sure to check out my ultimate guide to the best referral marketing platforms that you need to look into.
46. Tesla hit $1 trillion in value without spending a dollar on advertising
(Image credit: Referral Factory)
- Tesla's referral program shows the importance of creating a straightforward yet rewarding program.
- It was designed to incentivise customers to spread the word about Tesla and help the company grow its customer base.
- They kept rewards attractive, like free $1,000 credits, limited edition merchandise, and even a free Tesla Roadster for those who referred the most number of new customers.
- Customers loved the rewards, which caused them to share their experiences with their followers, increasing brand affinity even more.
- Though it cost the company a bit, it helped them achieve significant growth without spending money on traditional advertising.
47. Harry’s had over 100,000 interested customers before it even launched
(Image credit: harrysprelaunchreferral.com)
- Harry's ran its referral program using a viral loop pre-launch to get the word out.
- They gave out a free shave kit for every 5 referrals to keep the program attractive to customers.
- A lot of teasers were involved in solidifying the interest in the product.
- The referral program resulted in a significant increase in customer acquisition and sales for Harry's.
- Overall, participants had a higher customer lifetime value than non-participants.
Related reading: if you’re in eCommerce, you will like these eCommerce referral marketing examples from top brands, where you can get inspiration on how they communicate and grow their referral strategy.
48. Dropbox saw almost 4,000% in growth in just over a year
(Image credit: Growsurf)
- Dropbox's referral program offered users free extra storage space in exchange for inviting their friends to join.
- Both the referrer and the referred user were incentivised, which helped encourage participation.
- They made it easy for users to track their referrals and see how much storage space they earned.
- It was largely because of this campaign that the company reached 100 million users in just five years.
- The success of Dropbox's referral program shows the power of word-of-mouth marketing.
49. PayPal literally gave out money (one of the first ever successful referral campaigns)
(Image credit: Flyy)
- PayPal’s referral program is considered as the first ‘famous’ (well-known within the tech startup scene) viral growth marketing campaign.
- Dropbox’s campaign was actually inspired by the success of PayPal in this case.
- The premise was simple: Give $20, get $20 - and the rest is history (as we all know, so many SaaS and eCommerce companies have double-sided referral programs).
- Because of the nature of the company, they utilised social proof to encourage people to join by highlighting the success of others who had already referred friends.
- The company’s focus on creating a positive user experience helped to retain users and drive repeat referrals.
50. Robinhood used referrals to hit 1 million users before it even launched
(Image credit: Viral Loops)
- Robinhood offered a referral program where customers get others to join the platform and receive a free share of stock.
- This was integrated into the onboarding process, making it easy for new users to invite their friends.
- They also kept the signup process short and simple to fit the short attention span of its market.
- Unlike others, Robinhood set a limit on the number of free shares each user could receive, creating a sense of exclusivity and urgency.
- The referral program's success helped Robinhood establish itself as a disruptor in the financial industry.
51. Uber gave free rides and bonuses for successful referrals
(Image credit: Smile.io)
- Uber’s referral program gave riders free rides in exchange for referring friends to the service, and it also gave drivers bonuses for referring new drivers.
- It was easy to use and promoted heavily within the app, making it simple for everyone involved.
- To make it more fun and engaging, users were able to personalise their referral code.
- The company also used social proof, displaying the number of successful referrals in the app to encourage others to participate.
- This allowed Uber to acquire new customers at a low cost, which helped them grow rapidly.
⚡Frequently Asked Questions ⚡
Which are your favourite viral marketing case studies that are really worth reading and sharing with colleagues?
Well, as you can see, there are so many epic case studies and examples of brands that have achieved incredible results with virality. Some of the numbers are truly staggering. Pretty much all of them are worth reading and watching (I mean, that’s why I included them in this guide), but if I had to pick seven (7) of my favourites, they would have to be - Old Spice, Volvo Trucks (so good), Red Bull #putacanonit, Go Pro “Million Dollar Challenge”, Coconut Bowls, Harry’s, and of course, one of my favourite platforms and tools I love, Dropbox’s referral program (one of the most famous in the tech startup scene). If you can, try read/watch all these studies and take notes because there are a lot of learnings you’ll be able to pick out.
What are some of the key attributes and elements that go into a viral marketing campaign?
There are lots of advice out there around key elements that goes into making a viral campaign, and it’s also just as important to define what ‘viral’ is (expectation management is important here). The reality is, going viral into the millions is really tough (chances are really low), but you can still spark a level of virality that generates a good ROI and reach for your brand. Having worked on a few campaigns which haven’t gone ‘super viral’ (like the videos you see on YouTube like Volvo Trucks and Old Spice), you can still give yourself the best chance when going into campaign creation. So, whatever channel you’re working on or type of campaign, these are some of the key elements I believe that matter to focus on - First, follow a particular trend that’s happening (i.e. TikTok trends is a great example). Second, use your existing audience and relationship with influencers to generate that initial spark (i.e. a UGC social media comp and they engage/share with others to get involved who may not already be following you). Third, related to the above, ensure you have distribution channels in place, whether it be PR or larger influencers ready to share (again, need to create some sort of groundswell at the start). Fourth, have a great hook (e.g. maybe be somewhat controversial or have a reason for people wanting to read/engage/join the conversation - anything that taps into the emotional triggers of your target audience), and finally, make it super easy to share whatever it is you’re working on (i.e. if you’re driving people to a landing page, social share buttons should be obvious). There are plenty of other elements/variables that go into campaigns like this, but the above strategies/tactics I’ve seen work really well through clients/projects I’ve worked on and what I’ve seen/analysed from top brands.
What’s one of the top strategies you recommend for startups and eCommerce brands to consider to ‘go viral’?
One of my favourite strategies and initiatives I’ve done a few times now is by running viral competitions. You’ll see some of the examples I’ve mentioned above and the results some of them have achieved. Yes, even on a tighter budget, you can achieve pretty epic results similar to the brands/companies that ran great comps. You’ll see what I mean when you take a read through the studies. Although when you do read them, you’ll see the importance of having a good prize (which requires a budget) and using a platform like Gleam Viral Loops or Vyper (there are a few others as well). Additionally, depending on where you live/are located, you also do need to check jurisdiction laws around competitions. I’ve seen brands myself generate thousands of leads and even a decent number of customers (revenue) through these viral competitions. Highly recommend you check the studies out (and others you can find across the net) to get some inspiration that you can consider for your business/team.
For brands on a budget, what do you recommend are ‘viral’ based marketing initiatives that can generate sales and referrals?
In the above question, I mentioned that viral competitions are a great strategy for building up a huge list, awareness and drive sales, but there are some other low-cost initiatives that you should incorporate into your overall marketing strategy. First, make sure you have a referral program in place. The number of brands that I come across with no referral program in place astounds me, as there are plenty of cost-effective tools/solutions on the market. Even if it’s not performing, there’s always room for making optimisations and improvements. Second, in relation to competitions, is UGC social comps (which I mention more below in the next question). Third, do partner/collab campaigns with other related brands (that aren’t direct competitors). For example, you can do email campaigns through both your audiences to get exposure to new subscribers, as well as do social media collabs. Fourth, this strategy can add up if not careful, but I personally believe micro-influencers are really good for smaller brands on a budget. However, it can only work if you effectively measure the ROI from the engagement (i.e. use coupon codes, tracking links, etc.). Working with numerous brands, I’ve seen first-hand it can still work incredibly well, especially at scale when you grow. Plus, the benefits of awareness and sales is one thing, but it’s the accelerated trust building and content that can really pay off dividends for your business. Fifth and final strategy suggestion is getting good at creating engaging content, and then focus on building relationships for distribution. If you get good at this (and stay consistent), in no time, you’ll get the awareness and viral exposure you’re looking for. I’ve suggested five strong strategies here that have worked time and time again for myself and various clients I’ve worked with over the years. However, there are naturally plenty of others you’ll get exposed to - it all comes down to testing and experimenting but ensuring you measure it effectively to track ROI.
Do UGC campaigns on social platforms still work effectively for brands on a leaner budget?
The short answer is yes, UGC social comps and posts are a great way to build awareness as well as followers and, ultimately, drive sales of new customers. However, it’s becoming more of a challenge as social media platforms reduce/tighten their organic reach. A great strategy actually I’ve started to see a lot of brands do is co-branded/collab UGC competitions with other related (non-direct competitor) brands. It’s a win-win by cross-promoting audiences and getting that initial ‘boost’ of organic reach. Naturally, though, you’re always going to need some sort of budget (not just for the prize) to really get the wheels turning when it comes to getting awesome engagement that can increase your chances of getting huge numbers of entries. So for those on a budget, definitely look into UGC comp collabs on Instagram.