Before Troy was founded, before Stonehenge was built, before humans even learned how to tame horses, we were creating advertisements. Ancient Egyptian merchants made posters out of papyrus. The citizens of Pompeii ran ad campaigns for politicians. Even before 4000 B.C., craftsmen across the world were painting the sides of their homes to advertise the wares for sale inside. The road that’s led us to viral marketing and viral ad campaigns hasn’t been a short one. It’s taken us 6,000 years to get here, and while the long history of advertising can sometimes make consumers feel like they’ve seen it all, it’s the creative advertiser’s job to convince them otherwise, to surprise them.

As you can imagine, it’s not easy. But for every thousand or so viral ad campaigns that fail, there’s one that reaches millions of consumers and creates a tidal wave of sales. What exactly is it that makes a campaign truly go viral? We’re not sure, but to paraphrase that Supreme Court judge who tried to ban pornography, “we know it when we see it.” We’ve found three campaigns that had the right stuff: one that equipped citizens for a zombie apocalypse, one that forced a man to swim through freezing waters while covered in jerky, and one that made skydivers around the word suddenly feel like they were half-assing it.

Looking for some viral marketing inspiration? You’ve found it.

1. A Viral Marketing Campaign With Brains. BRAAAAAAAAAINS!

How much would you pay to survive a zombie attack? If you want to roam the post-apocalyptic badlands like a king, you’re going to want to spring for The Z.E.R.O. Zombie Kit. It sells for $23,999, but the price isn’t that steep when you consider everything that comes in the kit. It’s packed full of military-grade survival gear, from heat vision goggles to tools for making your own bullets. Badass!

We talked to Brian Coughlin, marketing specialist at OpticsPlanet.com, the company that used reanimated human corpses (figuratively – don’t worry) to create one seriously successful viral

Brian CoughlinDesigning the kit was a lot of fun. I wrote up the extensive website copy and worked with our video team to create a viral video about the kit. We released the video simultaneously through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, press releases and an email to our massive newsletter subscriber list. Then, over the course of the following few weeks, I contacted one site after another. Once the Z.E.R.O. Kit was picked up on a handful of popular sites, it spread virally and we received hundreds of links and mentions from major news outlets.

The goal of the viral marketing campaign wasn’t to sell the zombie kit itself, but rather to showcase the products it contained – and thanks to all the buzz generated by major media networks, those products definitely received a lot of new attention. Brian’s advice for launching successful viral marketing campaigns? “Never be afraid to reach out and tell people you want a link. Be honest and straightforward. Most webmasters appreciate it, and you can develop lasting relationships that lead far beyond the initial surge.”

 

2. Jerk Man – The Reason Why the Bros at GNC Are So Absurdly Energetic

Not all budding entrepreneurs have access to military-grade battle gear. Some, like Brian Levin, just have a staple gun and jerky. A whole lot of jerky.

Brian is the mastermind behind Perky Jerky, a “craft jerky flavored with guarana for tenderness and a kick of energy.” Today, 40,000 stores carry Perky Jerky, including 7-Eleven, Home Depot and Walmart, but four years ago no one had a clue what Perky Jerky was. Then Brian invented Jerk Man. A spokesman for the company told us the story:


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Perky Jerky logo

Tight on cash, Brian created “Jerk Man”, a character dressed in more than 400 bags of Perky Jerky. Jerk Man goes on many missions. He enters marathons and ski competitions. He runs the Jerk Bar at all NASCAR races, and he’s even gone for a swim with the Polar Bear Club. Jerk Man uses social media accounts to offer free 5 oz. samples of Perky Jerky. To date, his offers have been circulated by well over 100 blogs and websites, and Perky Jerky has sent out more than 150,000 free samples. Once someone tries Perky Jerky, they’re 70% likely to order more online, so all those in-person appearances went a long way towards building a customer base. It was Jerk Man and his campaign that earned the company massive distribution.

Brian started off with some jerky and a dream, but now over 40,000 stores carry the stuff. That’s the power of a viral marketing campaign that finds a way to connect with consumers both in-person and online. Jerk Man did the legwork, but it was the social media impact that really made this campaign take off.

 

3. Spacediving – It’s Like Skydiving, Except FROM SPACE

Want to really capture the attention of consumers? Break a record. That’s what Red Bull did, and they didn’t even pick an easy one like “most hours spent in a Snuggie.” For what may be the coolest viral marketing campaign of all time, Red Bull sent a man, Felix Baumgartner, to the edge of space for its Stratos project.

Felix Baumgartner, viral marketing sensation for Red BullThe team sent Felix 120,000 feet into the sky in a special helium balloon, and when he stepped out onto the platform and jumped, marketing history was made. Felix became the first person to break the speed of sound during freefall. When he landed safely, millions of viewers stared at the Red Bull logo stretched across his parachute and breathed a sigh of relief.

Besides the whole outer space thing, why does Forbes think Red Bull’s campaign was so successful? “The enlisting of the right messengers to spread the company’s brand to the right audience in the right context, the place and time the message is launched.” Thrill seekers couldn’t help but watch the stunt, but this viral video never would have had the social media impact it did without a web PR team to lay the groundwork. Red Bull’s marketers talked to the media for months and posted updates online to build buzz before the big event. Anticipation grew, and when Felix finally took the plunge, people everywhere dropped what they were doing and turned on CNN to watch. And oh yeah — they got a sweet commercial out of it too.

Get Your Marketing and PR Strategy Ready

When a man falls from space or runs through a crowded shopping mall covered in jerky, he’s kind of hard to miss. But remember, the real work that makes campaigns like these go viral happens behind the scenes. Social media managers create buzz online by positioning campaign content on every social platform they can find. SEO experts optimize everything from website copy to tweets. Web PR gurus distribute online news releases, set up interviews and get major news sites to cover the story. Finally, content writers write buzz-worthy blogs to generate even more online interest.

In other words, it takes a village — or, you know, a Content Factory. Because while most companies need to rely on four different teams of people to accomplish these viral marketing tasks, we have all the experts we just mentioned gathered under one (figurative) roof.

So if you want to run around covered in jam or travel to the center of the Earth for your next viral ad campaign, we might not ask to join you, but we’ll sure as hell help your brand get the attention it deserves. That’s because like you, we believe that if you’re going to cover your whole body in jam, you should probably make it count.

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