Marketing phenomenon that facilitates and encourages people to pass along a marketing message.


Viral marketing depends on a high pass-along rate from person to person. If a large percentage of recipients forward something to a large number of friends, the overall growth snowballs very quickly. If the pass-along numbers get too low, the overall growth quickly fizzles.

At the height of the web it seemed as if every startup had a viral component to its strategy, or at least claimed to have one. However, relatively few marketing viruses achieve success on a scale similar to Hotmail, widely cited as the first example of viral marketing.


Wishpond – all-in-one suite of viral & traditional marketing tools.

VYPER – focused on viral contests/giveaways to grow your list.

see also: Digital Marketing Tools

Related Terms

email marketing, pass-along rate, permission marketing

view all terms in the Email Marketing glossary or all terms in the Digital Marketing glossary


Udemy: Viral Marketing – learn viral marketing with online courses.

Best Campaigns

These Were The Best Viral Campaigns of 2016
Small Biz Trends (December 2016)

Top 25 Virals of 2016: Chewbacca, shoplifters, and Periscope puddles
NetImperative (November 29, 2016)

Failed Campaigns

12 times brands went viral for the wrong reasons
ClickZ (March 17, 2016)

The 10 Worst Viral Marketing Campaigns
CIO (August 12, 2008)


Tips for Optimizing Viral Marketing Campaigns
ClickZ (February 22, 2001)

How to Catch on to Viral Marketing
ClickZ (February 16, 2001)

I Think I Caught Something: Viral Marketing
ClickZ (January 30, 2001)

The Power of Viral Marketing
ClickZ (November 8, 2000)

Leveraging the Power of Viral Marketing
ClickZ (November 2, 2000)

Getting Viral
ClickZ (October 10, 2000)

The Viral Component in Online Creative
ClickZ (October 3, 2000)

What Makes it Viral?
ClickZ (July 6, 2000)

Is Viral Marketing All It’s Cracked Up To Be?
ClickZ (May 9, 2000)

The Care and Feeding of Marketing Viruses
ClickZ (April 17, 2000)

Viral Marketing: Pitfall or Windfall?
ClickZ (February 24, 2000)

The Basics Of Viral Marketing
ClickZ (November 19, 2000)

What Does Viral Marketing Really Mean?
ClickZ (October 11, 1999)