Marketing Terms

Viral Marketing


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.


Tools used for viral growth change over time. Here are some current examples:

QuizzesInteract – make snackable, shareable quizzes to grow your email list.
ongoing offer: “free forever” plan to learn the features – check for new discounts

Contests – VYPER – innovative contests with leaderboards and content upgrades.
ongoing offer: 7 day free trial to explore the toolkit – check for new discounts

see also: Digital Marketing Tools

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)

10 Most Compelling Ad Campaigns of the Decade: Why They Went Viral
Inc. (June 28, 2015)

The Top Viral Marketing Campaigns of All Time
Branded3 (December 2, 2014)

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)

Most Viral in 2017

Top 100 Viral Videos of the Year 2017 (December 23, 2017)

Most Viral in 2016

Top 100 Viral Videos of the Year 2016 (December 24, 2016)

Most Viral in 2015

Top Viral Social Media Marketing Campaigns of 2015
Xanthos (April 22, 2015)

Top 100 Viral Videos of the Year 2015
YouTube (November 30, 2015)

Most Viral in 2014

Top 100 Most Viral Videos of  2014 (January 3, 2015)

Most Viral in 2013

100 Most Viewed Videos of  2013 (January 1, 2014)

Most Viral in 2012

8 Top Viral Campaigns of 2012

100 Most Viewed Videos of  2012 (January 1, 2014)

Early Days of Viral Marketing

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)

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)

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)

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