Last Updated on July 2, 2020

What is the secret to effective viral marketing? In an exciting way, there is no single answer, and marketers take away different lessons from the success stories they witness. To give you some inspiration and ideas, we’re counting down the 10 best viral marketing campaigns to date and sharing insights about how these campaigns commanded so much attention.

10. Pepsodent

In the early 1900s, processed foods had eroded the teeth of many Americans, and tooth brushing was considered a health fad. For a brand of toothpaste called Pepsodent, marketer Claude Hopkins created the best viral campaign of his time with ads that brought the concept of ugly, yellow-black plaque to the forefront. He contrasted this plaque with images of shiny, white smiles. To this day, white teeth are associated with beauty.

9. Whassup

Strange and simple, this Budweiser campaign stood out with commercials featuring a group of bros excitedly shouting “Whassup.”

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The commercial inspired countless references and won a Cannes Grand Prix award. Interestingly enough, the commercial demonstrated its own viral nature. Taking their cues from the commercial, people started shouting the strange greeting to each other and spreading the use of the term further.

8. Subservient Chicken

In 2004, Burger King created perhaps the first online-based viral marketing campaign. Through several strange TV commercials, Burger King directed viewers to a website where they could type commands to make a man dressed as a chicken do all types of activities, from dancing to watching TV. The campaign provided the right amount of weird and interactive content for audiences.

7. Get a Mac

While other businesses would balk at the idea of implying that competitors exist, Apple’s “Get a Mac” commercials, which ran through the 2000s, took a humorous route with two characters: the bureaucratic, uncool PC and the casual, unassuming Mac. These ads matched the growing sense that Microsoft was too big, omnipresent, and dull, thereby creating room for Macs as an alternative.

6. Real Beauty

Dove’s explosive and insightful 2004 campaign was promoted by research stating that only 4 percent of women considered themselves beautiful. Designed to inspire action, Dove’s commercials encouraged women to see themselves as beautiful from the outset. The results prove that sometimes you don’t have to sell your products in a campaign if they say what your customers need to hear.

5. The Most Interesting Man in the World

Dos Equis wanted its beer to stand out as something special, and the company did so with its slightly humorous, captivating commercials with the seasoned Jonathan Goldsmith playing “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” Not only did the commercial stand out by having a cool older gentleman be represented as a beer drinker, but the advertisement also featured a cleverly written script.

4. Dumb Ways to Die

Public service ads are usually gloomy or serious. While effective at times, the emotional tones don’t often translate into something sharable. Sometimes it pays to be different. Melbourne’s Metro Trains made a funny, catchy music video with simple cartoon figures dying in ridiculous ways to highlight the idea that getting hit by a train is a dumb way to die. The campaign won awards and had a plush toy line.

3. Back to the Start

In 2011, Chipotle created a brilliantly animated video set to an impactful song to teach people about the importance of sustainable farming. It struck such a chord with viewers that it was shown at movie theaters and during the Grammy Awards the following year.

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Best of all, Chipotle never planned on building a marketing campaign around the video until the company saw its reception on YouTube. Remember that your next great marketing campaign may catch you by surprise.

2. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

To raise awareness and funds, the ALS Association started a trend where people would film themselves pouring buckets of icy water over their heads (often in unusual ways) and then challenging three people to do the same and to donate. Smaller celebrities challenged greater ones until eventually Bill Gates, Rihanna, and President George W. Bush all participated. The campaign had over 17 million participants and raised $115 million. This challenge shows the value of getting influencers to interact with each other.

1. The Man You Could Smell Like

Some of the best ideas attract influencers by themselves. The best recent example is “The Man You Could Smell Like.” Starring Isaiah Mustafa, these Old Spice commercials parodied objects that women traditionally find attractive, such as diamonds and shirtless men riding horses, to suggest that the company’s deodorant made men more attractive. People loved the goofy ads, but Old Spice kept up the momentum by making similar videos in response to any influencers who commented about them.

Viral marketing is becoming easier than ever thanks to the power of online platforms and social media. Take these campaigns as examples of what’s possible, but remember not to imitate them. Reach out to people in the ways that best suit your business’s brand, resources, and situation, and new possibilities should reveal themselves to you. All it takes is the right creative approach and a willingness to try something new to create successful viral marketing campaigns.