Seven of the Best Small Business Viral Marketing Campaigns

viral marketing campaigns

Many small businesses who have enjoyed the excitement of a viral marketing campaign will actually tell you that, although they wish they had been clever enough to plan it, it was an accident. There are certainly things you can do to try and create viral marketing campaigns, but these methods never offer any guarantees.

As a small business owner trying to create the next big thing, it’s important to look at examples of successful viral marketing campaigns to see what you can learn.  Then give it a try yourself, see what happens – and then try, try again if necessary.

Viral Marketing Campaigns: What You Can Learn

For those who are unfamiliar, a viral campaign essentially means the spread of something (an idea, a particular ad, a song, etc.) organically, often by word of mouth. If you have created engaging content that gives readers a reason to share, that content or message has the potential to become viral. Therefore being seen by a lot more eyes than your typical campaigns. It can help you spread awareness of your message as well as increase leads and/or sales.

There are have been lots of successful viral marketing campaigns in the past in every industry, some of the most popular being the Old Spice commercials, the Gangnam style dance and The Blair Witch Project. Below lists 7 of the top viral marketing campaigns by small businesses:

Video Campaigns

1. Blendtec’s Will It Blend Campaign

This marketing campaign is centered around a food blender. The campaign created a video that shows that the blender blends everything. Some of their most popular videos show blending expensive electronics like an iPhone.

Why it went viral: It capitalized on user’s interest to watch quick and funny things on YouTube. It was shocking in 2006 and it still is today. It attracted 160 million views back when the campaign was first launched.

2. The Best Job Ever

This viral campaign is cool because it isn’t funny or clever, just gives viewers what they want to see. Tourism Queensland launched the campaign in 2009. They hosted a contest where the winner would be paid $150,000 to tour the islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it went viral: The ad went through YouTube so it was easy for people to hear about it while sitting in their cubicles. The offer was unique and the video made it seem so amazing that people were bound to apply, which then created a domino effect of success.

3. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken Promotion

This campaign dates back to 2004, but many of the tactics the campaign used still apply today. The campaign started on TV and then moved to the Internet where people could request the chicken to do something and it would have to oblige. The idea here is “chicken the way you want it.”

Why it went viral: It was funny, unique, interactive – and the first of it’s kind.

4. Golden Grahms Gold Grant

This campaign targeted college students and therefore used social media to fuel the fire. The company posted a series of animated videos that discussed things like job interviews that went wrong (but hilarious). It started with Twitter and then moved to YouTube gaining more than 2.5 million views.

Why it went viral: It was funny and the company knew exactly who the audience was and how to connect with that audience.

Traditional Ad Campaigns

5. Virgin Blue Tweets

viral marketing campaigns

The airline Virgin Blue decided to create an ad campaign on Twitter for their Virgin Australia branch. The deal was that because it was their 9th anniversary, they were going to give plane tickets away for $9 each through Twitter. They gave away 1,000 tickets but earned nearly 33,000 Twitter followers.

Why it went viral: This giveaway in 2009 was successful because it offered $9 tickets through a social media outlet. Not only was it enticing, it was also easier to get involved and easier for people to spread the word.

6. Threshers Viral Email

viral marketing campaigns

This campaign went viral in 2006 after the U.K. based liquor store sent an email marketing campaign intended only for suppliers that offered a 40 percent discount. The suppliers leaked the coupon and the store’s website crashed.

Why it went viral: There is no denying this was a complete mistake. But it likely went viral because such a good deal was coming from suppliers who don’t typically offer such a deal. While this isn’t a classic example of something going viral, remember that it is possible.

7. Sporting Portugal

The soccer team wanted to boost ticket sales so they decided to setup a microsite where people could purchase tickets. You entered your name and phone number and then a video of the players during a pep talk would show up. The video would then stop and the coach would call you saying they needed you to come to the game. The site received 200,000 page views in just one day.

Why it went viral: This was all about interaction. It capitalized on the fact that fans love to see, and be a part of, anything behind the scenes of sporting events.

As a side note, the vast majority of successful viral marketing campaigns over the last decade were video advertisements. It was more of a struggle to find campaigns that didn’t involve video when researching any new viral gems that I may have missed. Keep this in mind if you’re setting out to specifically create something viral.

Also keep in mind the tactic of re-packaging quotes into viral content and capitalizing on viral infographics as well.

Do you know of any great viral marketing campaigns I may have missed?


Amanda DiSilvestro Amanda DiSilvestro is a writer for Viral Content Buzz, a system designed to help you promote other content and get your content promoted on major social channels like Twitter and Facebook. You can also find her writing for the nationally recognized SEO firm, Higher Visibility.

28 Reactions
  1. Burger King’s Subservient Chicken Promotion was such a ground breaker. I was probably one of the first to try and make him do NSFW stuff, lol. He’d just wag his finger at me.

  2. Amanda! All these campaigns are pretty fascinating, but in case with virgin blue tweets, what was the long-term result? I’ve witnessed similar instances when people followed a brand on twitter in order to receive a discount or free stuff and unfollowed the account right after without further interest in the brand.

    • I can’t say for sure, but from my research that did happen. Still though, you have lots of people who don’t bother to do that (I’m often one of them), so typically you end up on top! It seems this is the way it went for Virgin Blue, particularly because it was SUCH a good deal.

    • The problem is that far too many companies are now holding some promos and free stuff on Twitter and other social media. So unless you’re giving something away that is really valuable, the campaign is less likely to be effective.

  3. Thanks for this post Amanda! I gave me some inspiration for my small business. I would pay anything to have the success that these businesses have had.

  4. Delicious.

  5. I always like Blendtec’s videos because he is always blending stuff you would think is unblendable. I also heard about the best job in the world which is around the same time I graduated from University. I did apply for it but didnt make it. Though it definitely had gained lots of interest worldwide

  6. Hi Bianca. Great article! One successful campaign is Red Bull’s Stratos CGI with Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver. This video shows the skydiver’s jump from space. With a live feed being broadcasted on YouTube, over 7.1 million viewers were watching the jump as it happened and providing the live feed on YouTube and both #stratos and @RedBullStratos Twitter accounts.

  7. Viral marketing campaigns may be a viable option for large companies with multimillion dollar advertising budgets, but for those of us in the small to midsize business category, they are not much more then wasted time and money. Oh, sure, there may be an example here or there of a smaller size business successfully launching a viral campaign but for the most part, these types of marketing strategies are far more likely to be a miss then a hit.

    Save your marketing budget for projects with smaller yet more predictable payoffs.

    • I can’t say I disagree with you. I do think, however, that a campaign that could go viral is still a great campaign even if it doesn’t go viral–of course there are exceptions! Thanks for bringing up this point and for reading.

  8. Title includes the words “Small Business” but I don’t think most people would consider Burger King and Virgin Air “small businesses.” Also, does simply attracting followers or viewers equate to increased revenue and/or profit? If so, how did these businesses fare?

  9. It’s pretty hard for a small business to make anything go viral when it has a staff of 10 or 15. Those sound like all large companies who at least had a marketer who could handle the promotion. When it’s a small business, it would be hard to really get that kind of attention.

    • I do think you’re right in a sense, which agrees with Richards statement above. It’s not something you should plan on necessarily because it IS very difficult, but not impossible! If you try and treat all of your campaigns like something that will go viral, you’re still coming out with great campaigns even if they don’t make it to the viral level. Thanks for reading!

      • I hear you, Karen. I hear you. But when you think about it, there are everyday people whose videos have gone viral without a budget. The only difference to me is that a business would have a marketing/promotional intention behind theirs. In my mind, it means it’s quite possible for a business no matter how small, to try and make a go of it themselves without necessarily being at any particular disadvantage.

  10. For me, the first video is the best of the bunch. Must have taken one verrrry tough blender (unless the blending was part illusion).

    The KFC doesn’t really do it for me. I remember The Best Job Ever when it was first advertised.

    Hehe! I can see why the Threshers one would crash their site!

  11. My favourite is the Will it Blend campaign. It also went very big in the Netherlands and it’s viral effect is enormous (people started blending themselves)

  12. “Will it blend” was really the BIG DEAL! The company said they managed to increase sales up to 700% in 2009 and traffic to their website by 600 or 650%, if I remember well. For me, the most impressive example of viral marketing.
    @ Actiemarketing – It was popular in many Western European countries.

  13. I’ve been wondering if viral campaigns happen by accident or if they have employed some neuro-marketing technique the rest of us may not be aware of. I love this compilation though, thanks! If you’ve got the time, I hope you’ll consider sharing campaigns that went viral in a horribly, wrong way.

    • I think some happen by accident, Shaleen, and some happen as a result of studying how viral campaigns work. Some, on the other hand, are accidents in themselves in the sense that they go horribly wrong (like you mentioned). I agree – would be great to see a write-up here about those ones.

  14. Thanks for this post Amanda! These are some great ideas business owners can apply. It is an inspiration for me too.

  15. Good article. Thanks for sharing such a nice information ….

  16. David Amadi from Web Strategy Genie

    Nice post Amanda. I have always thought that the tactics airline Virgin Blue implemented on Twitter was well tested and effective, a tactics I’m seriously considering on it’s application on a project on working on for a Client.
    I have always been a big fan of creating viral marketing campaigns the right and effective way from as far as I can remember using social networking services and word of mouth to essentially produce increase in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives but lately I have been investigating the future and possibility of using whispering marketing as a tool to propel online customer awareness and acquisition efforts. I guess I’m still on that journey 🙂