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Examples of Successful Viral Marketing

written by: Nicky LaMarco•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/26/2009

Viral marketing is a term that is commonly used to refer to marketing efforts that leverage social networks and the tendency of people to pass things along to others. Here, we'll take a look at some of the more famous examples of viral marketing and how they came to be.

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    The Classic Original Viral Marketing Example

    The viral marketing example that is generally given is When Hotmail first got started, they had a Web-based e-mail service that they were offering free to users. The viral marketing model was simple… get everybody who had already started to use the free Hotmail service as advertisers and spokespeople for their service.

    When users sent e-mail from their free account, there was a tag line at the bottom of each e-mail that advertised the free Hotmail e-mail service with a link to The end result was that everybody who sent e-mail was sending a free advertisement and endorsement to their friends, relatives and associates. People who received these e-mails clicked on the link, signed up for a free account, and then proceeded to repeat the cycle, sending e-mails tagged with the advertising link to all of their associates. spread like wildfire, with very little advertising effort needed on the part of The distribution of the advertisements was handled almost solely by the users of the product. What made it especially effective was that the audience was extremely targeted, since the recipients of the tagged e-mails were already identified as users of e-mail.

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    Strange and Unusual is Sometimes Better

    viral marketing (Kheng Ho Toh) There have been many strange viral marketing campaigns over the years. If something is especially unusual or funny, it often has an even better than average chance of going viral, because of the increased chance that people will send the link or information to their friends.

    A good viral marketing example of this type was Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken” Web site. It was funny, strange and just a bit creepy… and spread almost overnight. It didn’t seem to matter that controlling a person dressed in a chicken suit didn’t have much in common with Burger King.

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    Fun Viral Marketing Example That Was Geared to Their Audience did something similar with their “Virtual Bartender." Replace the chicken with a pretty female bartender, and you’ve got a viral marketing campaign with real appeal to its audience. The distribution method for this viral marketing example involved 10 e-mails sent out to friends of on November 4, 2004. By the end of the month, not only had there been more than 10,000,000 visitors to, making it the world’s most popular Web site for the month, but they also managed to get 205,000 people to sign up for the Virtual Bartender fan club. Not bad for sending 10 e-mails.