How an Advertising Campaign Goes Viral

March 11, 2016

Every marketer wants their advertising campaign content to go viral. The prospect of millions of views and the subsequent traffic to the website is just too enticing to ignore. But the truth is that very few campaign pieces actually go viral, so what’s a marketer to do?

Few online entities have achieved viral status more than the website Upworthy. The site launched on June 11, 2012, and just 77 days later had 35,000 Facebook fans and 7,300 Twitter followers. Clearly, they are doing something right. So we consulted this Slideshare to learn some of their secrets and to pass them on to you.

At its core, Upworthy looks for content that is awesome, meaningful and visual. All three components must be in place for a piece of content to go viral. For example, in 2011, presidential candidate Mitt Romney admitted to tying his dog Seamus to the roof of the car on a long family trip, which immediately prompted dozens of Internet memes and this viral image.

sad puppy dog meme with "I'm not luggage" written underneath

Photo credit:

So let’s examine this image. It’s clearly visual, it’s meaningful because dog-lovers everywhere were appalled by what Romney had put his family pet through, and it’s awesome because the simple phrase “I’m not luggage” under a cute puppy photo resonates. No wonder the image went viral.

The folks at Upworthy argue that virality equals shares/views X clicks/shares, and the best way to get clicks is to focus on the headline. They suggest writing 25 headlines for every piece of content you want to publish in your advertising campaign. Twenty-four of them will probably stink, but the 25th will be manna from heaven.

Next, think about these four emotions: relaxation, sadness, anger, happiness. Can you guess the emotional hit that will take your content viral? If you said “happiness,” you’re only half right. Because, in fact, research has shown that anger prompts a similar urge to share and to click. So don’t be afraid to evoke anger in your audience.

Truth is, no one really knows the secret to make every piece of content in an advertising campaign go viral, but some sites have more success than others. By following the Upworthy principles, you increase the likelihood that your content might be one of them.