[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward

5 marketing lessons you can learn from viral videos

Lessons learned from viral videos

Were you privy to the most recent virus? We’re not talking about anything health-related; we’re referring to the most recent viral video, Kony 2012. This 30-minute documentary has become one of the most viral videos of all time: In just a few days, it racked up tens of millions of views.

Viral videos like this can provide some excellent lessons to those who work in marketing, as well as small-business owners, entrepreneurs and self-promoters. Here are five takeaways from viral videos:


There is a power shift from marketers to consumers.

“The first thing marketers need to understand is that the customer is in charge, not the company,” says Ira Lovitch, marketing instructor in the MBA program and area chair at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus. In today’s opt-ins, opt-outs and spam filters, consumers have more control than ever to view just what they please.


The video must have value.

Because of the power shift, consumers have the ability to avoid mass media such as billboards, radio ads and TV ads. So when it comes to viral videos, people view only the ones in which they find value. And, just like with beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder.

Once one video goes viral, however, people will subscribe to the creator’s channel and consume future creations. Lovitch says that’s because “once marketers provide value, a customer will opt in and ask for more.”


There are no rules.

It’s impossible to say what will become viral and what won’t, Lovitch explains, and the quality of the production isn’t the only determining factor. “A video made on a cellphone can be more effective than one shot on a professional HD camera or one made by a professional studio with special effects,” he says.


Human nature has not changed.

“Technology has changed, but people haven’t,” Lovitch adds. “As people, we still need to connect with others and feel like we’re a part of something.” A viral video is a way for people to connect; the same goes for a marketing campaign like the Old Spice guy.


You have to hook people emotionally.

Out of all the lessons, this is probably the most important. Whether the emotion revolves around comedy like in “Charlie bit my finger” or the desire to make a change like in Kony 2012, it must make people feel a certain way, and that emotion will make them want to share the video with everyone they know.

“Millions of people want emotional experiences,” Lovitch says. “We used to get this from a 30-minute sitcom, and now we can get it from a 30-second video.”

Interested in furthering your education?