Definition of viral marketing

Viral marketing is an original advertising message created by a company that spreads beyond the initial recipient to other consumers. The term gets its name from viruses as advertisers hope that their marketing message will spread as easily as the common cold.


There are a number of different ways an advertiser can create a viral marketing message:  

  • The message could be designed to be automatically spread by the consumers when they use the product. For instance, email provider Hotmail spread the message about its service by putting a short line at the end of every e-mail indicating that users could sign up for free e-mail accounts at Thus, every time a user sent an e-mail they also sent a marketing message.
  • The advertiser can provide a bonus to the original recipient for sending the message on to others. These are sometimes known as refer-a-friend programmes. For instance, Living Social, a deal-of-the-day e-commerce website, gives users a discount if they send an advertisement to three of their friends who then purchase a product.
  • The message could be designed to be so inspiring, funny or interesting that users want to send it to their friends.  An example of this was, which was a website put together by fast food chain Burger King to advertise its chicken sandwiches.  Users who interacted with the website and had so much fun, they would send the link to their friends. [1]

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