Lessons From 3 Famous Social Media Marketing Viral Campaigns

Find out the marketing secrets behind 3 of the most successful viral campaigns of all time.

In an age where political and social issues frequently divide people according to their beliefs, there’s a common thread that keeps bringing them back together.

Perhaps it’s the dress that appears white to some and blue to others. Or the troublemaking dog that greets his owner with an innocent expression.

No matter the topic, viral content gives people a reason to push the “pause” button on their differences and unite in moments of laughter, wonder, or philosophy.

Businesses that successfully execute viral campaigns do more than profit. They also embed themselves in the minds and memories of their audience for years to come.

In this article, we’ll take a close look at famous viral campaigns from Old Spice, Dove Beauty, and Heineken beer. Before you plan your next social media campaign, consider the lessons these 3 viral campaigns have to offer:

  1. Target your audience and repurpose your best content.
  2. Research your audience and find ways to serve them.
  3. Maintain a strong mission and partner with experts.

Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Campaign

The “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign proves that audience targeting and content repurposing is a solid tactic for viral success.

Prior to the release of its “Smell like a Man” campaign, Old Spice had an image problem with the younger generation, who associated the brand only with dinosaurs and grandpas.

One 32-second ad played during the 2010 Superbowl caught the attention of America, and the viral campaign that followed made marketing history.

The “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” video features a handsome, shirtless actor telling women that their men could smell like him if they use Old Spice.

The ad targeted a younger audience with precision, incorporating a modern look, personality, and sense of humor.

Within 30 days the ad received over 40 million YouTube views, and Old Spice boosted their body wash sales by 107%. But the campaign didn’t end there.

Here’s how Old Spice took it from popular to viral:

A few months after the commercial aired on television, Old Spice’s ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy, took it a step further.

Wieden + Kennedy created nearly 200 short videos in which the Old Spice man answered questions across many social media platforms. As it picked up speed, celebrities began to get involved in the fun.

For example, on Twitter, George Stephanopoulos asked “Hey Old Spice Man — Political question: President’s lost some female support. How does WH get those women voters back?”

The response was: “First. Men need to use Old Spice products in the White House”, and then “President Obama should only be seen in a towel.”

The Old Spice response series was a hit across Twitter and Facebook, outperforming all other viral content at the time, including Obama’s victory speech.

The Old Spice campaign shows how targeting your audience and repurposing your best content can lead to viral success on social media.

Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” Campaign

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches shows how you can connect with your audience by researching what’s important to them and how they can be served.

In 2013, personal care brand Dove released a short film series titled “Real Beauty Sketches.”

The film showcased a number of women having 2 personal portraits hand-drawn by an artist. The first portrait was based on a description of how each woman saw themselves, and the second reflected how a complete stranger saw them.

In all cases, women were perceived as more beautiful, open, and attractive by strangers than by themselves.

The result was an emotionally-charged viral campaign that started a global conversation about the way women value themselves.

The video received more than 50 million views and 15 million downloads within 12 days of its release. To date, Real Beauty Sketches has been viewed almost 180 million times.

Later that year, Dove and its agency, Ogilvy & Mather Brasil, won the Titanium Grand Prix award (the highest honor available) at Cannes Lions International Film Festival of Creativity.

Dove’s campaign success didn’t happen by accident. The corporation actively conducts research to understand its target audience (women and girls).

It serves its target audience with a mission of asking them to “reconsider their view of their own beauty and remember: you’re more beautiful than you think.”

Dove Real Beauty Sketches proves that researching your audience and finding ways to serve them is a powerful foundation on which to build your social media campaigns.

Heineken Worlds Apart

Heineken’s Worlds Apart video shows how a brand can capitalize on political issues without angering customers. By maintaining a strong mission and partnering with experts, its campaign struck a balance that resonated with people everywhere.

Heineken Beer’s “Worlds Apart” video brings together 3 pairs of strangers with opposing political views to answer the question — “Is there more that unites us than defines us?”

In the experiment-style video, participants are privately asked about their political views. Then they’re paired with a stranger and asked to assemble a bar.

Throughout the process, the film shows the couples working together and taking a break to answer ice-breaker type questions supplied to them by the producers.

The couples begin to develop a friendship and when the assembly is complete, they’re rewarded with a video. Shockingly, the video includes each person sharing strongly opposing political views from their partner.

At the close of the film the couples are told: “You may now go, or you can stay and discuss your differences over a beer.”

All 3 couples chose to stay and have a beer together rather than separate.

According to Cindy Tervoort, head of marketing at Heineken UK, the Worlds Apart video received over 40 million views across a variety of platforms. It also sparked thousands of conversations between the brand and consumers, 91% of which were positive.

The Worlds Apart idea formed around Heineken’s mission of bringing people together for a beer, combined with the problem of a society that’s becoming more divided.

Tervoort says “they realized that the brand could play a role and saw that there was a place for us to inspire people to look for common ground.”

Prior to the developing the campaign, the brand brought in an expert to help determine if people actually could become more open as a result of interacting with each other. Then it partnered with The Human Library, an organization with a mission similar to their goal.

The experiment worked. In the image below you see 2 people with dramatically opposing political opinions having a beer with each other.

The man in the video closes the conversation with “I’ve been born in a world where everything is black and white. But everything isn’t black and white.”

Heineken’s viral Worlds Apart campaign teaches businesses that difficult issues can be tackled with thoughtful marketing. A strong mission and willingness to learn from, and partner with, experts who can guide you are a key to making it work.

The campaign also proves that striking an emotional chord is a strong way to make a connection and develop a conversation with your audience.

What Makes Social Media Campaigns Go Viral

While there is no on answer or foolproof formula for viral success on social media, the examples above do offer some clues:

  • Target and research your audience relentlessly.
  • Be sure campaigns are a reflection of your company mission.
  • Repurpose your best content in creative ways.
  • Always strive to serve your audience.

The examples from Old Spice, Dove, and Heineken show us that viral content doesn’t happen by accident. Viral campaigns are often the result of strong marketing strategies and teams that work well together.


This article was originally published on The Manifest on July 30, 2018 and was written by Rhonda Bradley.