Choose your language

Choose your language

The website has been translated to English with the help of Humans and AI


The Key Ingredients for Viral Campaigns

Brand Brand, Go-To-Market Strategy, Omni-channel Marketing 5 min read
Profile picture for user Eduardo Cabrer

Written by
Eduardo Cabrer
Sr. Brand Strategist

hero image depicting different emotions

Art by Christopher Guzmán

They say there's no formula for creating advertising that transcends and goes viral, but I must admit that I don't fully agree. In fact, I would dare to contradict that idea and state that there is indeed a "how to" for designing advertising pieces worthy of being remembered and shared multiple times. The key is not only to aim to impress with sales metrics or vanity, but to achieve what we call human performance: ideas that truly move people.

Let’s start from the beginning. Imagine you receive a new brief from your client. This brief calls for something (1) emotional, (2) disruptive and (3) viral. You might wonder, who wouldn’t want that? At every stage of advertising production, regardless of the client, industry, or budget, the ultimate goal is to create something memorable, something that people want to share. At the same time, we face an increasingly skeptical audience and a more competitive ecosystem. So, what can we do to meet that brief?

In this article, I’ll explore some elements and how to combine them to attempt to achieve just that.

The campaign should be emotional, but which emotions should we prioritize?

In his book "Contagious," Jonah Berger explores the psychology behind content that is shared massively. He argues that intense emotions such as fear, awe, joy, and anger are essential for capturing the audience’s attention and motivating the spread of content.

Fear, for example, triggers deeply instinctive reactions, tapping into the need for protection and action. Obviously, in our line of work, it’s not advisable to scare anyone, but understanding how this works is important. Examples of how fear is exploited to foster widespread sharing can be observed in political marketing, where propaganda and ideological discrepancies are frequently employed to maintain our vigilance.

On the other hand, awe is highly powerful. Feats and displays of mastery always capture people’s attention, eliciting surprise and the desire to share that sensation with others. This explains why we share certain campaigns, consume certain art, or admire certain types of creativity.

Monk Thoughts Content that is unexpected or challenges expectations often generates an intense response and, therefore, is more likely to be disseminated. In advertising, this translates to thinking about that surprising twist that redefines what we are seeing.
Eduardo's headshot

Joy is related to anything that brings a smile to our faces, evokes tenderness, or makes us feel warm; all of this is easily shared, as we want our circle to experience it. Think about how contagious a joke or a meme can be in this sense.

Finally, strong emotions like anger, irritation, or discomfort often drive us to act. Content with this type of emotional charge can mobilize millions around the world and even inspire organized social movements. However, similar to fear, we need to use these emotions responsibly. Our goal should always be to foster positive social engagement rather than exacerbate negativity. When considering this approach, it is essential to carefully weigh the potential impacts, ensuring that it aligns with ethical marketing practices and contributes constructively to societal conversations. This delicate balance of emotion can be pivotal when crafting compelling messages but must be handled with sensitivity and foresight.

Disruption (but without annoying anyone, please).

Although I would personally like this word to be used less loosely, it is crucial to understand the key principles behind disruption: familiarity and surprise. For disruption to be innovative and appealing, it must combine a degree of familiarity that avoids alienating the audience and facilitates its adoption, along with a surprising element that makes it feel unique and outstanding. Let's take the example of Uber at the beginning: the platform was different enough from existing transportation options, but at the same time, it maintained similarities with already-known services. It’s easier said than done, but understanding these principles can speed up some steps. 

For example, in the work we did for BMW alongside Lil Miquela, we combined the fascinating aspects of the digital world with real elements to launch the new iX2 model. On one hand, the familiar was represented by the brand itself and the traditional methods of commercial communication in the industry. However, the innovation shone through the blending of the digital and physical worlds, putting Lil Miquela not only behind the wheel of the car but also at the forefront of the campaign. This strategy allowed us to connect with 8.2 million people, creating a disruptive model that linked BMW with a new audience in a unique space, without losing sight of its legacy and cultural background.

The virality formula: reach, memorability and mentions.

Emotional and disruptive values are essential to connect with the audience and draw attention to our work. It's difficult to go viral without them, but we must also consider other factors, such as reach, memorability, and the number of mentions.

Reach refers to the ability to use all the touchpoints surrounding the brand to reach all audiences engaging with the category. This involves presence on digital platforms, participation in relevant events, and creation of strategic partnerships to maximize our presence and connection with potential consumers. Memorability relates to the connections we create in the mind around our brand, everything that helps us be remembered: phrases, mascots, assets, and advertising styles. For example, what brands come to mind when you think of polar bears, gorillas, or finger-licking?

Moreover, the number of mentions is essential for successful virality. Just as a scientist knows their work is successful based on how often it's cited, we can recognize a good campaign, idea or piece when it's frequently mentioned. Think of your favorite piece and ask yourself: could you explain the idea? If the answer is yes, you're already halfway there, as pieces that are easier to talk about are more digestible and contagious.

The art and science of connecting with your audience.

In the words of Dave Trott, a campaign worthy of being shared, told, and going viral must have three components, in this order of importance:

  • Impact
  • Communication
  • Persuasion

Without impact, attention won’t be captured; without communication, the message won’t be understood. Therefore, emotions are needed to make an impact, disruption to grab attention, and repetition to effect change; in a word, persuade.

In summary, viral content is a combination of artistic ability (yours) and science (the steps presented). By understanding and applying these emotions, integrating disruptive elements, and ensuring that the idea is easy to convey, brands can create content that captures the audience's attention and resonates deeply. Stop worrying about going viral and focus on connecting with your audience. 

Take as an example what we did for Ray-Ban. The campaign strived for impact by featuring stunning hero content across multiple platforms—including social media, 3D visuals, outdoor advertising, TikTok challenges, and video games—which caught the eye and held attention across a diverse range of consumer touchpoints. Additionally, our collaboration with 11 popular Italian TikTok influencers to launch an elevator dance challenge showcases effective communication, turning a simple call to action into an engaging, participative experience that resonated well with audiences. This not only persuaded participants to join in but also helped the challenge go viral, achieving 12 billion views worldwide and inspiring over 3.2 million user-generated videos.

So, in your next brainstorming session, ask yourself:

  • What emotion do I want to tap into?
  • Does it have the right mix of familiarity and surprise?
  • Is it easy to tell? To remember?

Remember that creative work is an experiment, and these are just some steps that can help you in your next projects. If you have doubts, comments, or are interested in learning more, remember that the Brand Planning team at Media.Monks is here to help you, challenge you, and collaborate on implementing ideas based on these principles, whether you are a client, collaborator, or just want to put to the test what has been presented here.


Make our digital heart beat faster

Get our newsletter with inspiration on the latest trends, projects and much more.

Thank you for signing up!

Continue exploring

Media.Monks needs the contact information you provide to us to contact you about our products and services. You may unsubscribe from these communications at any time. For information on how to unsubscribe, as well as our privacy practices and commitment to protecting your privacy, please review our Privacy Policy.

Choose your language

Choose your language

The website has been translated to English with the help of Humans and AI