Consumers’ responses to viral marketing messages

In marketing on January 10, 2010 by Magnolia Tagged:

Viral marketing, as all the marketing communications tools, has pros and cons in order to influence the consumers’ responses towards the brands. The results of my research indicate that viral marketing efforts are  extremely effective to build brand awareness. These results are based on the consumers’ responses to three successful viral marketing campaigns: Drumming Gorilla (Cadbury), Walk in Fridge (Heineken) and Ronaldinho Touch of Gold (Nike).

The findings of this study are supported by other researches. Dobele, Toleman and Beverland (2005) and Ferguson (2008) analyzed, through case study research of some of the most successful viral marketing campaigns, the consumers’ responses to viral marketing stimuli in terms of brand awareness and attitudes and motivations regarding the brand.

Ferguson (2008) explored consumers’ responses to eight real life campaigns of well-known multinational companies such as Lego, Dell, Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts and Procter and Gamble. He interviewed the marketing directors of these companies and the head managers of the online advertising agencies which conducted the viral marketing campaigns. The conclusions of this study are as follows:

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Viral Marketing: the influence of email sources

In marketing on December 29, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

The type of the source of the viral message plays a fundamental role on an individual’s decision to open or not an email and her/his evaluation of the content of the viral message. The results of the research I undertook to analyze the phenomenon of viral marketing show important differences between personal and non-personal email sources:

The values of this table indicate the order of importance of the source of the viral marketing message. The most important sources are strong-tie sources such as friends and family. On the other hand, weak-tie sources such as companies and unknown people are ranked in the last positions by the respondents. Friends (0.72) are the most important source in order to open an email. They are followed closely by relatives (0.92). Colleagues (1.66) are the third most important source to open an email according to the respondents. Organizations and companies are placed fourth (2.73) and unknown people are the least important source in order to open an email (3.98).

My analysis of the influence of the sources of the viral marketing messages are mainly based on the investigations of Bruyn and Lilien (2008) and Crutzen and his colleagues (2008).

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Viral Marketing: Types of email

In marketing on December 22, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

Viral marketing messages may be spread through different types of email: videos, adverts, corporate messages, jokes, games, etc. The results of the survey I carried out indicate that the type of email most frequently received by the respondent is corporate messages. 56% of the interviewees receive this kind of message at least 2-3 days a week. The second type of message most received by the respondents is jokes (46% of the interviewees receive jokes at least 2-3 days a week). Videos (38% of the interviewees receive videos at least 2-3 days a week) are the third type of email most received. Chain letters are the fourth (33% of the interviewees receive chain letters at least 2-3 days a week), adverts are fifth (45% of the interviewees receive adverts less frequently than once a week) and, finally, games are the type of email least received (67% of the respondents receive games less frequently than every month).

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Viral Marketing: Consumers’ motivations to forward emails

In marketing on December 17, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

Phelps and his colleagues (2004) examined interpersonal communication via email and the reasons why people send emails. They used different research techniques: focus groups (66 individuals in eight focus groups), content analysis of 1259 emails and in-depth interviews.

They found that messages that spark strong emotions -humour, fear, sadness, or inspiration- are likely to be forwarded. Emails which contain information and relevant data about important events (warning, crime), and good causes are frequently forwarded and, also, opened by the receivers.

Other findings of this study were the principal reasons why people send emails. These researchers classified the reasons why consumers pass along emails into four categories: enjoyment and entertaining, relax, keeping in touch with people and helping other people.

Based on the findings of Phelps and his colleagues I undertook a research on consumers motivations to forward email messages. I carried out a survey  to evaluate how consumers rate the content of the emails in order to pass along these messages.  The results of this survey are as follows:

The chart above indicates the order of preference of the email contents according to the respondents of the survey. Emails perceived by the respondents as ‘important’ are the most likely to be opened. The second email content most likely to be opened is ‘funny’ emails, which are followed very closely by entertaining emails (third). ‘Helpful’ emails are ranked by the respondents as the fourth type of content most likely to be opened. The fifth email content most likely to be opened is ‘exciting’ emails. Finally, ‘relaxing’ emails are ranked by the respondents as the last type of email contents in order of preference.


Phelps, J., E., et al, 2004. Viral Marketing or Electronic Word-of-Mouth Advertising: Examining Consumer Responses and Motivations to Pass Along Email. Journal of advertising research. December, pp. 333-348


Viral Marketing definition

In marketing on December 9, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

Jurvetson and Draper (1997) developed the term viral marketing to describe the free email service which Hotmail was providing. They defined the term as “network-enhanced word of mouth”.  Online environment allows people to maintain easily weak-ties and, also, strong-ties. Consequently, this environment amplifies and strengthens social networks which enhance word of mouth communication.

Early researchers on viral marketing did not agree on the nature of this phenomenon. While some authors such as Kiecker and Cowles (2002) understand the concept of viral marketing as word of mouth in the online context, other researchers as Helm (2000) and Pastore (2000) and Modzelewski (2000) distinguish clearly between viral marketing and word of mouth.

Helm (2000 p.159) defines viral marketing as “a communication and distribution concept that relies on customers to transmit digital products via electronic mail to other potential customers in their social sphere and to animate these contacts to also transmit the products”. She stated that viral marketing is a marketing communications tool which may build word of mouth.

Modzelewski, on the other hand, argues that viral marketing differs from word-of-mouth in the value of the virus to the original consumer which is directly related. The message is not altered during the communication process because it is spread from person to person exactly how it was designed by the sender.

In 2006, Kirby and Marsden (2006) set up clearly the boundaries between word of mouth and viral marketing. They studied the different types of connected marketing (buzz, viral marketing, word of mouth marketing, etc.) and explained the differences among them. Kirby and Marsden (2006) define viral marketing and word of mouth as follows:

“Viral marketing is the promotion of a company or its products and services through a persuasive message designed to spread, typically online, from person to person”.

“Word of Mouth is the promotion of a company or its products and
services through an initiative conceived and designed to get people talking
positively about that company, product or service”.

These definitions are extremely useful to clarify the boundaries between these concepts. Whilst viral marketing is focused on how the company message is spread to the audience, WOM is intended to promote that people talk positively about product or brand in order to change or reinforce consumers’ attitudes and behaviours.

Ferguson (2008) goes further and distinguishes between viral marketing and word of mouth as cause and consequence. He argues that while WOM embraces all interpersonal communications in which is included the Internet; viral marketing has developed as a critical electronic extension of WOM, which is intended to build awareness and cause positive word of mouth.

Ferguson, R., 2008.  Word of mouth and viral marketing: taking the temperature of the hottest trends in marketing. Journal of Consumer Marketing. 25(3), pp. 179-182

Helm, S., 2000. Viral Marketing – Establishing Customer Relationships by ‘Word-of- mouse’. Electronic Markets. 10 (3), pp. 158–161

Jurvetson, S., and Draper, T.,1997.  Viral Marketing. [Online] Available from: (accessed on 15  June 2009)

Jurvetson, S., 2000. From the ground floor: What exactly is viral marketing? Red Herring Communications. May, pp. 110-111

Pastore, M., 2000. The Value of Word of Mouth. Available at: feature/article/0,1401,8961_395371,00.htm, Accessed on June 4th  2009
Modzelewski, F.,M., 2000. Finding a Cure for Viral Marketing. Direct Marketing News. September (11)

Kirby, J. and Marsden, P. 2006. Connected Marketing: the Viral, Buzz and Word-of-mouth Revolution. 1st Edition. Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann

Kiecker, P., and Cowles, D., 2002.  Interpersonal Communication and Personal Influence on the Internet:A Framework for Examining Online Word-of-Mouth.Journal of Euromarketing.11(2), pp. 71-88


Viral Marketing Communication

In marketing on December 1, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

In Boase and Wellman (2001) state that there are several similarities between biological virus and viral marketing. In both cases the diffusion depends on networks rather than growing in situ. They concluded that the spread of virus and viral marketing are shaped by the nature of interpersonal relationships and the structure and composition of the interpersonal networks.

Viral marketing as virus can be spread according to two archetypes: densely knit groups and ramified networks (Boase and Wellman 2001).

Viral Communication Model

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How Word of Mouth Works

In marketing on November 24, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

Dicther (1966) was one of the first researchers who investigated the way word of mouth influences consumers’ attitudes and perceptions. He analyzed the psychological aspects of word of mouth: speaker motivations, listener motivations and influential groups.

Johnson Brown and Reingen (1987) examined, from an interpersonal network perspective, the role that tie-strength may play in WOM processes. They concluded that strong-ties sources such as close relatives or friends are from whom most people obtain information. They also claimed that the role of weak-ties sources is not as important as it was though.

Herr, Kardes and Kim (1991) investigated the mediation of WOM effects on consumer’s persuasion. They attempted to identify additional moderating variables which may influence the degree of persuasion of WOM on the audiences. The results of their investigation indicated that WOM communications often have a strong impact on product judgments because information received in a face-to-face manner is more accessible than information presented in a less vivid manner.

Dunhan and his colleagues (1997) supported the findings of Herr, Kardes and Kim and added new information about other factors which affect word of mouth communication. They concluded that the likelihood of choosing strong-tie sources is influenced by task difficulty and prior knowledge, and the likelihood of choosing weak-tie sources is influenced by the importance of instrumental cues and subjective prior knowledge.

Figure : General Model of Recommendation Source Choice

Source: Duhan et al. 1997

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Word of Mouth

In marketing on November 17, 2009 by Magnolia Tagged:

In 1984 Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet  stated, contrary to principal theories about mass media communication of the 40s, that the mass media has limited effects in the process of mass persuasion. These authors questioned the validity of “the bullet theory” or “the hypodermic-needle theory”. This theory predicts that mass communication messages have a strong and universal effect on all the members of the audience who are exposed to them.  They concluded that opinions and attitudes of individuals are rooted in the social spheres they belong, and mass media do not influence directly the audiences. In fact, they influence a reduced group of individuals (“influencers” or “opinion leaders”).They interpret the message of the mass media and spread it though their interpersonal relationships (two-step flow in the effect of mass media).

Lazarsfeld and Katz (1955) investigated the role of the personal influence in the daily household purchase decisions. They found that members of interpersonal communication networks (family, friends and colleagues) were the most important source of influence in the purchase of household goods and food products. They concluded that personal influence, which was called later “ word of mouth” by Ditcher (1966) and Merton (1968), was seven times as effective as newspapers and magazines, four times as effective as personal selling, and twice as effective as radio advertising in influencing consumers to switch brands.

Merton (1968) was one of the first authors who coined the term word of mouth communication. He defined this concept as a process of personal influence, in which interpersonal communications between a sender and a receiver can change the receiver’s behaviour or attitudes. The influence of personal sources as friends, relatives or colleagues plays a fundamental role in affecting perceptions and attitudes.

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