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

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