By Mylena Vazquez

Viral marketing isn’t anything new. The term has been around since as early as 1996, when Harvard Business School professor Jeffrey Rayport broke down the concept in a Fast Company article. He instructs viral marketers to “let the behaviors of the target community carry the message…into new territories.”

With the advent of digital—and, more specifically, social media—viral marketing has become the apotheosis of organic word-of-mouth marketing. And when it comes to viral marketing, there just seems to be something about chicken.

Burger King serves up something strange

In 2004, Burger King entered the viral marketing game by creating a campaign called The Subservient Chicken. As part of a larger marketing campaign for the Tendercrisp Chicken Sandwich, Burger King created a website that streamed a live feed of a man dressed in a chicken suit sitting on a living room couch. The motto of the campaign was “chicken the way you like it,” and with this digital campaign, Burger King meant it literally. On the website, users could type in a command (like “do some jumping jacks”) for the chicken mascot to perform. This was a wildly popular tactic; the website garnered 20 million views in its first week up. More notably, the Tendercrisp began to outsell Burger King’s original chicken sandwich.


Wendy’s gets spicy and sassy

Spicy chicken nuggets are one of Wendy’s most popular items, yet they disappeared from their menu for two whole years. People were devastated; Chance the Rapper even tweeted at Wendy’s imploring them to bring them back from the fast food grave. Wendy’s replied saying that they would revive spicy chicken nuggets if their tweet reached two million likes. This moment became truly viral; in under two days, the tweet had reached the two million threshold, and Wendy’s had publicly announced that they would be bringing back the spicy nugs—some way, somehow, someday soon. Not only did Wendy’s generate huge engagement and increase their brand affinity, but they created a popular mini-platform for themselves to promote some of their other current offers. 


Popeye’s scarcity strikes gold

The latest viral marketing campaign comes from none other than the colonel of chicken, Popeyes. No doubt we all remember the feeding frenzy of 2019, where everyone you knew was desperately trying to get their hands on the Popeye’s chicken sandwich. They were sold out everywhere. All kinds of memes about the shortages abounded on social media. People were getting restless. People were tweeting at the Popeye’s account. But the company wasn’t bothered. In fact, the scarcity of the sandwich is what got Popeye’s $23 million worth of free advertising in the form of media mentions—in just 11 days.


The importance of viral marketing cannot be overstated. It is everything a marketer could want—organic engagement, word-of-mouth dissemination, excitement, investment, affinity, and hopefully a rapid and exponential return on their investment. It’s our job as marketers to create the perfect conditions for users to be able to embrace and spread our viral marketing campaign like wildfire—and to drive its success. 


What is your favorite viral marketing campaign of all time? Why do you think it went viral in the first place?

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