One of the hardest things for any marketer to do is create a unique piece of content that has broad or even mass appeal. Without the budget or existing brand following of the big guys, it’s almost impossible.

So – why don’t we draw some inspiration from the campaigns that went right over the last year? Even if you’re not trying to ‘go viral’, the insights from those that did can help with your day-to-day.

Every wildfire idea touches on a truth. Realness and emotion are threads you’ll see running through all of these – but tugging on heart strings is a tightrope you have to walk carefully. Notice not just the human element in these campaigns – but the sensitivity with which it’s treated.

No matter the budget, the star power or the brand, infectious ideas have these things in common:

They’re honest.
They’re human.
They’re real.
They know their audience.
They’re relatable.
They encourage interaction.

Build your communications around these facets and you’ll always strike a connection.

So what are the secrets? What does it mean to go viral?

It’s something we all question

One of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of 2015 was Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. It used, amongst other elements, a video of women being given an option of labelled doors to walk through, one saying ‘beautiful’ and the other ‘average’.

Why did it work? It asked a question its target market asks itself daily, whenever they look in the mirror. It was a universal question which worked in the five countries it was shot. And it got the media talking (even if they didn’t all like it).

It’s something we all feel

In the vein of honest humour, here’s a great article focused around Nike’s campaign: “Better for it”, and its effect on Nike’s push for the women’s market. It’s a video series where the audience is party to the inner dialogue of some ‘average’ peeps doing their ‘normal’ exercise routines.

On a similar theme, Sport England with its “This Girl Can” campaign really captured the hearts and minds of the viewing public. It’s another great example of what happens when you can get people talking.

As The Drum mentions in its write-up on the campaign the phrase ‘this girl can’ has become “…synonymous with the ad’s burst of energy…” and the “…not-giving-a-damn…” attitude that is key to the ad’s success.

As a hashtag it has helped the campaign go viral, with over 8.8m Facebook views and 123,000 shares since its launch on 12 January. At the time of going to press the film had been viewed 6m times on YouTube.

Why did they both work? They are both clear on their target market. The campaigns use ordinary women. They are funny. They resonate. And they encourage their audience to engage by achieving and shouting out about their own sporting goals.

It’s something some of us are obsessed with

In a complete break from the ‘let’s get up, get involved and leave the comfort of our own homes’ rhetoric was the hugely successful campaign from Samsung focusing on the Avengers and virtual reality. Everyone can agree that’s a winning combination from the start. It uses famous sporting stars and a careful young boy to draw you into a tale where they are chosen for their similarities to the Avengers characters.

They eventually converge on a secret lair and fight some bad-guy robots in virtual reality to understand truly what it means to be part of a team. Absolutely ridiculous, but it kinda makes you want a Samsung device. Advertising Age takes you through the ad in a fanboy blow-by-blow account. The article details the VR battle and brings to light the likeness between the Avenger’s weapons and the new handsets – obviously.

Why did it work? I know what you’re thinking – getting Lionel Messi and the Avengers in a room together for your brand isn’t realistic. But there’s a truth at the heart of this as well. Samsung didn’t target a broad church, but went for a more specific audience. Once it had the target nailed down, it threw the kitchen sink at it, sure – but the lesson remains. Knowing your audience (and more importantly, what they want to see) is vital.

It’s something we can all relate to

Let’s stay with the big tech companies. HTC’s “One” handset ad campaign reminds us that we’re not all that different from one another, really. To try and go for the emotional jugular, amongst images of proposals, new-born babies and couples clearly in love, you have Mr Downey Jr reminding you that with him as your guide – and, crucially, this handset – peace and happiness is very much achievable. Advertising Age interviewed Idris Mootee the global CMO of HTC, to see what he hopes to achieve through this kind of campaign.

Why did it work? Well, Robert Downey Jr seems able to sell anything. But it also portrayed threshold life moments we all go through; if you can’t relate to any of those, you must be an iron man.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the hi-tech to the highly motivational, this form of advertising relies on portraying something everyone experiences: life, be it amusing, humbling or just plain old surprising.

Secrets from the viral marketing masters