Classification of Viral Marketing

By John Dudovskiy
May 25, 2013

Classification of Viral Marketing Sweeney (2006) divides viral marketing into three categories: a) word of mouth; b) ‘pass it on’ concept; and c) product or service based viral marketing.

An alternative classification of viral marketing according to the degree of requiring the customer’s activity in forwarding the viral marketing message is offered by Clarke and Flaherty (2010). Specifically, the authors divide viral marketing strategies into two categories: low and high integration strategies.

An example for a viral marketing strategy with low integration include ‘send this to friend’ icons that might be used for a wide range of products and services such as greeting card services, newsgroup readers, calendars etc.

High integration viral marketing strategies, on the other hand, requires the participation of customers in an active manner. Such participation may include downloading new programs, and discussing the advantages of products and services in an active manner.

Mueller (2010) specifies four main forms of viral marketing as e-mails, facilitated viral, incentive-based viral marketing, and web-linked viral marketing. E-mails are perceived to be a basic platform for viral marketing, where e-mail contents or message in attachments may encourage the receiver to pass the message. Facilitated viral, on the other hand, is explained by Mueller (2010) as a technique that involves companies to place ‘e-mail your friend’ link I their web-site, so that e-mail addresses of additional perspective customers can be obtained.

Incentive-based viral marketing, as the name suggests, is associated with the provision of certain incentives, either tangible or intangible, for individuals to share viral marketing messages. Lastly, web-linked viral marketing involves sharing viral marketing links in online publications, internet chartrooms, and social networking websites. Mueller (2010) notes the increasing popularity of this last form of viral marketing compared to others.

More comprehensive study on various forms of viral marketing messages is conducted by Beneke (2010). Specifically, Beneke (2010) divides viral marketing into the following categories: passing to others, gossop-based, incentive-based, and disguised viral messages

Passing to others viral messages, considered to be a basic type of a viral message includes messages, either online or offline that are designed to be passed to others.

Gossop-based viral messages tend to be intriguing news, true or untrue, that quickly spread on regional, national or even international levels depending on the topic of gossip and parties involved.

Incentive-based viral messages, is another popular strategy initiated by businesses, and this strategy offers individuals and organisations specific incentive for spreading the message.

Disguised viral messages usually do not directly reveal the name of products or services being advertised, or the name of the advertiser. The main rationale for the development of such messages is to generate curiosity amongst population in general, and target customer segment in particular and to motivate them to make investigations about the message.



Beneke, J.H. (2010) “The Application of Social Networking as a Marketing Platform to Young Adults: An Emerging Market Perspective”

Clarke, I. & Flaherty, T. (2005) “Advances in Electronic Marketing” IGI

Mueller, B. (2010) “Dynamics of International Advertising: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives” Peter Lang

Sweeney, S. (2006) “101 Ways to Promote Your Web Site” 6th edition, Maximum Press

Category: Marketing