Four young people sit in a row, looking and laughing at something on the screen of an orange smartphone. The smartphone is held by the second person from the left, a dark-haired young woman wearing denim shorts and a yellow cardigan. On either side of her is a man; the one on the left is wearing a teal tank top and has dark hair buzzed short on the sides, and the one on the right wears glasses and a red-and-white striped shirt. On the far right is a woman wearing a white sundress; she leans forward to point at something on the phone's screen.
A good marketing campaign not only catches its audience's attention but promotes discussion and encourages participation beyond just watching an ad. — Getty Images/Xavier Lorenzo

Memorable marketing campaigns can leave you singing a catchy jingle, knowing every word of a humorous ad, or even participating in a brand’s campaign on social media. Various strategies can catch an audience’s attention, but what really makes a marketing campaign stand out?

Below are five viral marketing campaigns that left a lasting impression. Explore their techniques to gain inspiration to boost brand awareness and help you attract new customers.

[Read more: 7 Digital Marketing Trends to Pursue in 2023]

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s transformative journey over the last 17 years as an American singer and songwriter has solidified her as an iconic figure, driven by her willingness to evolve and change. Swift has the ability to embody various styles — from country to indie — which reflects her fearless embrace of growing up. Using her unbreakable connection to her devoted fans, or “Swifties,” Swift uses “Easter eggs” to engage her fans in decoding messages about upcoming releases which foster engagement.

Swift has built trust and loyalty among her fans in many ways, including taking ownership of her music by re-recording her older albums. Her storytelling and relatable content also serve as strong marketing strategies, forging a personable connection with her audience.

When Swift’s 10th studio album, “Midnights,” was released in October 2022, it showcased an exceptional marketing campaign through teaser TikTok videos, NFL promos, and appearances on late-night shows. The strategic approach led to a Spotify record for single-day album streams and songs from the album claimed all Top 10 spots on the Billboard 100 within a week.

The ‘Barbie’ movie

Warner Bros’ robust marketing campaign for Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” resonated globally — colored by partnerships and pink-themed branding. The campaign’s breadcrumb strategy kept audiences engaged, generating well-deserved media attention and reflecting a broader movement well before the movie’s July 2023 release. The color pink, which was the center of the film’s marketing strategy, symbolized girl power and flourished in fashion. The marketing campaign even harnessed Google , which turned the search engine pink when interested parties searched for “Barbie” or “Barbie movie.”

Additionally, the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, celebrating the simultaneous theatrical release of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer,” emerged organically, creating even more traction. “Barbie” earned $155 million in the United States during its opening weekend alone, showcasing the success of a robust marketing campaign. Moviegoers wore costumes and pink outfits to showings, amplifying the collective experience.

Various strategies can catch an audience’s attention, but what really makes a marketing campaign stand out?

McDonald’s Grimace shake

McDonald’s celebrated the birthday of Grimace — the large purple creature featured in McDonaldland commercials — with a limited-time purple milkshake promotion that turned into a viral campaign. Fueled by TikTok videos showing creative consumption experiences, major brands joined in on the viral campaign. Individuals on TikTok were seen drinking the Grimace shake and then the video would cut to them on the ground in the spilled purple shake or having a paranormal-type experience. The campaign’s second-quarter success was attributed to trend creation, major brand collaborations, and character-driven engagement.

[Read more: Running a Successful Digital Marketing Campaign]

The movie ‘Smile’

Paramount’s horror movie “Smile” dominated the box office through an innovative viral marketing campaign. The campaign involved placing actors with eerie-looking smiles in the background of live events — Major League Baseball games in particular. The film’s plot involved a supernatural force compelling people to commit terrible acts with unsettling grins, which echoed the real-life actors’ appearances at live events.

The campaign understandably went viral on social media, including Twitter and TikTok, and caught the attention of both younger and older audiences. During opening weekend, “Smile” earned $22 million and garnered over 160 million organic social media views, proving the power of implementing inventive marketing in the age of social media.

Popeyes chicken sandwich

In 2019, Popeyes’ chicken sandwich ignited — and still continues to fuel — the chicken sandwich wars in the fast-food industry, driven by viral marketing and social media trends. Popeyes’ Chief Marketing Officer at the time, Bruno Cardinali, emphasized the importance of delivering a high-quality product that lives up to the hype, since even the most compelling social media buzz cannot compensate for a product or service that’s below average. It took Popeyes three years to meticulously develop its perfect recipe.

The release of the new sandwich was timely and, combined with a dynamic social media presence, Popeyes was seeing one tweet per second during its launch period. Popeyes also ran out of sandwiches during its release, which created scarcity and drove demand. Adding to the mix was a “feud” with another huge brand, Chick-fil-A, over which establishment had the best chicken sandwich, proving competition can be healthy for brand engagement.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Become a small business member and save!

Become an integral voice in the world’s largest business organization when you join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as a small business member. Members also receive exclusive discounts from B2B partners, including a special offer from FedEx that can help your business save hundreds a year on shipping. Become a member today and start saving!