Viral marketing“Did you see that email about the…”; when was the last time someone said that to you? Or,  “I’ve seen that video – they sent a link via email. I couldn’t believe it!” They’re simple, yet powerful reactions to the modern day Holy Grail of marketing: going viral.  Viral emails are rare, but not unheard of.

It may be something as simple as sending out an offer which is unusually generous and doing so to a select number of your most loyal subscribers. It might be sending out a whiff of a new product or service.  Just a glimpse. Movie trailer-esque in the way it shows enough to titillate the senses but not enough to give the entire game away. Whatever it is, viral marketing can be an incredibly powerful tool. Moreover, it suits email perfectly.

But don’t just take my word for it. How about some real life examples of viral emails in action? The ones we’ve picked below are not all linked to businesses. Although, they may give you some inspiration for your next campaign!

The Virgin Atlantic complaint

Virgin food complaint“Look at this Richard. Just look at it”.  It’s not often a complaint helps a brand’s image. However, that’s exactly what happened when a disgruntled passenger emailed Richard Branson directly regarding the food he was offered during the flight, which he described as a ‘culinary journey of hell’.

Just how the email got out isn’t clear, but we’re glad it did, as were Virgin. Well written and clearly constructed by an author who’s tongue was pressed firmly in his cheek, the email elicited a response from Virgin which won the day for them, as did a public admission of the fact Mr Branson himself had telephoned the passenger to personally thank him for his feedback.

The nightmare mother-in-law

In 2011, an email sent from a step mother-in-law to her future daughter-in-law made the national headlines. Starting with the subject line ‘your lack of manners’, the email went into considerable detail about the bride-to-be’s ‘lack of grace’ and ‘staggering uncouthness’. But in the defense of the author, there was a handily bullet pointing a list of misdemeanours.

So great was the email’s reach it quickly went global. Carolyn Bourne, the mother-in-law in question, was nicknamed ‘Miss Fancy Pants’, had to miss the wedding itself.

Here’s an excerpt from the viral email:

mother-in-law viral email


The Blair Witch

Blair WitchRemember that film about a bunch of teenagers running around a forest with a cheap video camera, discovering odd twig formations and hearing babies crying? It was an absolute sensation and it all started from a fairly simple viral marketing campaign. Before the movie was released, the producers used all manner of communications methods including email, websites and good, old fashioned word of mouth. They got word out that a group of missing Maryland teens’ footage had been found and supposedly showed supernatural events. As a result, millions ended up watching a film which cost pennies to make and a viral campaign which cost virtually nothing helped make it one of the most profitable movies ever.

Viral Email Gmail

GmailAs big as Google is, it is also incredibly adept at creating a buzz about its wide variety of services by using simple word-of-mouth advertising techniques. When they first unveiled the now hugely popular Gmail webmail service, they did so on a very small scale, by the company’s standards. By sending out select invites, admission to the new email service was only granted for a few. The key to the viral campaign’s success was to only allow entry if you were invited by an existing member.

This proves that, by giving advertising power to family and friends, viral campaigns such as Gmail’s can reap huge rewards. There is rarely more trust than that placed in family. This particular campaign helped propel Gmail to the third most popular email client in the world.

Who stole my ham sandwich?

Ham sandwichWho’d think two pieces of bread and a slice of ham could prove to be such a captivating subject for virtually the entire world? That was exactly the result when two law firm secretaries argued to the point of distraction about a missing ham sandwich.

Conducted almost solely over email, the remnants of the argument were there for all to see (after a flurry of forwarding and sharing on social media). One of the participants resorted to put downs such as ‘Miss Can’t Keep A Boyfriend’. Her opponent hit back with ‘Being brunette doesn’t mean you’re smart”.

Such a simple thing. Yet, it led to both employees losing their jobs and much fun being made of them across cyberspace and beyond.

Have we got your creative juices flowing? Have a think about how you could employ viral marketing in your next viral email campaign.


Main image courtesy of Stuart Miles /