CEO & Founder | Sugatan
February 23, 2022
What It Takes For An Ad To Go Viral: 20+ Proven Strategies & Examples
So is it a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius when an ad goes viral on social media? The answer: a little bit of both. We’ll elaborate in a bit. But first…
Sometimes a random post that you least expect to go viral does. On the contrary, a post that you’ve put hours of strategizing, research and creativity into can turn out to be as stale as week-old bread.
That’s why it’s important not to get attached to your ideas and to have a system for testing the pieces that make up the sum… like a puzzle.
As three of the most popular social media platforms, we’ll tell you what it takes for an ad to go viral on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. We’ll also briefly touch on why certain videos go viral on YouTube.
Table of Contents
Now, what does “going viral” mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “viral” as “quickly and widely spread or popularized especially by means of social media.”
It’s when a photo, video, or text-based post catches people’s attention, leading to people liking, commenting, and sharing the post on their own timelines, and even on other social media platforms.
Eventually, friends of friends also engage with the post and share it with their friends and so on, spreading the post like wildfire across different demographics and locations.
Although a post can start out by resonating with a very specific audience, it goes viral by transcending that audience and reaching a broad scope of people.
Furthermore, what is a viral ad?
We asked a few members of the Sugatan team to give their definitions of a viral ad. Here’s what they had to say.
Matas Kemzūra, Sr. Media Buyer & Director of Acquisition
“A viral ad is one with high engagement (tens of thousands of likes, thousands of comments, and hundreds of shares) and cheap costs ($1 CPC on average, while maintaining the account’s normal Conversion Rate).
They are very scalable i.e. they work and scale with any audience, any campaign, and any setup and work everywhere instantly, especially in the beginning.
You can increase budgets super aggressively, more than 20% for each CBO or ABO 5+ times in the same day, so ± 100% a day or more, and ROAS will not decrease–it will maintain its level of performance.”
Holly Rae Fischer, Video Ads Director
“A piece of engaging, compelling content that is not only extraordinarily successful in attracting viewers, likes, comments, and shares, but also in sales.
The level of engagement and the number of sales are both unusually high solely based on the video’s attractiveness and its inherent ability to convince the viewer to purchase.”
Rui Silva, Media Buyer
“It’s an ad that becomes an asset for a brand. When it’s active it can represent 50% to 100%+ of the total revenue each month that it’s active.
It is an ad that quickly captures the attention of the target audience, it has a message that this audience will identify with and shows the main benefits of the product in a creative/comparative/exaggerated way.
On Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok, it will be an ad with a high engagement rate, Link CTR, and Conversion Rate.
You can increase the budget day after day without thinking twice and it has the power to embarrass retargeting campaigns within the first days of the ad’s lifetime.”
Oleksandra Hruzynska, Sr. Graphic Designer
“A viral ad is a piece of content that has a high engagement rate (likes, shares, comments), long shelf life, and brings consistent revenue throughout its lifetime.
A high engagement rate can be achieved with eye-catching visuals, interesting design solutions, pattern interruption within the first 3 seconds, a headline that targets a specific problem or demographic with trigger words, etc.
Engagement means that people stopped to look at your ad and that it made them view your product and react on social media.
Long shelf life can be achieved by pointing out your strongest features and mentioning something that sets you apart from your competitors (either visually or copy-wise). It will make your brand memorable and help customers associate with it.
It should live in your customers’ heads rent-free. Memes/trends burn as fast as they rise; a viral ad is a lot more complex.”
Maryna Taiberman, Graphic Ads Director & Head of Agile Transformation
“A viral ad is the definition of the 1+1 = 3 formula. It should be simple enough for a wide audience to understand and specific enough to drive their attention and curiosity towards your product, overcoming any impediments to purchase.
We like to create engaging content, but if an ad is a proper driver and problem solver, it translates likes and comments into purchases.”
All the moving pieces should work together perfectly: from the copy in the ad to the caption, from the raw creative content to editorial execution, and from the link in the CTA to the website’s content.
However, where the website is concerned, a smart ad idea can have the power to overcome things that could be lacking on the webpage.
Sometimes, to achieve that ‘to the moon’ level of virality, we need to optimize and remove moving pieces that keep the ad from performing at its peak; therefore, continuous testing is important.
I believe the biggest factor that differentiates a viral ad is its ability to speak for itself and be a self-serving, functional source of revenue for months on end.”
Dana Girbu, Marketing Director
“A viral ad’s main objective is to trigger the curiosity or desire of a potential customer.
In that specific visual content, graphic or video, you need to give the answer/solution for a pain point/need or create the need. You also have to pair it with the right layout and copy.
It might take a couple of iterations to achieve the result. Timing is often underestimated; it’s important to catch the wave and ride it.
Achieving a viral ad means low costs and high potential reach. The more people an ad reaches, the more likely it is to find its way to the ideal audience and result in sales.”
Kris Sugatan, Founder & CEO
“A viral ad transcends one particular demographic and instead becomes a relatable pain-point solution ad across all demographics.
Typically, the maximum potential of the sales it generates over time for the brand can increase by up to 500% and more from what the brand was normally bringing in prior to the viral ad.
A viral ad can literally 10x a company’s revenue, engagement, reach, and brand awareness in less than 2 weeks depending on the level of virality.
The ripple effect of a viral ad causes the algorithm of the social media platform to laser-target the quality audience. After the viral ad dies, it’s able to hone in on the quality audience even if we launch mediocre ads thereafter… i.e. a viral ad helps the algorithm tap into the vein of a quality audience.
It’s like the Rockefellers striking oil. Once tapped, it becomes a stream of sales, and a viral ad helps with tapping into that vein that you then leverage from there on out.”
What makes content go viral?
Jonah Berger is a marketing professor and the best-selling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On. He’s a world-renowned expert on viral marketing, word of mouth, and social influence.
We’re going to add our own number 6 to Berger’s list as it relates to driving sales in eCommerce.
And so, viral content has 6 common traits:
Content that evokes powerful emotions and offers practical advice relevant to the viewer’s life and the pain they experience is the most shareable.
Berger says awe is the most effective emotion, although anger and anxiety also work well.
In eCommerce sales and viral creatives, ‘trigger words’ that represent a person’s biggest pain in a bite-sized word(s) will stop the thumb.
In the example below, “hormonal acne” was a trigger word that was a catalyst to this ad going viral.
Watch this Averr Aglow Facebook ad that we produced here.
Click here to see an analysis of one of our highest-performing $1 million viral Facebook ads.
What makes a video go viral?
YouTube’s Global Director of Culture and Trends, Kevin Allocca, says only a small percentage of videos go viral or reach over 1 million views on YouTube.
The videos that go viral have 3 things in common:
2. Communities of participation
This is another word for influencers. If a video has an influential person like a celebrity or trusted expert in it, odds are it will get more views.
Better yet is when a tastemaker shares your video, giving it credibility and accelerating its virality.
Watch this McDonald’s ad here.
2. Communities of participation
Once a video has picked up steam and is shared by tastemakers, a “community of participation” forms. Viewers become responsible for mass sharing, reproduction, or adding to a video.
Because of the oversaturation of content nowadays, a video’s virality is determined by how unique or unexpected the content is. If your video stands out, the chances of it going viral go up.
Watch the PooPourri ad here.
Jonah Berger says there are 6 reasons for videos to go viral and we couldn’t agree more. He has coined the acronym STEPPS to explain each reason.
S – Social Currency: People care what others think about them, so they share content that makes them look good or cool.
T – Triggers: A trigger is a stimulus that prompts you to share content. For example, if you’re feeling depressed, the chances of you sharing an emotional video that resonates with your feelings are greater.
E – Emotion: “When we care, we share.” People love sharing content that makes them feel a certain way. Interestingly enough, feel-good videos that emit positive emotions get shared more often than those with negative emotions.
P – Public: If a topic is already popular, ride the wave by participating in that notion. Chances are your content’s shareability will increase because there’s already a public opinion on it and people can either side with it or against it.
P – Practical Value: Practical or useful information such as “How To” videos are wildly popular and will always get shared.
S – Stories: Everyone loves a story, especially if it evokes an emotion.
How many views, likes, or comments do you need to go viral?
Each social media platform is a little different from the next. Look at the metrics for viral content on TikTok and Instagram.
What is considered viral on TikTok?
There isn’t a sure-fire answer for TikTok yet, mainly because the platform continues to pick up speed and the metrics for virality are still being established.
But the baseline for a video to be deemed viral on TikTok is 500 full views in half an hour.
TikTok counts a single view when a viewer has watched an entire video without skipping or leaving.
If the viewer loops the video, one view is counted for every loop.
If a video gets many views in a short time plus good engagement, the algorithm will consider it as viral and will place it on the For You Page where the chances of it getting even more views will increase drastically.
Watch one of the viral TikToks that our team created here.
Here are a few dos and don’ts you should remember when creating TikTok ads.
What is considered viral on Instagram?
Content that spreads quickly and gets shared by thousands of users is considered viral on Instagram.
Some resources say you need at least 100,000+ likes and views, along with over 1,000 comments for your content to be deemed viral.
Wikipedia says your Reel is viral if you get over 5 million views within a 3 to 7-day period.
In reality, “going viral” on Reels simply means your content has reached more people than it normally does, so your existing metrics are really your benchmarks for virality.
The interesting part: your number of followers doesn’t really matter. It only matters that your content gains a whole lot of attention and engagement.
Similar to TikTok, there aren’t really solid benchmarks for deciding when content achieves viral status.
However, there are some metrics you can consider when assessing your content’s virality, such as:
- Number of shares
- Number of likes
- Number of unique users reached
- How quickly engagement builds
- Number of link clicks
- Overall lifetime of the content
Viral Facebook ad examples
Check out these 3 Facebook ads our team produced. Can you tell why they went viral?
Viral ad 1 – View it here.
Viral ad 2 – View it here.
Viral ad 3 – View it here.
Sugatan’s Video Ads Strategist, Haley Rebennack, unpacks one of our most successful viral Facebook ads in this YouTube video.
How to create a viral ad
There is no absolute guarantee that your ad will go viral, but there are several strategies you can follow that will certainly help.
Here are over 20 tips and examples to help strap your ads onto the viral rocketship.
Target the same problem that many people have across all demographics
Although going viral generally means you’ve transcended your target audience, it’s important to target the right type of people from the start for them to relate to and share your ad.
To do this successfully, you need to know what the top 3 pain points are that they all share.
Understand your audience
In order to target the right pain points, you need to do a thorough analysis of what your target audience’s pain points are.
That includes the things that motivate them to buy, what their anxieties are in anticipation of buying the product, and what values they derived from using the product after they’ve purchased it.
Our methodology for how we do this is explained in detail in this article.
The less sales-y and impersonal your ad is, and the more personally it affects viewers and their emotions, the more likely it is to go viral. Be as relatable, human, and personal as possible.
Look at other viral ads
There’s no shame in copying a winning formula, as long as you’re not doing it word-for-word. Piggy-back on other viral content to increase your ad’s chances.
Here are a bunch of great examples of past viral Facebook ads, but be sure to look at what’s currently going viral to leverage trending concepts, visuals, and public sentiments.
Go to Meta’s ad library where you can find Facebook ads in specific countries and categories. Give it a try here.
Hook viewers in 3 seconds
Ensure your video ad hooks viewers within the first 3 seconds of watching it by including expected results or benefits upfront or showing a before and after shot.
Watch this Averr Aglow video ad our team created here.
Cut through the clutter with content that provokes or shocks your audience. It grabs attention and many people simply cannot resist engaging with posts that challenge the norm or have a shock factor.
Don’t skimp on quality
High-fidelity video, photographic and graphic artwork will elevate your content and make it visually appealing.
Use beautiful product shots with taste appeal if you’re advertising a food product.
Show smooth, glowing, clear skin or an extreme close-up shot of the product if you’re marketing beauty products.
Watch this MoxieLash video ad that we created here.
Ensure your shots have good, natural lighting and that colors are vibrant, the text is clear, and the frame rate is high for videos.
Optimize size for the platform
Be sure to use the correct sizes when posting static or video ads. Ads that don’t look native to the feed are more likely to stand out as advertisements and get ignored right away.
Square videos perform best on Facebook because most users are on mobile devices. Check out this size guide for every social media platform.
Prompt a response
Ask a question to get viewers to comment or partake in a conversation, either with each other or with your brand.
Don’t forget about sound
If you’re posting a video ad, keep in mind that some viewers won’t use sound. Include copy, graphics or captions on the video to get your message across without any sound.
The next viral trend can come from anywhere! Don’t be afraid to start a new movement (remember the ALS ice bucket challenge?) or to post totally unique and unexpected content.
Harness the power of cuteness
Animals appeal to almost everyone. Using animals or even babies in your ads can help you harness that aww-factor and increase engagement.
Partner with influencers
Include a well-known face or testimonial from a celebrity in your ad. A known face will grab attention and people always want to see the latest content their role models or celeb crushes are sharing.
Don’t underestimate the power of hashtags. You don’t want to miss the opportunity for people to see your ad if they search for a related hashtag. Hashtags are especially effective on Instagram and TikTok.
TikTok is a comedy-driven platform where sarcasm rules. If your ad can tickle people’s funny bones, its chances of virality go up tenfold. People love sharing humorous content, whether it’s an ad or not.
Watch this Black Rifle Coffee ad here.
Run a competition
Competitions can pick up traction very quickly. Run a giveaway or contest in order to boost engagement.
Use strong CTAs
You need a strong call to action to get people to engage with your ad. Whether you ask a question or give a recommendation, your ad should make the viewer take some sort of action.
Make the most of graphics
Use graphics and copy on your imagery to inform customers of features, benefits, prices, ingredients, etc.
Ask people to share your ad
Ask your friends, family, and colleagues to like, comment, save, and share your content. Every engagement counts!
Offer a big discount
Nobody can resist a great deal, so if you’re promoting a discounted offer, make the most of it by placing it loud and proud in your ad’s graphics and caption.
Analyze results and adapt
Monitor all your ads’ performance ratings and make adjustments where necessary. For example, adjust posting days or times, target a different age group, and amend an ad’s headline, CTA button, or caption.
It takes a combination of research, strategic thinking, and creativity to pull off a viral ad.
But even if you tick every single box we’ve outlined in this article, your ad’s chances of virality really lie in the hands of the public who will see it.
Ensure your content is native to the platform, relatable, that it evokes an emotion, has a clear call to action, and entertains viewers, in order to max out its shareability.
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one to find out how our video and graphics teams produce conversion-focused creatives.
Or watch our Graphics Director, Maryna, talk to Kris about how Sugatan generated $6 million in trackable revenue with graphics-based ads.
Need viral creatives?
Our True Performance Creative Bundle offers a monthly package where we provide your team with 100 social media ad creatives in total to increase your chances of going viral.