UGA AdPR research: Brands, Friends and Viral Advertising

By: Jameson L. Hayes, Karen Whitehill King and Artemio Ramirez Jr. (2016). Journal of Interactive Marketing.

What causes an advertisement to go “viral” on the web? The compelling nature of the content certainly plays a role. But, can existing social media relationships enhance viral activity? A recent national study in the Journal of Interactive Marketing examined this question by creating two “ads” crafted from previously viral video sources to determine the likelihood that participants would click on each ad and then share it with another user, based on the strength of their relationship with the source that referred it to them initially and the strength of their relationship with the brand being advertised.

“What we found is that users tend to pass ads on to their online friends partly out of altruism, but that they also expect to get something out of the exchange – namely, the building and strengthening of trusted relationships on the web,” says co-author Karen Whitehill King, professor of advertising and Jim Kennedy new media professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “The strength of these relationships also influences the extent to which these online referrals are accepted by the receiver, which of course is critical to the sustainability of the ‘viral’ process.”

King says that more loosely-knit sharing environments, such as Twitter, should be used for viral dissemination when leveraging strong brand relationships is the priority. On the other hand, more closed networks, such as Facebook, should be employed when higher-order persuasion – the kind that typically relies on stronger interpersonal relationships – is required.

Old Spice
Old Spice finds success with popular “viral” campaign.

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