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Definition: viral marketing

(1) See also viral programming.

(2) Viral marketing is an online advertising approach that functions like word of mouth. The ad is disseminated via links in email, blogs and websites that point to a service or product people might want. The "viral" refers to the speed with which the ad propagates to others and has nothing to do with computer viruses; its purpose is strictly advertising.

The term was attributed to venture capital firm DFJ (www.dfj.com) after its investment in Hotmail grew dramatically. Hotmail automatically put an advertisement at the end of everybody's email message suggesting that whoever is reading it signs up for Hotmail too. In a year and a half, more than 12 million people became Hotmail subscribers.

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The most common viral marketing is a sharing link, whereby every visitor to a website is invited to share the articles or blog posts on the site, or the site itself, with others (see social sharing). See influencer, viral video and sneezing.