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create a successful viral campaign?

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How do you create a successful viral campaign?
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The story behind the "Sweetest Ride" campaign

We still see it all the time, brands asking you to “like and share this post to win product X,” in addition to tagging friends in the comments that you wish to share the coveted prize with. This online marketing strategy helped brands spread their campaigns like wildfire for years, losing steam once people became much savvier about social media, recognizing the obvious ploy.


So, can we render campaigns like this irrelevant? Not quite. They can still be extremely effective when done right.

Most marketing and advertising agencies know all too well what to pay attention to, and the value of viral campaigns is still high. One clue; the prize can no longer be the only focus. A recent example of a successful viral campaign is car rental company SIXT’s “Sweetest Ride” campaign, which featured gingerbread cars.

Gingerbread car by SIXT Share title=

How do you revolutionize the automotive industry?

German car rental company SIXT has been around for a while, founded by Martin Sixt back in 1912. Initially a mobility service provider for long-term rentals, SIXT started introducing the “share car” concept across international regions in more recent years.

With parking spaces becoming more scarce and expensive in bigger cities and consumers becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues, this was a revolutionary concept the automotive industry was definitely ready for. 

SIXT was among the first companies to offer per-minute car rentals. With an app on your phone, you simply locate all shared cars parked nearby and unlock the one you have selected. For the duration of your ride, you are charged per minute (on average 20-50 cents per minute) until you park and lock it with the app again.

For short rides within urban areas, the cost is lower compared to public transportation, especially without the need to pay parking fees at all. An ideal solution! However, the growing popularity of share cars meant that virtually every car rental company started offering them, creating a competitive market.

Rental cars title=

How do you increase brand awareness with a viral campaign?

Competitive markets call for marketing campaigns that will help a brand stand out. SIXT’s marketing team came up with the idea for the “Sweetest Ride” as a viral campaign, with the goal to increase brand awareness.

Increasing brand awareness involves the critical task of ensuring that a brand captures the attention of as many people as possible. One powerful way to achieve widespread brand visibility is through viral campaigns on social media. Social media makes it easier to spread the campaign to a larger audience and leverage the power of user-generated content by encouraging users to participate, share, and engage with a brand.

This explains the high number of “like-and-share-to-win” posts on social media, urging users to share a branded post of a product or service in order to win it. As these campaigns often require tagging one's friends and family for increased chances of winning, anyone active on social media is probably familiar with the phenomenon.

However, while your great aunt might be excited about winning that sofa, car, vacation, or — insert random product here — most millennials, and especially Gen Z, can’t be bothered to mess up their social media feeds for this obvious marketing tactic. 

Viral social media campaigns can still work, but it’s just not only about the prize anymore. Chances of winning are small anyway, so there has to be more reason for users to want to share something.

Social media viral campaigns title=

How do you create a successful viral campaign?

The key to successful viral campaigns is to create content that really resonates with the target audience. Content users will really want to share because it evokes emotions, sparks conversations, or is so unique that it’s worth sharing with followers.

People seem to love sharing photos of their coffee-to-go on social media. So, some of the temporary holiday specials by Starbucks — like the gingerbread latte — practically promote themselves through social media shares. 

Playing into the holiday season gingerbread tradition, SIXT brought the concept of unique, share-worthy content to a whole new level with the “Sweetest Ride” campaign.

Some of the BMW i3 cars were fully wrapped in a cheerful gingerbread design, and customers who spotted the gingerbread cars were asked to share a photo on their Instagram stories, tagging SIXT in order to receive a €10 SIXT share voucher.

“We first implemented the campaign in the Netherlands in December 2021. Our main goal was to excite existing and potential new carsharing customers, presenting one of the vehicles of our fleet in an exceptional design” a spokesperson from SIXT explains.

Well, if a gingerbread latte already makes people swoon over the holiday season on social media, you can imagine the effect a jolly gingerbread car has.

The campaign was so successful that it was repeated for the 2022-2023 holiday season again, now also rolling out to the German market. To create synergies between the Netherlands and Germany and to be more efficient, SIXT decided to run the campaign in English. 

“One challenge was to find a design that would work in both countries. The call to action, hashtags, and tags needed to be the same. But luckily, we have a lot of experience with international campaigns.” the spokesperson continues.

One of the gingerbread cars in the SIXT carsharing fleet as part of the “Sweetest Ride” campaign title=
One of the gingerbread cars in the SIXT carsharing fleet as part of the “Sweetest Ride” campaign

How do you measure the success of a viral marketing campaign?

Measuring the success of a viral social media campaign is pretty simple and straightforward. It involves tracking various metrics to gauge its impact and effectiveness. The most obvious would be the number of posts and mentions shared, along with their reach, impressions, and engagement. 

Moreover, the conversion rate through an increase in sales is also crucially important. In this case, SIXT’s goal was not only to generate as many social media posts as possible with the gingerbread cars, but also to entice new customers to sign up for a SIXT carsharing account in order to drive them.

A spokesperson for SIXT elaborates on the success of the campaign: “Customers loved the design of the “Sweetest Ride” cars, as we saw a lot of user-generated content on social media. Furthermore, we noticed a high utilization of the gingerbread cars in favor of other SIXT share cars available nearby, especially by spontaneous new users.”

You could say that viral content is the funny joke or exciting gossip you just heard and want to tell your friend about too. In that regard, SIXT hit the nail on the head with the “Sweetest Ride” campaign, as not all of the people sharing the posts signed up for the €10 voucher. 

A gingerbread car is not something you see every day, making it something social media users wanted to show their followers too, regardless of the prize connected to it.

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