Viral marketing campaigns are tough to generate but rewarding for restaurants. Creating buzz for a brand, restaurant, event or menu item that resonates with customers can generate exponential referrals and sharing through social media. Restaurants realize many benefits by joining social networks and cultivating groups of people with strong networking skills to encourage viral marketing.

Viral Marketing Benefits

Engineering viral marketing campaigns offers virtually delivers benefits for minimal costs for restaurants, bars and hospitality companies. Viral messages, ads, images and videos persuade customers and followers to share with their friends, families and work associates. Restaurants can generate massive publicity when their campaigns get shared exponentially.

The benefits of viral-friendly marketing campaigns include increasing brand awareness and focusing attention on restaurant milestones and events. Other advantages of these types of promotional strategies include:

  • Increasing immediate and long-term restaurant and website traffic
  • Automating the marketing process
  • Getting major Internet exposure
  • Building a restaurant’s reputation
  • Attracting specific types of customers such as environmentalists, wine lovers, urban hipsters or conservative diners
  • Integrating with other promotions and marketing strategies
  • Generating higher conversion rates on websites and in restaurant dining rooms
  • Strengthening a restaurant’s community and online reputation
  • Interacting more closely with customers
  • Gaining promotional benefits at little or no cost

Approaches for Implementing Viral Marketing Campaigns

Restaurants can use either a guerrilla or professional approach as long as the campaign uses creativity and emotion to grab attention and become a focal point for sharing and conversation.

The Guerrilla Approach

The guerrilla approach to marketing seemingly throws away the rulebook by using nontraditional advertising forums, outlets and stunts. For example, using graffiti to advertise is a form of guerrilla marketing. Instead of creating an integrated advertising strategy, guerrilla viral marketing focuses on a specific demographic group to impress them, usually by using edgy, creative stunts and placing ads and messages in unexpected places. Ads might be ephemeral and appear in parks, streetscapes or temporary forums like flash mobs, raves or performance-art happenings. Restaurants that have used guerrilla marketing successfully include:

  • Oldtimer Restaurants of Austria
    This company creatively designed outdoor billboards that covered the entrance to highway tunnels. Advertising “all you can eat,” the ads feature giant open mouths around the tunnels that motorists are about to enter.
  • Sonic DriveIn
    The fast food chain sells magnetic cups that stick to cars so that people think the drivers drove off and forget their beverages.
  • Chipotle Mexican Grill
    Chipotle, the darling of fast casual restaurants, uses guerrilla tactics frequently such as offering a free burrito to any customer who comes dressed as a giant burrito during Halloween.
  • Beau Rivage Resort Casino
    The company uses baggage belts at airports to get travelers’ attention.
  • Red Bull
    Sold in many restaurants, Red Bull energy drinks were recently advertised in Times Square where an area was transformed into a mock NASCAR pit stop. Even blasé New Yorkers, who’ve seen their share of stunts, were duly impressed.

Professional Viral Marketing

The professional approach often uses the social media to interact with consumers. Professional viral campaigns can inform people about a restaurant’s accomplishments, cooking techniques and charitable works and generate publicity for a cause, event, product or culinary style. Often the content is transferred into an innovative format such as a cartoon, a hashtag etc. Restaurants that have used professional viral marketing successfully include:

  • Chipotle Mexican Grill
    Chipotle is a perfect example of a restaurant that uses both professional and guerrilla marketing. The company’s long-running animated short film, “The Scarecrow” educates people about the ethical treatment of animals and dangers of hormones and pesticides.
  • Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N’ Bar-B-Q
    The restaurant started a podcast to sell carryout foods for tailgating season.
  • Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
    The resort offers prizes for people who opt-in to receive their SMS texts.
  • Dominos
    As part of the #letsdolunch campaign on Twitter, Dominos uses various methods to get people interacting such as reducing the price of pizza based on the number of tweets received by lunchtime.
  • Starbucks
    The popular coffee chain uses both viral marketing approaches that include sponsoring user-generated photo contests submitted by fans and other promotions. The company’s “Behind the Scenes” professional campaign featured educational images that show how coffee is roasted, ground and turned into upscale coffee beverages.

Creating Content that People Share

Emotion fuels viral campaigns, even the professional kind. Restaurants and customers who favor a professional approach do so because they value professionalism or knowledge and rank these types of campaigns higher than catchy ideas and trendy points of view. The first step in crafting a viral marketing campaign is identifying whether to take a professional or guerrilla tack.

Each campaign can target a different demographic segment and use either approach. Hitting people hard with emotion, nostalgia or humor attracts their attention. Writing a compelling title helps to attract viewers and gets people to click on links.

Surprise, anticipation, curiosity and astonishment work particularly well in viral marketing. Admiration of local heroes or people who have overcome adversity generates strong social and word-of-mouth sharing. Creativity, humor and big publicity stunts work especially well when branding a restaurant that attracts younger customers and trendy crowds.

Marketing has shifted from speaking at consumers to interacting with them. Viral campaigns basically say, “Hey, have you heard about this? It’ll really impress you if you think like we do.” Originality, surprise, delight and other emotions grab people’s attention.

Customers and viewers will do the heavy lifting by spreading a restaurant’s message to a broad group of potential customers. Viral campaigns reach a restaurant’s targeted audience almost effortlessly when the message is on-point, and remarkably original ideas can even cross to mainstream audiences and reach tens of thousands or millions of people.

Photo Credit: “Buzz Words Show Publicity And Viral Hot Topic” by Stuart Miles from