9 Word-of-Mouth Campaigns That Rocked

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Ten years ago, AdAge published a survey of young adults which asked them what sources of information they trusted most to inform a purchase decision: nearly seven of ten identified word-of-mouth as the most influential tactic to them. This is when 2 percent of all adults used social media on any given day.

In 2015, social networks have demonstrably changed the word-of-mouth distribution model. Forty-seven percent of all U.S. adults use Facebook daily, 25 times the number of total daily social media users a decade earlier. While Jonah Berger’s research in Contagious: Why Things Catch On indicates that face-to-face word-of-mouth is more effective than social media word-of-mouth, social media is not an insignificant contributor to word-of-mouth “buzz.”

What I want to do in this piece is highlight nine diverse word-of-mouth campaigns. Some of them focus on traditional word-of-mouth, some of them focus on social media, some of them target both. Each of these are ingenious, thoughtful campaigns that leverage word-of-mouth communication to perpetuate business objectives.

1. Dettol reaches 46% of its target audience

Dettol is a liquid antiseptic that has been around since the 1950s. In China, its growth outside of the most populous cities was minimal. Reckitt Benckiser (the company that owns Dettol) planned a word-of-mouth campaign focused on influencer moms.

Reckitt Benckiser distributed 48,000 samples of Dettol to 4,000 influencer moms, with encouragement to try one sample and share 10. They incorporated a gamification element to the campaign to encourage continued word-of-mouth discussion among the super-influencers. The campaign reached 46 percent of its target audience.

The results were impressive: Overall brand awareness increased five times, and purchase intent doubled. Sales increased 86 percent as a result of the campaign.

Reckitt Benckiser is an example of a company that zeroed in on key influencers and created a great program to promote word-of-mouth communication about their product.

2. Zappos invests in the customer experience

Zappos seems to be the go-to case study for anything that is right with advertising, marketing, public relations, customer service, et cetera. And I was skeptical to include them in this post, but I did and here’s why: Zappos was deliberately built on word-of-mouth communication.

In the video below, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh says that Zappos intentionally budgeted for extraordinary customer service at the expense of advertising. Zappos expected that their sales would be driven by repeat business and word-of-mouth, rather than by marketing, and they calculated correctly: last year Zappos had more than $2 billion dollars in sales.

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3. Starbucks builds empire on word-of-mouth

When Starbucks started in (my hometown) Seattle in 1971, it didn’t resemble the Goliath that it is today. It didn’t grow to the scale that it did with traditional advertising. In fact, Starbucks continues to avoid traditional advertising in favor of word-of-mouth.

Starbucks has invested a lot of resources into growing their social media presence and encourages customer comments and suggestions with its digital properties and continues to favor word-of-mouth communication and technology over traditional advertising.

Starbucks is an example of a company that devotes its energy to creating low-friction opportunities for word-of-mouth communication.

4. Make-A-Wish and Batkid gain awareness

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing special experiences to children facing life-threatening illnesses. In 2013 Miles Scott, a five-year old with leukemia wished that he could be Batkid for a day. What followed was pretty extraordinary.

Miles went on an elaborate adventure throughout San Francisco as Batkid. Mobilizing their email lists and social media, 12,000 volunteers participated to cheer on Miles during his Batkid experience. The results:

  • 1.89 million social impressions
  • 555,697 #batkid hashtags
  • Significant coverage from press (including embedded reporters!!!)
  • Increased donations to Make-A-Wish Foundation (Their website crashed because of high traffic)

Make-A-Wish is an example of an organization that created a compelling event and leveraged digital media to amplify awareness about their event.

5. Coconut Bliss uses traditional word-of-mouth for big growth

Coconut Bliss is a dairy-free alternative dessert produced in (my former hometown) of Eugene, Oregon. They currently distribute at least 2 million pints per year with sales exceeding $5 million annually.

What kind of marketing and advertising did they do to accomplish their growth? Coconut Bliss grew in large part due to word-of-mouth, starting very small: they held tasting parties and demonstrations to generate interest, and encouraged their fans to petition stores to carry their products. Now at a much larger scale, Coconut Bliss is very active on social media with large followings on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Coconut Bliss is an example of a company that leveraged low-cost outreach to gain influencer advocacy.

6. Red Bull creates events to build word-of-mouth

Red Bull Word of Mouth Marketing

Red Bull is the market leader in the worldwide energy drink market, and they continue to grow awareness through word-of-mouth focused activities. Among the initiatives that drive Red Bull’s WOM:

  • Red Bull Wings Team – a group of Red Bull employees that drive around in Red Bull branded vehicles distributing samples
  • Student Brand Manager Program – Red Bull sponsors student advocates to discuss Red Bull at events around their respective schools
  • Red Bull Bedroom Jam – A talent show event focused on their targeted student demographic
  • Red Bull Reporter – A program where Red Bull sponsors journalism and film students to create news stories around the Red Bull brand

Red Bull is an example of a company that creates compelling events that create buzz, and amplifies these by leveraging influencers.

7. Adidas creates word-of-mouth around influencer-athletes

The Chinese Women’s Volleyball Team reached the peak of their popularity in the 1980s and fell into obscurity for the years that followed. Adidas (the team sponsor) wanted to re-establish that popularity and created a word-of-mouth campaign to raise the team’s profile and create awareness.

Among the initiatives that Adidas created:

  • Adidas created a team blog to create awareness about the team members. Professional photographs of each player were taken which were a traffic and media draw to the blog. This also served to promote the individual athletes as influencers.
  • Adidas created six professionally-edited viral videos to create an edgy perspective of the volleyball team playing.
  • Adidas created a promotion soliciting unique “chants” for the volleyball team. This promotion received a lot of public participation.

The results: 5.5 million people viewed the videos and awareness of the Chinese Women’s Volleyball Team increased substantially during this time-frame.

This campaign is an example of the power of social media and thoughtful production to create awareness.

8. Chipotle leverages digital to create word-of-mouth

Chipotle Word-of-Mouth Marketing Chipotle may be a large-scale restaurant chain, but a differentiating point between similar restaurants is that Chipotle sources its ingredients locally.

To create social conversation and awareness around this feature, Chipotle created an iOS game called “The Scarecrow” and a companion video (embedded below) that shares a powerful visual narrative accompanied by a cover version of “Pure Imagination” by Fiona Apple.

The results? Over 614 million media impressions.

9. 3M ESPE removes barriers from online reviews

3M ESPE is a manufacturer of about 2,000 dental products. They found that one of the most powerful sales drivers was online reviews from customer, but they had trouble soliciting feedback from these dentist-customers.

What they did to increase reviews was to simplify the process: all a dentist needed to do was enter his or her email to leave a review. They solicited reviews from their email subscriber list, and also solicited feedback at local dental conferences.

The result: 3M ESPE saw event-timed reviews increase to about 500 professional reviews in one week, and have seen a surge in overall reviews.

3M ESPE is a great example of how simplifying the process of perpetuating word-of-mouth communication can increase the amount of it.


Businesses of all sizes and scales rely on word-of-mouth to create awareness and (ultimately) sales. A great product is generally a prerequisite.

These ten cases show how businesses can engineer events and activities that perpetuate word-of-mouth, anything from the local tastings of Coconut Bliss to Chipotle’s provocative game and video.

The last word probably belongs to the guy who wrote the book of word-of mouth: Andy Sernovitz. In his book, Word of Mouth Marketing, Sernovitz writes:

“You will get more word of mouth from making people happy than anything else you could possibly do.”

Want to turn your customers into loyal advocates? Watch Peter Shankman’s free on-demand webinar!

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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