Lush has the secret ingredients for a successful viral marketing campaign

When news of a brand or product goes viral, the effects are contagious. Some might say you can even catch a waft of the sweet smell of viral success from a mile away…

Last week, that was certainly true for award-winning handmade cosmetics retailer Lush, when talk of their Sleepy body lotion as a ‘cure’ for insomnia spread across Reddit and social media sites.

Reddit users claimed that the ‘miracle’ body lotion helped them combat insomnia and the cream rapidly sold out online and at stores worldwide. Social media shares further amplified Sleepy body lotion fever, with news sites such as The Huffington Post, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Mirror reporting on the craze – sending shoppers mad to get their hands on a pot.

Fairy dust-free

After reading the reviews about this body lotion, you could be forgiven for thinking that it contains some form of special dream dust, hand-harvested by faries from the tops of enchanted trees in the moonlight. Yet, the active ingredient responsible for helping insomnia is actually rather simple and has been known to aid relaxation and restful sleep for decades. It’s lavender, the sedative powers of which were discovered by an early 20th century French chemist, Rene Maurice Gattefosse; now credited as the father of modern aromatherapy.

Honesty is the best policy

Lush weren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s sleepy eyes by claiming otherwise, as part of their mission statement has always been: “We believe in making effective products from fresh organic fruit and vegetables, the finest essential oils and safe synthetics (we also believe words like “fresh” and “organic” have an honest meaning beyond marketing)”. So why did it take the power of a viral campaign, randomly-generated by consumers online, to convince the shopping masses to seek out an insomnia remedy that might actually – in essence – be growing in their own back garden?

The science behind the success

It’s said that content goes viral when the emotions it evokes fall within certain configurations on the Valence-Arousal-Dominance model, an emotional categorisation scale used in psychology. Individual emotions are made up of a combination of these three factors:

  • Valence is the positivity (e.g. happiness) or negativity (e.g. fear) of an emotion
  • Arousal ranges from excitement to relaxation. Anger is a high-arousal emotion while sadness is low arousal
  • Dominance ranges from submission to feeling in control. Fear is low dominance, while an emotion a person chooses, such as admiration, is high dominance

Researchers from Fractl examined the emotional scores of 65,000 articles from two news sites that allow readers to assign emotional scores to content. Happiness, surprise, and admiration were ranked by survey respondents as the top three. The Sleepy story taps into all three of these emotions (anyone who’s ever struggled with insomnia will be nodding their head in agreement at the prospect of finally finding a solution). What’s more, articles with many comments evoke high-arousal emotions. High dominance, perhaps unsurprisingly, is tied to social sharing. With social media, the user holds the choice over what they share and this makes for a far more authentic advertisement than any giant billboard or prime time TV slot.

When content goes viral: our own experience

As a marketing agency in Basingstoke, we’ve witnessed first-hand what the power of a sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed can do.  Our client, proof of age card provider My ID Card, was applauded in a Buzzfeed article for being one of the only ID providers that no longer asks applicants to categorise their gender as either male or female. The change was welcomed by the father of a teenager who is non-gender binary. He was frustrated that other ID card providers asked for gender or a gendered prefix such as Mr/Miss/Mrs/Ms on their application form, and didn’t offer Mx – the preferred title of some non-binary people.

Jonah Berger, viral marketing expert and author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, sums up the ‘secret’ behind viral content marketing success when he says, “Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. There’s a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even.”  A bit like Lush’s Sleepy body lotion (which, by the way, we have to agree is rather effective).

Is your social media marketing recipe lacking a certain something? Let us help you create campaigns that will grow your followers and get your products and services noticed with more likes and shares. Call us today on 01256 536 000 or email