This study investigates which factors predict whether consumers will pass on viral advertising communications to their friends on a social network site. A conceptual framework consisting of three attitudinal and three social predictors of forwarding online content was tested using three real-life advertising campaigns that were spread simultaneously through the Dutch social network site Hyves. Results show that viral advertising pass-on behavior was significantly predicted by a positive attitude toward the brand, the advertisement, and toward viral advertising in general. For two of the three advertisements participants were more likely to forward the advertisement when the advertisement was received from a friend rather than a company. The present study is the first to investigate the predictors of actual pass-on behavior of viral advertisements in the context of a social network site, thereby significantly contributing to existing knowledge on the drivers of viral advertising success.
Social network sites (SNSs) are an increasingly popular venue for marketing (Taylor, Lewin, & Strutton, 2011). Advertisers have discovered the persuasive power of viral advertising, using online peer-to-peer communication to promote their brands, products, and services among their target groups. By creating appealing and entertaining advertising messages, advertisers encourage consumers to pass on these messages to friends in their online social networks (Berger & Iyengar, 2013). Since the success of viral advertising campaigns largely depends on people spreading the message to others, researchers have started to investigate which factors may influence whether consumers pass along online content. However, this research has mainly focused on viral marketing through e-mail (e.g., Chiu, Hsieh, Kao, & Lee, 2007; Bruyn, de, & Lilien, 2008; Dobele, Lindgreen, Beverland, Vanhamme, & Wijk, 2007; Huang, Lin, & Lin, 2009; Phelps, Lewis, Mobilio, Perry, & Raman, 2004). Few studies have investigated viral advertising in the context of SNSs, and these studies solely relied on consumers' self-reported intentions to forward a campaign message (e.g., Chu, 2011; Van Noort, Antheunis, & Van Reijmersdal, 2012).
The present study investigated which factors predict whether members of SNSs will pass on viral advertising communications. The present study integrated previous research findings on the predictors of passing on online content into a new conceptual framework, and tested this model using three real-life advertising campaigns that were spread on the Dutch social network site Hyves. Going beyond self-reported behavior and intentions, and investigating actual pass-on behavior, this study significantly adds to existing knowledge on the drivers of viral advertising success. Compared to viral advertising through e-mail, pass-on behavior on SNSs was expected to be more strongly influenced by social predictors, such as the sender of the ad, rather than attitudinal predictors, such as consumers' attitude toward the advertised brand. This difference was expected because in contrast to other types of forwarded online content, the type of viral advertisements on SNSs that were studied in this paper were more personal, interactive, and social in nature: the ad campaigns involved playing a game in which not the advertised brand, but an individual's private social network played a central role.