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Branding & PR

Lessons from Wordle & Encanto: What Makes Marketing ‘Viral’?

Have you Wordled today? Or gotten a song from Encanto stuck in your head? What can we learn about branding from these viral phenomena? Let's find out!

6 mins read time

Roll out of bed, brew a strong cup of coffee, settle into your comfiest chair, and you're ready. That blank grid of 30 squares holds all the promise of a new day.


Wordle Is a Love Story - The New York Times


As the gears in your brain start turning, there's an unexpected hiccup. What's that? Is it...? Could it be...? Oh, no, no, no...



Congratulations, you've started 2022 swept up in the viral sensations of addictive word game Wordle and the Lin-Manuel Miranda-penned earworms of Disney's Encanto!

But you're certainly not alone. There's a reason these two cultural phenoms have gone viral in a big way. And as your friendly neighborhood marketers, we've got some ideas on how you can take lessons learned from both Wordle and Encanto and apply them to your own viral marketing campaigns. Read on to find out how. But first...


What Is Viral Marketing?

Viral marketing relies on people rather than paid campaigns and content over ads. It's the tried-and-true word-of-mouth advertising we learned about in Marketing 101. And it still works.

viral marketing facts viral recommendations



But you don't need to design an app or produce a film to go viral. Just about anything can go viral — an image, a social post, a TikTok challenge — as long as it evokes strong emotions.


emotions to make content viral



You can apply the principles of viral marketing to pretty much any content your brand creates. And two of the best recent examples of how to do it are Wordle and Encanto. So what are the common themes between a brainy word game and an animated kids' movie? Let's find out.

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What Makes Content Go Viral?

As mentioned above, for anything to go viral, it has to elicit pretty big emotions. They can be either positive or negative, but ultimately, they have to be universal to the human condition. What else do you need?


Wordle nails this one by allowing players to share an eye-catching and instantly recognizable grid on their Facebook newsfeed. It does so without giving away any hints about the top-secret word of the day, but it keeps the game top-of-mind.

For B2B brands, the most shareable content might surprise you:



Success stories, which evoke those positive emotions, are most popular, while guides and infographics trail behind in second and third place. Surprisingly, they even beat out video content as most shareable.


A Great Hook

If you have kids and/or a Disney+ subscription, you likely haven't gone a day this year without "We Don't Talk About Bruno" stuck on repeat in your head. Encanto combines the songwriting skill of beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda with foot-stomping Colombian beats, and the result is magic. But you don't have to have a theme song or a jingle to stick in your audience's head. The same principle can be applied to a tagline, image caption, or slogan.

Repetition is a key tenet of effective growth marketing, and that's exactly what a good hook is: something that's catchy, short, memorable, and endlessly repeatable.



If you're the last holdout on your friends' list to play Wordle, admit it — you sometimes wonder what you're missing. Wordle has quickly become a master of FOMO (fear of missing out) and ephemeral content, due in part to its shareability but also due to its limitations. There's only one game a day, and if you don't play before midnight, you miss that day's puzzle and miss out on the opportunity to compare scores with your friends.

Creating FOMO is a great way to increase the chances of something going viral. Building limited-time offers, exclusive sneak peeks, and "insider" content assets encourages users who want to be "in the know" to sign up for more.



While creating FOMO is about exclusivity, this is the opposite, and it appears in a couple different ways. In Wordle, the game is open to anyone, and everyone can play without signing up, downloading an app, or shelling out their credit card info. In this way, Wordle creates mass appeal and welcomes new players into the fold.

A different kind of inclusivity is apparent in Encanto, which features the Madrigal family and their magical home that is set in a fictional version of Colombia. Encanto also boasts a cast of eccentric characters that play against the standard Disney "type." In fact, Madrigal sister Luisa has gained the biggest viral following, as her physical appearance is counter to any traditional Disney princess, and her song Surface Pressure hit a nerve with many fans for its very realistic portrayal of mental health struggles. Disney cast mostly Latinx voice actors in Encanto and paid homage to the clothing, music, and family dynamics of Colombian culture. This level of representation is somewhat new to Disney, and it appears to be working.



A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, and for brands that leverage it, it can actually be a big boost. In the case of Wordle, players challenge themselves (attempting to beat the previous day's score) and their friends (by posting on social media).

How does this translate to viral marketing? Contests and giveaways often go viral, as people share with their networks. On Instagram, for example, it's a highly effective way to increase engagement and gain new followers.


23 Mindblowing Statistics On Giveaways And Contests



Low Commitment

If you want your content to go viral, you have to make it easy. Wordle is totally free, there's no exchange of information, and it's open to anyone with an internet connection. In the case of Encanto, Disney released the film in theatres, then quickly added it to Disney+ so anyone with a subscription could watch for free.

For marketers, the trick here is understanding which content should be gated and which should be openly available. Gated content rarely goes viral, so focus your efforts on the content you share on a broad level — social media, blogs, infographics, etc.

There's no guarantee your content will go viral, but pay attention to the brands and content that your audience is buzzing about and take lessons from how they've managed to do it. January 2022 will long be remembered as "The Age of Wordle," with a constant soundtrack of "We Don't Talk About Bruno." It's not a fluke. It's because these brands have implemented the tactics listed above to extend the content's reach and make it irresistible to their audiences.

Want more tips on viral marketing and content creation? The team at First Page is ready to help! Our experts know how to reach your audience with the content they want, when, and where they want it. Get in touch to find out more.

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Stephanie Denton-Quigley

Stephanie has over 20 years' experience as a change agent and driver of transformative growth in existing and new business. She enjoys time with her friends, husband, and her dog, Sampson.

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