We live in a world where “Google it” has become commonplace. Whether you’re wondering where to grab a bite to eat or trying to remember your favorite Tom Haverford quote from Parks and Rec, a few clicks will get you an answer for just about anything.

Brands know this is how their consumers work, and responding by prioritizing an inbound approach and reaping the benefits that come along with it – marketing departments are three times as likely to see higher ROI on inbound marketing campaigns than on outbound.

However, success relies heavily on a brand’s ability to earn someone’s attention rather than buying it, which is why many marketers shift their focus to the bigger picture of content optimization (i.e. what type of assets to produce, which digital publishers to target for their campaigns, etc.).

And with more than 75 percent of marketers believing their commitment to this form of inbound marketing will increase over the next year, it’s an understatement to say there’s already a ton of content out there – so how do you stand out?

Testing the SUCCESs model for viral content

Fractl recently turned to Chip and Dan Heath’s SUCCESs model from “Made to Stick: Why Some Content Ideas Survive and Others Die” to figure out what key ingredients are necessary for something to earn massive shares.

To better understand their model, we looked at how three successful campaigns stacked up against their key principles.

In total, the following three campaigns earned 2,300 placements and more than 140,000 social shares:

  • Hotel Hygiene Exposed: We sent a team to nine different hotels to gather 36 samples and used a third-party laboratory to help us determine which rooms were the dirtiest.
  • Reverse Photoshopping Comic Covers: Using Photoshop, we altered several superheros to see what they would look like if their appearance reflected the average American body type.
  • Sexually Suggestive Emojis: We scraped Twitter to discover who’s tweeting the most suggestive emojis around the world.

The SUCCESs formula for viral content

Below I’ll walk you through how each campaign aligned with the Heath brothers’ six principles – simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories – and offer ways to help you generate similar, highly shareable content.

1. Hotel Hygiene Exposed


For an idea to be simple, it needs to be easily understood – and quickly. For this campaign, it was a straightforward concept that anyone can identify with: A dirty hotel room.


This campaign drew attention quickly by offering evidence that disproved a popular assumption about five-star hotels: The nicest rooms actually had the most germs.


When the Heath brothers say something is “concrete,” they’re referring to how easily an abstract idea can be visualized. In Hotel Hygiene Exposed, we presented the results of 36 bacterial samples in three infographics.

Hotel Hygiene Exposed


Readers want to see data that is trustworthy, so to boost authority we teamed with a third-party lab to test our samples.


The greater a personal connection someone can make with your content, the more likely they are to share. The “ick” factor was palpable and something everyone can relate to, which helped drive natural syndication for this campaign.


By generating such unexpected results, this project introduced a story that was an easy sell to publishers – particularly when you take a quick look at some of the headlines:

  • The Secret Posh Hotels Don’t Want You to Know, The Independent
  • Brace Yourself: Hotel Rooms Are Even Dirtier Than Airplanes, Condé Nast Traveler
  • New Study Reveals That Some Luxury Hotels May Be Germier Than Three-Star Stays, Travel & Leisure

2. Reverse Photoshopping Comic Book Covers


Photoshop and a set of existing comic book covers – this campaign was that easy.


The final visuals were unexpected because they presented superheroes in a way that most audiences had never seen before.

Superheroes with realistic body types


Issues with body image isn’t something that is easily visualized, so to help readers understand the gravity of someone suffering with these concerns, we altered superheros in a way that served as powerful standalones.


This project was a little tricky, because at first glance it doesn’t seem like there is a way to add a quantitative element to the project. However, by including stats from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention on the landing page, we help this project become troll-proof.


Body image is already a highly emotional topic, and when we connected to something in the entertainment industry – an avenue that is no stranger to the pressures of physical perfection – social traction skyrocketed.


This campaign generated a ton of coverage because it seemed to answer a question that many readers had: What would a superhero look like with an average body type?

This was emphasized in how publishers approached the story, with the phrase “realistic bodies” being included in a majority of the headlines.

3. Sexually Suggestive Emojis


We condensed a month of tweets from the United States and more than 50 European countries into 14 easy-to-read visuals.



Although the premise of this campaign might have been more shocking than the results, the regional element offered unique surprises for different areas’ preferred emojis.


Some of the emoji combinations could make any reader blush (e.g. anything with the eggplant), so a concrete element was built-in thanks to the visual-heavy data set.


We collected the data for this campaign using Twitter, a social platform that is available to anyone.


This project captured several emotions because of the universal subject matter – a reader could easily go back and forth feeling embarrassment and amusement, thanks to their familiarity with emojis and common innuendos.


The sexual innuendos sold themselves, particularly because most stories took a more humorous approach in presenting the data as emphasized through some of the headlines:

  • Study: Frequent Emoji Users Are Hornier Than the Rest of Us, New York Magazine
  • Dear Mississippi, You’re Obsessed With Eggplant Emoji. Please Explain, Vocativ
  • New Sex Emoji Study Shows That Eggplants Trump Bananas, New York Daily News

Incorporating viral elements into your content

How can you ensure these elements are incorporated into your content?

Continually ask yourself one question throughout production: “Would I share this campaign with a friend?”

It’s that easy. While some content isn’t designed to “go viral,” the SUCCESs model suggests that there are several commonalities between highly-shared campaigns, and a lot of these elements boil down to what drives someone to share something with a friend.

When brainstorming your next campaign idea, keep these key ingredients in mind:

  • Your content should be easily understood.
  • Highlight any data that is out of the ordinary.
  • Present content in a snackable manner (e.g. infographics).
  • Include authoritative secondary data when possible.
  • Offer audiences a way to connect with your content on a person level.
  • Promote content in a way that generates discussion.

Keep in mind that highly shareable content is not something that will satisfy every marketing goal. This type of content works best for top-of-the-sales-funnel objectives.

However, when used appropriately, it can generate massive exposure and drive significant traffic to highly-branded on-site content that can lead to conversions – an invaluable consumer journey for any brand.

Did anything stand out to you, or do you have additional examples of content that aligns with these six principles? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!