Top tips for viral video

Viral is something many businesses aspire to for their videos, but viral is no longer smoke and mirrors. More a science.

Fortunately, research has demystified viral. Dr. Karen Nelson-Field of  the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, wrote the book on the subject: Viral Marketing: The Science of Sharing.

For every Fenton the dog or Charlie bit my finger there are thousands, or millions of considerably less successful videos. They will be the ones not following the tips below.

1 – Emotional works

Videos that pack an emotional punch, either positive or negative, are more likely to be shared.

This Save The Children campaign shows what a highly emotional ad can achieve.

2 – Positive beats negative

A good principle for life, but particularly true for video. A strong positive response from a video is 30% more likely to be shared compared to a video with a negative response.

It’s also possible to stand out from competitors by looking at how they present themselves. For example, car manufactures tend to rate highly for ‘cool’, ‘sexy’, and ‘exhilarating’, so it’s possible to stand out by exporing different emotions. Take Land Rover’s #hibernot campaign. Highly positive, and was surely one of the first car ads to barely feature the car at all.

3 – Storytelling not a creative device

Celebrities, animals and children seem to be obvious ways to make your video more appealing.

Not so. Videos with such devices do not rank any higher than similar videos without them. Storytelling is a much stronger device and does make a difference. One in particular – the triumph of the underdog – is particularly effective, but only around 3% of videos use this device.

This lil fella had a big impact for Coca Cola.

4 – Fly your brand’s flag

There is no correlation, either positive or negative, between branding and shares. Many brands seem coy of displaying their brand, but they shouldn’t be.

Heavily branded from the start, this Samsung S5 ad is also heavily shared, despite the almost 8 minute running time.

5 – Invest in distribution

Videos that cannot be seen cannot be shared. To give your content a push, it needs media spend behind it. Some go as far as saying distribution is more important than content. I’m not sure that’s true, but distribution is unquestionably highly significant. Your video is more likely to be shared if it seems ubiquitous, important and portable – available on different devices.

A video’s ‘viral peak’ is on day 2, with a quarter of shares in the first three days. Don’t post and pray. 

Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches broke rule 4, with little branding. But it was heavily promoted, and emotional, to make a viral smash.

6 – Exhilarate

The highest emotional scores come from exhiliration, which not every video can achieve. You can see this from the large variety of extreme sports videos. The second highest-rated emotion is hilarity, but this approach also fails most often. Funny is tricky.

Red Bull’s Stratos exhilarated in so many ways. Below is the story of the Go Pro cameras that helped make it all happen.

7 – Target light buyers

If 80% of brand’s light buyers – those that don’t feel a stong connection to the brand – contribute to 50% of its sales, then it is worthwhile looking outside those who already follow your brand. 

Budweiser ad reputedly uses Neuroscience to inform the creative, to make it more emotional to widen the appeal.


8 – Emotional campaigns are more profitable

Beware of culturally-specific traits. In Brazil ‘inspiration’ is a powerful motivator to share, but in the UK ‘warmth’ is strong. When running cross-cultural campaigns tailor the videos and the call to action. If it’s ‘Share when this makes you smile” in the UK, this could be tweaked to “Share when this inspires you” in Brazil.

Can disgust work? This PoopPurri ad apparently does.

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