There’s no denying the power of a viral video. The Dollar Shave Club is now a legendary example. The company, which sells $1 razors, made a low-budget video that went so viral it crashed the company’s website almost immediately after its released. Currently with more than 9.6 million views, the ad’s deadpan humour put the company on the map and led to $10 million in venture Capital funding.
While Dollar Shave Club hit the jackpot, just being funny isn’t enough to guarantee going viral.
Unruly Media tracks the most-shared videos on the internet — there’s a difference between watching a video because you’re bored and liking something so much you share it with a friend — and has come up with an algorithm that allows advertisers to know whether their ads will blow up.
We talked to Cat Jones, Unruly’s head of business, and she told us what advertisers have to do to make an ad go crazy on the internet.
Cat Jones of Unruly told us that no matter the sector, there are two things that are crucial to making a viral video:
'The intensity of the psychological response people feel when they see the ad,' Jones said, 'and the strength of the social motivation -- the reason that they have to share.'
If a brand can make someone feel something really strongly (whether that feeling is overwhelmingly positive or negative) then that will give them a good reason to pass it on.
There are a number of psychological responses a company can hit. The first is the most obvious and, also, the hardest: BE FUNNY.
Unfortunately, a lot of people want to be funny. And a lot of people who think they're funny, aren't.
'It's hard for people to do well since it's been so used,' Jones said. 'That audience is quite discerning.'
But if you're going to try, do it like this Unruly favourite; 'Dumb Ways to Die' by McCann Melbourne has been viewed 43 million times and shared 3 million times:
'We're seeing a shift to that really warm nostalgia,' Jones said.
She used the example of Budweiser's 'Brotherhood' ad, about a Clydesdale horse and his trainer, that swept the Super Bowl. 'That was warmth and happiness ... and it was the second most shared Super Bowl ad of all time,' she said.
'Brotherhood' by Anomaly has been viewed 14 million times and shared more than 2.6 million since February:
Another viral example of a warm ad is P&G's 'Best Job' commercial for the Olympics. It was viewed 12 million times and shared 2 million times:
Surprisingly, nostalgia has made it big in the tech sector.
Although Google's ads often make people feel nostalgic, Jones said that one of the best examples of a 10 on the nostalgia scale is Internet Explorer's 'Child of the 90's' ad, which has been viewed more than 15 million times in less than two months.
Successful examples include Abercrombie & Fitch's 'Call Me Maybe' video which was viewed 19 million times and shared 2.7 million times:
GoPro's ad actually hits both of these marks. The high-octane spot for a 'the world's most versatile camera' not only teaches people that the camera can go underwater, on the ski slopes, and other extreme situations, but it also gets your pulse racing.
The video was viewed 17 million times and shared 1.2 million times.
But advertisers don't just have to go for positive psychological reactions. Jones touts the benefits of going negative.
'If you score a 10 on disgust, then that's pretty sharable,' Jones said. 'Although for brands it's tricky since no one ever goes for that.'
A great example is a political ad that showed an Argentinian hockey captain preparing for the Olympics in the Falklands.
'To compete on English soil we train on Argentine soil,' the ad read, attempting to reclaim its right to the territory it lost in the Falklands war.
This offended many who believed the ad desecrated a war memorial.
(The original YouTube video appears to have been taken down, but the ad did get a lot of buzz):
This ad tricks everyday Joes into thinking that they're witnessing a murder in an elevator to promote a movie.
In less than a week, it got 5.9 million views and 70k shares:
Jones notes that 'people use experiential to generate that psychological response.'
Not only is there the initial shock factor when normal people are put in strange situations, 'but there's also the funny in the reveal. There's a happiness peak.'
She used Nivea's ad in which people are scared into thinking that they're wanted by the police (all to work up a sweat and need Nivea's deodorant) as an example. It has 6 million views in a month and 255K shares.
'When DGM did the 'Dramatic Surprise,' they pushed the flash mob into the next generation,' Jones said.
This video has 46 million views and 4.5 million shares:
Of course the psychological response is only one part of the viral recipe. There also has to be a good impetus to share.
Apart from the obvious (it's nice to have consumers like your work enough to send it to a friend), here are some other reasons why it's good to share based on Unruly's data:
- Brand recall rises 7 per cent among viewers who were recommended a video versus viewers who found it on their own.
- 14 per cent more people enjoy a video that has been recommended than people who just find it on their own.
There's a range of rational rather than emotional reasons why people share. It could be due to spreading social good ...
Jones explained that people share a video if it seems altruistic, 'if sharing this is like doing my bit for the world.'
KONY, of course, is the best example of this. It had 96 million views and 10 million shares:
With Super Bowl ads and election commercials, the ads become the conversation.
And Jones said movie trailers are an example of a brand video that brings the social element to real life situations. She explained that people will share a trailer with a friend to say, 'Hey, let's watch this this weekend.'
The Dollar Shave Club ad was incredibly successful and was produced on an extremely small budget.
'You can have the best video in the world, but if you just put it on your company YouTube, no one will see it,' Jones said.
She continued that brands have to get enough people -- and the right people -- to see the video, 'and that can set off this viral cascade.'
Michael Dubin of Dollar Shave Club told America Express' Open Forum that his video 'took planning. A lot of the tech press told us they would cover it when it went live, and they did.'
When DDB parodied #FirstWorldProblems to bring attention to the water crisis in underdeveloped countries, it planned to have several celebrities share the video with their Twitter followers.
Jones said that she recently worked with a company who made popular videos that were based on a series of comedy skits, pranks, and stupid physical acts.
'While normal people in the U.S. thought that that stuff was really funny, we found that the audience that the brand was going for didn't,' Jones said. Although they did like the fast paced scene changes in the video.
'A content creative team that lives in a social media world might think an audience will respond one way,' she said, 'but you need to take out all subjectivity.'
One example of a brand that totally knows its audience -- although it might disgust people outside of the male 18-24 bracket -- is Axe with its overtly sexualized and bro-y ads. This one has 40 million views:
'The share rate on mobile is 24 per cent higher than the share rate on desktops,' Jones emphasised.
When asked how advertisers could make sure their video is seen on a mobile device, Jones suggested using Hulu to distribute it.
'Let people share it,' she said. 'Let people own the content.'
Jones also suggested using blogs to spread the ad. This Technorati article says that blogs are the third most influential type of site that gets people to make purchases (apart from the retail and brand site.)
Unruly developed its algorithm, to compare share rate with ShareRank (sharability resulting from the psychological trigger we listed earlier). It based its calculations on tens of thousands of people's responses to hundreds of thousands of videos, Jones told us.
By increasing a ShareRank, the per cent of people who share the video after watching will rise.
The graph below shows the percentage of people who will share a video based on its ShareRank score. 80 per cent of results fall within the dotted lines:
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