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When – and Why – Branded Videos Go Viral

by MarketingCharts staff
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Timing the Launch

First off, a look at timing. To reach its conclusions, Unruly analyzed the sharing activity of the 1,000 most shared branded videos during the 52-week period leading up to June 7, 2013.

The data shows that sharing activity was highest on Fridays (15.9% above-average), with Wednesdays (+14.1%) and Thursdays (+7.5%) the next-most active days. (Weekends were the least active, with sharing falling to 15.2% below-average on Saturdays and 25.8% below-average on Sundays.)

While an initial reading of that data suggests that Friday would be optimal for launch, that’s not the case. That’s because a separate analysis of the day-by-day shares of the top 200 branded videos of 2012 shows that the viral peak occurs on day 2 of the campaign, with 10% of all shares occurring on that day. In fact, 25% of all shares occur in the first 3 days.

On a cumulative basis, then (taking into account the importance of the first 3 days), the results indicate that Wednesday is the optimal day for launch, with its cumulative sharing activity following launch day 12.5% higher than average. After Wednesday, Tuesday (+8.9%) and Monday (+5.9%) are the next-best days for launch, as they take advantage of the higher sharing activity seen from Wednesday through Friday.

Getting the Creative Right

Of course getting the timing right is just one part of the equation –  the creative itself needs to have certain attributes in order to elicit sharing activity, according to the researchers.

The white paper outlines a variety of psychological responses to videos (such as happiness, contempt, surprise, and anger) as well as social motivations to share (such as shared passion, reaction seeking and self-expression), indicating that in order to achieve a high share rate (ratio of shares to views), the video needs to elicit a “strong viewer response against at least one psychological trigger and multiple social motivations.” It’s important to note that the emotional response needs to be quite intense in order for the video to be successful: many of the videos analyzed tried for humor, but few managed to be seen as hilarious, sinking their chances at going viral to a greater degree.

Still, an intense emotional response to an ad is not enough to drive sharing, as there also need to be motivations to share. Looking at a representative sample of 12 Super Bowl ads (with strong, average and low share rates), the researchers note that those with the highest amounts of sharing:

  • engendered intense feelings of “warmth,” “happiness,” “awe” and “pride;” but also
  • contained critical social motivations, including shared emotional response (“I would share this video because it had a strong emotional effect on me and I want my friends to experience that too”) and zeitgeist (“I would share this video because it is about a current trend or event”).

By contrast, the videos that fared worst engendered low levels of “hilarity” and “surprise” and were subject to viewer confusion. Although most of the ads motivated viewers to share, many were undone by low emotional responses. The researchers note that “with 10 of the 12 ads sampled leaning on hilarity to get a reaction from viewer, the response loses its potency.” Indeed, the most shared ad from the Super Bowl, Budweiser’s “Brotherhood,” ignored humor entirely in favor of “warmth” and “happiness,” achieving an impressive share rate of 18.4%.

The key takeaways? While it may be a stretch to suggest that viral videos can be conjured up according to a set formula (how subjective are the intensity of emotional responses?), brands can at least up their chances by replicating the attributes of the most successful campaigns, by:

  • Differentiating themselves by using an emotional trigger other than humor (or by finding a way to be exceptionally funny);
  • Eliciting a strong emotional response and giving viewers multiple reasons to share; and
  • Getting the timing right by launching on Wednesday or earlier and prioritizing front-loaded distribution.