5 Best Practices for Creating Viral Branded Videos
Chris Schreiber is vice president of marketing at Sharethrough. Chris has managed communications for key social media initiatives at Google and helped drive content strategy for major entertainment brands like Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
There has never been more opportunity for marketers to generate creative video campaigns that go viral. YouTube recently noted that more than 500 years worth of YouTube videos are watched on Facebook every day, and 700 YouTube videos are shared on Twitter each minute.
And yet, going viral still remains an elusive outcome for the vast majority of brand campaigns. What’s missing?
While many people have an opinion about what causes videos to go viral, there is now a growing body of knowledge based on publisher data analysis, YouTube trends and academic research that can help marketers understand what viral marketing is really about. Here are a few great insights to consider when creating a brand video that will thrive on the social web.
1. Look Beyond Influencers
The majority of marketers target influencers who they think can massively jumpstart the momentum behind a viral campaign. This approach is driven by high-profile, anecdotal examples rather than data. In fact, in a recent TED Talk about Why Videos Go Viral, YouTube’s trends manager, Kevin Alloca, asserted that tastemakers are one of the three key ingredients for viral. He cited Jimmy Kimmel’s tweet about the Double Rainbow video, which helped launch it from obscurity to viral stardom.
But while celebrities or influential online voices can obviously help a campaign drive initial awareness, recent data shows that true virality comes from large numbers of people sharing to small groups. StumbleUpon and BuzzFeed recently collaborated on a study that made this point. BuzzFeed noted that the median ratio of Facebook views to shares was 9-to-1 for the 50 stories that generated the most Facebook traffic. This means that for every Facebook share, only nine people visited the story.
In a recent Ad Age article, experts from BuzzFeed and StumbleUpon noted that, “Content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web, via ordinary people sharing with their friends.” Duncan Watts, principal research scientist at Yahoo, has also upheld this conclusion with research he has been doing for years.
2. Make a Cinematic Social Object
A “social object” is the reason that two people are interacting with each other, instead of with someone else. A viral video is a social object, a vehicle for conversation and shared entertainment. Hugh Macleod, the master of viral cartoons, notes, “The hard currency of the Internet is ‘social objects’…Social networks are built around social objects, not vice versa.”
To create a social object from video, you have to tell a story. A person may like or even love your brand, but he doesn’t want to be sold to. Nobody does. Brand videos that go viral transcend the feeling of an ad intended to sell. Instead, they establish the brand as a storyteller.
Google is a good example of a company that has consistently created cinematic social objects by using emotional storytelling to promote its products and technologies. Google’sDear Sophie video is a great example of a social object that provides a vehicle for conversation.
3. Pulse Your Brand
The presence of a brand’s logo in a viral video is a regularly debated subject among creative teams and brand managers. The big concern is branding too much, and with good reason. Harvard research shows that the more prominent or intrusive a logo, the more likely viewers are to stop watching. There are also genuine concerns about too little or no branding, as it begs the very worthwhile question, “Why are we even doing this?”
Researchers at Harvard recommend brand pulsing. That essentially means weaving a brand’s logo throughout a video so it is integrated into the content. Harvard’s experiments have shown that this can increase viewership by as much as 20%.
British newspaper The Guardian recently struck viral gold with the above video, which promoted its open journalism format. It wove in the business logo throughout this mockumentary, making it feel like a natural part of the story.
4. Go Long
When it comes to video the rule is to keep it short, but when it comes to viral brand videos, this conventional wisdom does not necessarily hold true.
StumbleUpon data shows that videos viewed between two to three minutes generate a spike in social sharing, while videos viewed beyond four minutes see direct shares increase by five times. Length can be an asset, as this allows for an immersive story to unfold.
A good example is Honda’s Super Bowl ad, Matthew’s Day Off. Honda created one of the most buzzed-about Super Bowl videos this year with an extended cut of its ad, a 2:25-minute short film done in the style of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
5. Buy Native
The goal of a viral campaign is to be a vehicle for organic sharing and conversation, and some forms of paid media can help drive this mission. Social websites are increasingly developing native ad placements tailored for brand content.
Native ad placements are different than traditional placements in that they blend into the look and feel of a site. Additionally, native ads are sold on engagement-based pricing (cost per view, or CPV), rather than on traditional impression-based pricing (CPM). This ensures that people are engaging with the ad. Examples are Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, YouTube TrueView and StumbleUpon’s Paid Discovery.