How To Plan A 'Viral' Video

by , Jan 17, 2014, 1:01 PM
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In many ways, viral videos are an art form unto themselves, often driving pop culture while unleashing new behavioral sensibilities on a global scale. Consumers gravitate toward content that they can share with friends and family across their social channels – a phenomenon rarely seen with 30-second TV spots, with the exception of Super Bowl ads and a few iconic campaigns of yesteryear. 

In the past, consumers were forced to endure TV ads. But with viral video ads, consumers choose to watch and share them. That’s a big departure.

The popularity of these viral branded videos can be seen in the user-generated content that they inspire and the earned media that they generate. Volvo Trucks’ “Live Test” with Jean Claude Van Damme, for example, generated more than 33 million of its 114 million views through user-generated content.

But fewer brands find this level of success in branded video than should. Many brands could find viral glory were it not for some common mistakes:

  • Not knowing the audience: Too many brands unleash the wrong type of video, in the wrong format, for their target group.
  • The wrong media mix: Many brands assume that their entire audience is on one channel, like YouTube. While YouTube offers access to a mass audience, key influencers are often reached on more niche sites.
  • Bad timing: When messages are released can have as much impact as what the message says.
  • Boring content: The most successful videos engage viewers and lend to user-generated content and sharing.

You might be thinking that these are often the same mistakes that brands make when planning for traditional media. You are right, in general, but where successful branded video separates itself is in how consumers engage with it. The simple fact that consumers choose to watch branded video changes how brands need to think about video. 

And that thinking should spill over into the planning process. Too often, marketers are often dependent on an ideation processes that yields videos more akin to a TV commercials of yore. Branded video opens up the possibility to create a wide range of video content options ranging from humorous or outrageous short films to informative “how to” video series and even reflective “think” pieces.

Brands don’t necessarily have to reinvent the creative wheel to produce a viral video. As is the case with television, it all starts with a great idea. But the way that the idea is developed will predict its success online. The most successful brands in video do these four things:

  • Make storytelling king, not product: Whether they’re 15-seconds or six minutes long, the branded videos that are remembered and get passed along tell a story that forms an emotional connection with the audience while being authentic to the brand. In the case of Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches,” the brand wasn’t even mentioned until the last seconds of the video. Red Bull’s “Stratos” has nothing to do with energy drinks. But in both cases, the story was human and the brand identity was imbued into the storyline.
  • Bake in engagement: Since the success of branded video is often dependent on consumer interaction and sharing, giving viewers a reason to share is key. Intel and Toshiba made a social film – “The Power Inside” – in which the entire story was determined by audience participation. That’s one way to bake in engagement. But brands can also do this by creating content that is easily parodied, like Volvo Trucks’ “Live Test.”
  • Think about headlines: It’s the ability to create news that helps a video’s pass-along rate. So when brands are planning a campaign, they need think about what their videos’ headlines will be. If there is no headline, then they might not have the right story.
  • Make data a central player:  The Internet provides brands with a wealth of real-time data. Brands should use data before the launch of a campaign to determine the optimal launch dates, timing, channels, and creative approach. But they should also reexamine the data coming back from their campaign and optimize throughout its life.

2 comments on "How To Plan A 'Viral' Video".

  1. Doug Garnett from Atomic Direct
    commented on: January 17, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.
    Interesting. I highly recommend a new book from the Ehrenberg-Bass folks... "Viral Marketing: the science of sharing". it's an excellent analysis of viral video using hard data. Quite good.
  2. John Grono from GAP Research
    commented on: January 17, 2014 at 5 p.m.
    They're good thinkers there Doug. Have you read Byron Sharp's " How Brands Grow"? It will certainly challenge you and the current paradigm. I found myself saying ... no that can't be right - then realising it was!

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