Commentary

Cadbury: Viral Video Done Right

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According to a recent survey, online video will be a digital marketing focus for 66.8% of senior level decision makers in 2009.

Online video's breakneck ascendancy is something to celebrate. Over the course of this year, we're sure to see some exciting creative coming out of the powerhouse digital agencies. It's also inevitable that we'll encounter some duds.

If you're a marketer looking to add viral video to your media plan, you should keep in mind the following tips for creating effective viral video content. While these principles can't substitute for a demographic-sensitive and trend-sensitive video marketing plan, they can help you (and your production partners) avoid some pitfalls that have undercut more than a few online video campaigns.

For the purposes of this article, we'll be focusing on one company's experience developing sterling video content. It all starts with the story of a gorilla and Phil Collins.

Three Principles in "Gorilla" Marketing

In September 2007, marquee chocolate brand Cadbury (using the name "A glass and a half full productions") released an extremely odd video. The clip featured a very emotional (and highly skilled!) gorilla playing drums over a soundtrack of Phil Collins' 1981 hit "In the Air Tonight."

This combination of primal primate thumping and Collins' atmospheric voice could have made for much confusion. But instead the video ad quickly became a massive viral hit. At the time of this writing, 12 million viewers have submitted almost 16,000 online comments and 1,700 blog posts about the clip.

What can we learn from Cadbury's "Gorilla" campaign? Arguably, three things:

1. Your video needs to be short. Think 30-90 seconds. Cadbury's was about 90 seconds long.

2. You need to capture a viewer's initial attention within the first 15 seconds.

3. You need to motivate users to spread your content by ending your clip while they are still most engaged (shortly after the "payoff" of the video).

We can scrutinize "Gorilla" more closely in order to flesh out the above guidelines. First, it's obvious that the video was created to be a visceral attention-grabber. For the countless many who hold onto sad or else sensual connotations of Phil Collins' dark, drum-heavy song (remember its role in the movie "Risky Business"?), the image-versus-sound clash is immediately startling: A gorilla emoting to this song? Why? What's the purpose of this? However, such cognitive dissonance appears to be entirely the point: by virtue of your confusion, you are lured in. And you have an incentive to watch until the very end of the clip, if only because you want to find out whether or not there's some method to -- some larger reason for -- this madness.

Note that there is also a larger timing issue here. For online video marketers, the format precedent and analogue on which they can rely is not the reality TV show or the sitcom or the infomercial, but rather the 25- or 30-second commercial. You've got to present your main point(s) right away.

Yes, your video is short. But make sure to end on the right note.

For many of us, "Gorilla" delivered its payoff when the camera pulled back from the primate's face and revealed that said primate musician was, indeed, sitting on some random soundstage, banging on the drums.

Our emotional feeling might be verbalized like this: this is something completely new; it has no neat explanation or glaring selling point; and it's funny in a smart way.

What's the aftermath of this emotional reaction? Well, after having captured its audiences ... the "Gorilla" video simply ends. It's sudden, but the clip ends on a psychological high point, both in terms of the final visual frame presented and the final sound made. In other words, Gorilla ends at its most actionable moment, when viewers are most engaged: having being left with such a vivid last memory, many were compelled to pass on the video immediately.

This "end-on-a-high-note" principle is useful for revealing what digital marketers need to avoid. For instance, what if the video ended with a stodgy narrator talking over shiny shots of happy people eating Cadbury bars? It seems obvious that this wouldn't be the way to go, but in fact many companies do end up stumbling over the video finish line.

Ultimately, Cadbury is one example of viral video success. Your mileage in copying the production style and tone of "Gorilla" will vary, and for certain organizations (e.g., most nonprofits), it's not advisable to follow Cadbury's humor-driven tack. For savvy brand marketers and digital agencies, however, the above-mentioned principles will put you on the right road. They'll provide the right framework for a blank storyboard.

A well-executed viral video campaign can be among the best generators of ROI. In this economy -- in this time of tightening budgets and single-chance test-runs -- we all need to do our best to take the guesswork out of video marketing

1 comment about "Cadbury: Viral Video Done Right".
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  1. Rich Reader from WOMbuzz, March 18, 2009 at 3:03 p.m.

    The humor driven track has worked well for non-profits using Beth Kanter's "Cute Dog Theory" technographics, listening, mind-mapping, setting expectations, budgeting, engagement planning, experimentation, and community building.

    Tyler, I'm sure that you are already aware of this, as it was an important topic when we met last year at N2Y3, the 2008 NetSquared Annual Conference at Cisco Systems, and talked with Beth Kanter. I also voted for your Involver project. However, for those who have not yet tuned in to this theory, Beth has given us http://cutedogtheory.wikispaces.com/ .

    Will you be taking part in N2Y4?

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