"It all boils down to strong creativity," Ann Green, senior vice president of marketing solutions for Millward Brown, tells Marketing Daily. "The scientific part comes down to how you measure it."
In total, Millward Brown evaluated 102 ads -- including many successes from this year's Super Bowl, such as E*Trade's Milkaholic Baby (a/k/a Lindsey) and Audi's "Green Police" commercial and the Snickers ad featuring Betty White -- to uncover four essential components to predict viral success: the Awareness Index (an engagement measure), Buzz (likeliness to generate pass along), Celebrity (profile of a celebrity used in an ad) and Distinctiveness (measuring originality).
"They're typically very enjoyable and engaging," Green says. "It's important to create ideas that are going to pop in this environment."
Of the most-viewed viral ads as of March 7, all of them scored high for at least two of the components. The most-viewed ad, Old Spice's "The man your man could smell like," for instance, had High Awareness and distinctiveness. The second-most-viewed ad, E*Trade's "Milkaholic," was distinctive and received some added buzz after Lindsay Lohan filed a much-publicized lawsuit against E*Trade (adding a bit of celebrity factor as well).
Celebrity usage, however, needs to have a purpose, Green says. Celebrities with built-in audience appeal (like Betty White, recently the subject of a successful Internet campaign to host "Saturday Night Live," or Kim Kardashian, who appeals to younger, Web-surfing men) stand a better chance of viral success, although they have to fit the brand's overall persona as well. "There are occasions where using a celebrity can enhance the viral potential," Green says.
Although the company has come up with a predictive scale for viral success, Green notes that having realistic expectations for an ad's viral success is also important. After all, only one in six reach the upper echelons of heavy viewing. "We see there are certain principles that make an ad go viral," Green says. "But there will always be ads that have these characteristics that don't catch on and vice versa."