Can An Ad Go Viral And Also Move Goods?

The trouble with a lot of advertising, perhaps, is that the advertiser is too sorry about the interruption.

That’s a raw, rough, and probably not quite accurate summation of new research touted by Unruly Media that notes of the top 200 shared video ads, only 35% make the brand a strong part of the storyline.

“This may be because advertisers are afraid that making the brand a prominent part of the ad can reduce sharing,” according to an Unruly Media distillation of research from academics Ezgi Akpinar and Jonah Berger. The basically note the difference between hard sell video ads--ones where the brand is right there, front and center--and soft sell ads that are the kind often found in shared videos because the message is funny, poignant or otherwise memorable.

So it’s kind of a choice: Do you want an ad that’s shared and passed around and talked about, even if that means the consumer is happy and entertained but isn’t filled up with knowledge about the brand? Or do you want the hard sell, which emphasizes product features and drives purchase intent?



And then the question is: Can you have both? And of course, Unruly, being the business of charting, shaping and selling as based on their share-worthiness, is going to tell you yes. Not that they’re making it up, but because, if the answer went the other way they’d have some serious soul-searching to do.
The answer becomes creating ads that are so interesting that you have to share them, and that act of sharing better make people buy. It can be done, this research says.  The only thing is, 65% of the time, branding is shoved somewhere way in the back seat when the creative folks are crafting the witty ad everybody will be buzzing about for three or four days.

Akpinar, from the University of Amsterdam, and Berger, from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, have dubbed this better kind of sharing “valuable virality.”  Sarah Wood, COO at Unruly is in New York today as part of Advertising Week talking about it, (along with Harvard Business School's Thales Teixeira, whose  recent research,The Economics of Consumer Attention, touches on some of the same stuff).

Wood, it should be said about the most enthusiastic spokeswoman for a topic you can imagine. Talking with recently,she noted that making a brand integral to a storyline isn’t necessarily so hard--Coke does it with everything it does by making sure its vending machines and cans or bottles have prominent roles in every one of its viral-worthy ads.  

She also notes Blendtec’s Will It Blend video for Vat 19, which is a darned funny video about gummy bears, but to me seems to be the kind of clever thing that sells nothing. Better is Unruly’s interest in “trackverts,” those music videos that sing a song and sell a product all at once. Shakira’s “La La La (Brazil 2014)” released with yogurt brand Activia around the time of the World Cup, became the most shared ad of all time, with nearly 6 million shares since May, is a good example. The basic point is that brands can come out of hiding and still make a memorable and shareable video. It's just that you don't see it much.
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