What is it about one video that inspires a ton of spin-offs, while another gets none? We looked at the branded video campaigns from 2015 with the most user-generated content to pick out common themes and uncover what makes people engage with an ad in this way.
The 2015 campaign with the most user uploads gives us one clue. Calvin Klein’s spring 2015 campaign with Justin Bieber had more than 56.9 million views and spawned more than 200 user uploads. Bieber is also emblematic of one theme we discovered when looking at these campaigns: a celebrity whom people love to mock.
In the ad, he poses sexily and plays the drums in his underwear. Many of the spoofs exaggerated the sexiness to an over-the-top level or undercut it completely, by casting a kitten in Bieber’s role, for example. Another key element of the video that made it easy to recreate was its recognizable style, shot in black and white.
Bieber wasn’t the only celebrity whom people want to make the butt of the joke. Another campaign that generated a lot of user content was T-Mobile’s Super Bowl ad starring Kim Kardashian. The tongue-in-cheek "#KimsDataStash" garnered 32 million views and motivated 109 user uploads. Featuring Kim narrating a PSA spoof against a white background with a hot pink textbar identifying her as a “famous person,” this video also had a recognizable look that was easy to reproduce at home.
Since both Kardashian and Bieber are rich and famous, no one feels too bad about making fun of them. A similar phenomenon may be at work in another trend that turned up in the top user-content campaigns: billion-dollar tech companies that take themselves too seriously.
Microsoft’s HoloLens campaign reached 26.5 million views and generated 102 user uploads. The video for the augmented-reality product featured a self-important voiceover that was ripe for spoofing. User-created videos made reference to Microsoft products always crashing and suggested that the futuristic technology isn’t quite ready for prime time yet.
Longtime Microsoft competitor Apple has spawned its share of user content as well. The campaign announcing the new iPad Pro with its accompanying Apple Pencil accessory reached 15.4 million views and inspired 68 user uploads. Much of the user-generated content riffed on the silliness of an overpriced “pencil” and the pretentious style of Apple’s product introduction videos.
While brands may not necessarily want their content to spawn spoofs mocking their innovations (or maybe it’s true that any press is good press), there was a third theme in user-generated campaigns that brands may want to consider: music that people connect to.
British price-comparison website MoneySuperMarket had a viral hit with “Dave’s #EpicStrut.” The campaign reached 4 million views and generated 70 user uploads. In the original, a man wearing a suit jacket on top and jean shorts and heels on bottom twerks his way down the sidewalk to the sound of The Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’t Cha.” From the streets to classrooms to dance studios, people were clearly having fun channeling their inner divas to recreate this scene.
Mountain Dew’s Kickstart commercial managed to reproduce a Harlem Shake effect with branded content. The video starts slow and then lets people go wild dancing. This generated many home recreations of the ad, all using the same A-Trak song as the soundtrack. The campaign had 15.8 million views and generated 60 user uploads.
All of these campaigns reached a critical mass of viewers, which meant that it wasn’t a waste of time to create a parody. Viewers will recognize what is being made fun of because so many have seen the original.
For the campaigns where the soundtrack was a key part of the appeal, the main impetus for creation seems to be the joy the viewers take in participation. Although a little more mean-spirited in execution, a similar concept may be at play in the celebrity spoofs. Even while people are making fun of Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian, it’s fun to pretend to be them and try on an over-the-top persona.