Viral Videos Ads: No Marketing Panacea

It's no wonder viral video advertising is being talked about. The lure of creating mass-market, high-impact communications without incurring the cost of media space is very enticing. The ability to reach the elusive and hard to influence audiences combined with the potential for creating positive brand fame is an attractive mix. However, the reality is that viral video ads will be able to offer only a handful of marketers the positive end results and rewards they seek. Most brands will be better off directing their energy and efforts into optimizing conventional targeting methods within paid-for media.

When it comes to viral video ads, it seems that many within the industry may also agree. Earlier this year, a Dynamic Logic study among MediaPost readers revealed that most people thought viral marketing to be a fad and not a viable option for all marketers. In fact, when asked to rate it on a continuum from "fad" to "mainstream," half rated it as more of a fad than a widely usable marketing tactic, and only about a quarter (24%) felt that viral was something that any marketer could create.

Despite such little insider confidence in the future application of viral advertising, there is still increasing interest in creating viral campaigns. In this age where consumers have more and more choices, content and advertising are being controlled by what consumers want, how and when they want it, forcing marketers to rethink their old ways of communication. In some respects, viral advertising is a way of reaching consumers that gives them ultimate creation and viewing control -- including the media platform they choose to watch it on, whether it is viewed on the Internet, or using their iPod or mobile device. Shifting focus and control to the consumer does not guarantee a promising outcome, particularly where viral videos are concerned, and marketers need to consider both the positives and negatives of launching a viral marketing campaign.

Viral ads may not always end up enhancing the brand image carefully conceived and desired by the marketer. Viewers may find the video entertaining and funny, but may not recall the message or product associated with the video. In some viral video ads, the content may involve a brand or a product with an undesirable message that may negatively impact the brand image. That said, surrendering brand control is, to some degree, an inevitable part of advertising in the future.

In a recent Millward Brown study where 32 different viral video ads were tested among 3,000 people, the results suggest that there is a strong correlation between ad enjoyment and endorsing it to friends. However, enjoyment alone was not enough to ensure the ad would be passed along. Now that certainly makes a successful viral campaign even trickier.

So what are the keys to a successful viral video? According to this research, viral ads need LEGS, a convenient acronym that means viral ads have to have a Laugh out loud quality, Edgy content, must Grip your attention and most often have some Sexual content. Given that few campaigns (viral or otherwise) have LEGS, few will be able to create a successful viral campaign as Dove did with Evolution, and in most cases the reach is low. It comes back to the bottom line -- a question of opportunity, cost, and return on investment.

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