What Keeps An Ad From Going Viral?

Have you got a favorite ad that’s gone viral on youtube? Maybe one with roller skating babies or a soft drink? That’s a marketer’s dream these days – to have an ad so compelling that people watch it as entertainment, and tweet, blog and Facebook about it! Would you be surprised to hear that there’s an entire branch of marketing research dedicated to studying what makes an ad go viral?

Per the Harvard Business Review  (which I peruse in support of the day job, not the romance writing LOL) viral marketing campaigns have five pitfalls to avoid. And if we the consumers know what the marketers know, we can avoid being manipulated! Unless the ad is just too cute…

1. Prominent branding puts viewers off. People focus on a few key things in an ad, like the actors’ facial expressions and brand logos. If a logo is too prominent or intrusive, we’re likely to stop watching, even if it’s a brand we like. To avoid turning us off, advertisers use “brand pulsing”, weaving the brand or logo throughout the ad’s storyline in quick flashes. So it’s there, but not in your face.

2. People get bored.  The marketer has to create joy or surprise in the viewer right away. Advertisers are still locked into the old paradigm of a commercial building to a dramatic climax or surprise ending, which loses modern viewers in droves.

3. People watch for a while but then stop.  To go viral, the commercial needs to take us on an emotional roller coaster. Feelings of joy or surprise fade pretty fast. (Unless maybe you are the winner of that $570M lotto this weekend.) Marketers say deliver a jolt, change up the emotion constantly. The best example the HBR researchers cited had a 15 second opening, followed every six seconds by another scene, seven in all. I was shocked that I can be so easily reeled in – give me six seconds of emotion and I’m putty in a marketer’s hands evidently!

4. People like an ad but won’t share it. If the advertiser creates an ad that hits all the marks, and people will watch it for the full sixty seconds over and over, the ad still never goes viral if viewers aren’t willing to recommend it. The primary barrier to sharing seemed to be “shock”. There was one cola commercial where the cast took their clothing off. The researchers found that while people might enjoy the ad (black bars covered any less than G rated moments) they wouldn’t recommend it to others. So the recommendation is to go for surprise, as with the roller skating babies, which has eleven different scenes of infants dancing, thereby surprising you over and over (but not shocking you). That ad hit the gold ring for a marketer – 50 million YouTube hits and counting.   OMG CUTE!

5. People still won’t share the ad. Not everyone is the type to take the time to tweet, FB, Like, tag or blog about an ad even if they loved it. I guess I’m blogging about it, aren’t I? Hmmm…..

HBR’s conclusion was companies need to think harder about what the video offers the viewer, instead of how well the commercial serves the actual brand.

The commercial sticking in my mind most at the moment was from the Superbowl – the truck that could survive the End of the World As We Know It (but I forget which brand it was – sorry, marketing team!) I just like dystopian themes…


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