Making a viral video is easier said than done—there’s no set formula that will guarantee millions of views. The only thing to do is observe consumer behavior and react accordingly. Harvard Business School professor Thales Teixeira has conducted research using eye-tracking and facial recognition software to determine what exactly makes ads go viral; here are some of his findings reported in a Harvard Business Review interview.
In the past, marketers have concentrated on producing memorable ads using traditional storytelling models with a surprise or punchline at the end. However, more and more people are starting to avoid ads—ignoring commercials or using DVRs to fast forward through them. These people never arrive at the end of the ad, so for them, it’s not memorable. Today, for an ad to be effective, it has to capture viewers’ attention within the first five seconds. The punchline has to be toward the beginning. Old Spice’s Questions Campaign is a prime example of leading off with a surprise factor:
Inducing joy is a popular way to keep people watching the ad once you’ve hooked them with your opening. But overloading the commercial with humor isn’t necessarily the best way to do that. In fact, Teixeira found that interchanging humorous and non-humorous content keeps viewers interested throughout the entire ad. An example of an ad that follows this format is Bud Light’s Swear Jar spot:
The initial swearing surprises viewers, capturing their full attention right off the bat. After that, the spot shows quick clips of workers swearing in different situations. The alternating film cuts and swear words create high (joyful/humorous) and low (neutral) points, retaining viewer attention.
This is all well and good, but how do you make something like this go from being a funny commercial to a viral hit? It has to be great enough to encourage viewers to share it with others. Teixeira states that sharing is a function of two things: content and people’s motivation.
People are more willing to share surprising videos, but not shockingly surprising videos like Bud Light’s spot below:
Yes, people are more likely to watch the video because it’s surprising, but they are less likely to share it because it’s shocking. Evian’s Roller Babies commercial has a more desired effect. It’s surprising but not shocking at all, so people are willing to share it with friends. According to the ViralGains Video Marketing Platform, Evian’s commercial has over 2.1 million social shares while Bud Light’s only has 21,000.
People have two basic types of motivation to share a video. First is altruistic motivation: If I like a video, I’m going to send it to a friend because I think they’ll enjoy it too. However, most sharing happens through self-interested motivation. People share ads because they want to gain social capital by impressing friends with new, interesting material. So as an advertiser, create commercials that make your product look good, but if shared, will make the viewer look good too.
These tips should help you form a solid advertising concept that will maximize your video’s viral potential.