What Makes Ads Go Viral?

Face Masks, Japan By shibuya246 via FlickrLooking for a recipe to get your new video to go viral? In a recent Harvard Business Review article “The New Science of Viral Ads”, assistant professor Thales Teixeira from HBS outlines the ingredients you will need:

1. Utilize “Brand Pulsing”: weave your brand throughout the ad instead of placing it front and center. Example is the “Happiness Factory” video for Coca-Cola.

2. Create joy, or surprise right away: keeping viewers involved is key to get your video watched, so you have to use both joy (hey, this is funny) and surprise (wow!). Example is Bud Light’s “Swear Jar”.

3. Build an emotional roller coaster: people are most likely to keep watching if they experience emotional ups and downs.

4. Surprise but don’t shock: this is where you’ve got to be careful not to push the video too far… some surprise is good, but shocking may diminish the virality effect (nude people in the video makes it unlikely to be shared with office co-workers).

5. Target viewers who will share the ad: sounds obvious but is more difficult than you imagine. Is hard to target viewers based on their personality, but different types of personalities (extroverted vs. introverted) are a key ingredient in ensuring the video will get shared. Some people share it for ‘status’, or to rank up higher in social media circles, or to be seen as savvy in a subject.

The Science Behind Viral Videos

Interesting that the experiments Prof. Teixeira conducted made use of some high tech equipment. They setup infrared eye-tracking scanners so that they could determine where people were looking when the ads played and they used a system that analyzes facial expressions and were able to determine, based on slight changes on their facial muscles (this reminded me of micro-expressions and the Lie To Me series) what emotion they were experiencing.

HBR Viral Video Experiment

High tech gear monitored users as they watched videos

It’s All About The Content.. or Is It?

Interesting that four out of five key ingredients in the study deal directly with the content of your ad or video. You shouldn’t, however, discount the last factor of who you are sending that video to because as the article explains, if people don’t share your video… it won’t go viral (duh!). What good is creating great content if the reader is not willing to share? 

Makes you think not only about how to structure your content creation strategy but also how to plan for your content distribution.

The Videos

Here are the videos mentioned in the article:

“Brand Pulsing” example: Coca-Cola Happiness Factory

“Open with Joy” example: Mr. Bean

“Roller Coaster” example: Bud Light Swear Jar

“Surprise but don’t shock” example: Bud Light Clothing Drive

Using all ingredients example: Evian Roller Babies


2 Responses to What Makes Ads Go Viral?

  1. […] being done on social media, viral videos, and marketing in general (see previous post on the New Science of Viral Ads). Problem is, many research papers contradict each other. A recent study published on Marketing […]

  2. Jenny says:

    These are perfect tips on creating a viral video. I’m glad you shared this! I’ve seen so many silly videos that are very annoying. More people should use these skills!

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