What Makes Ads Go Viral?

April 16, 2012

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


Reinventing Marketing at GE

July 7, 2011
General Electric Ecomagination Marketing Advertising

GE's Ecomagination Ad Campaign - Result of the Marketing Transformation Process

Who would have thought that General Electric (GE), one of the most admired companies in the world didn’t have a substantial marketing organization up until recently. And I’m not talking in number of people (they had 2,500 marketers a the time), but in its role related to strategic decisions, branding, and overall market direction.

In “Unleashing the Power of Marketing“, Harvard Business Review tells us an interesting tale of how GE transformed its marketing operations and gives us an interesting framework for applying to other businesses. The goal at GE was to transform marketing from a support function to an active player in driving revenue.

“Our framework centered on giving marketing a revenue-generating role in its own right.”

It’s a story worth reading, but since you may not have access to HBR (the article above requires subscription), here’s a summary.

Marketing as a Function

Building products that sell themselves is a neat idea and had worked well for GE for years. But, as the article points out, “The businesses were maturing, and like other companies, GE was learning that it could not win simply by launching increasingly sophisticated technologies or by taking existing technologies to new markets. Some of its best-thought-out new offerings were fast becoming commodities.”

GE then started to create a framework for its marketing group and came up with three core components:

1. Principles
After a thorough assessment of their expertise and functions, GE came up with eight disciplines organized into two groups, go-to-market activities, and commercial essentials. They became the core principles driving their marketing organization.

2. People
Their next step was to understand the roles marketing should play at GE. They came up with four roles: Instigators, Innovators, Integrators, and Implementers.

3. Process
Having identified what they wanted from marketing, GE then started putting together metrics for evaluation of the marketing teams and started a process called Maturity Evaluation.

Principles of Marketing at Work

It started from the top down, with Jeffrey Immelt (the CEO) pushing marketing to have a “line” role instead of the historical “staff” role it had at GE. Marketing started to be held responsible for critical operating mechanisms like pricing and quantifying customer value. Marketing started to play a role in determining not just what the customer needed but also in applying technology to better meet customer needs.

As marketing started to work in new innitiatives, expanding its role, more funding was provided and new offerings were created.

“In all these initiatives marketing gets into the game at the start, sizing “white space” opportunities, meshing unmet needs with new technologies, and moving our brand in new directions.”

A new Marketing Framework was created, comprised of eight disciplines:

  • Strat­egy and innovation
  • Brand­ing and communications
  • Sales force effectiveness
  • “New World” skills
  • Mar­ket knowledge
  • Seg­men­ta­tion and targeting
  • Value cre­ation and pricing
  • Com­mer­cial activation

Throughout the transformation process, this framework was refined and always referred to.

Key Marketing Roles

As they progressed with their marketing transformation, GE also identified a few key marketing roles that would become essential for transforming the organization:

The Instigator
Marketers have to challenge the status quo and look for new and better ways of doing things.

At GE some units had a tendency to develop products because they could, not because the market needed them. Marketing helped business leaders think outside their usual market and started to identify opportunities that weren’t even on the table previously. It’s more than market research, is looking outside and understanding the changes happening in the marketplace, in buying decisions, and in who your target market really is. Armed with data, marketing leaders could then discuss new directions with business leaders and show other approaches to growth.

The Innovator
Turning marketplace insights into untested products, services, or solutions.

While in the past marketing was relegated to simply passing information along to the groups responsible for innovation (R&D or engineering), the new marketing team started taking an active role in more than just advertising or market research expanding its reach beyond product features and functionality to include pricing, delivery, customer engagement, and new business models.

For example, in the Aviation market GE used to sell engines on the basis of thrust and other quantitative metrics and has since changed its approach to focus on operational efficiency and resource productivity.

“Innovative marketers use unique marketplace insights to come up with products, services, or solutions based on untested ideas.”

The Integrator
Building bridges across silos and functions and between the company and the market.

At GE it was recognized that marketers sometimes have to be translators. They have to speak product language with R&D and customer language to the sales force. But more than that, marketing has the capability of bringing disparate groups in the organization together to assess market dynamics and help the company cross-sell bundled products. During crisis (like the recent economic downturn), marketing can help bridge the gap between businesses and help them have an integrated view of distribution, pricing, sales, and more.

The Implementer
Executing on ideas.

“Getting things done” is probably the most critical skill of a marketer, even more at GE where those without direct P&L responsibility have a tough time getting resources and driving change.

“Marketing leaders have to build coalitions and persuade others, using functional expertise, insights, and teamwork rather than authority”

At GE, for example, marketing had to gain trust little by little. First, by giving business units competitive information, industry analysis, and the like. With time, and success in the early efforts, other units started to request help with specific projects.

Marketing Maturity and Knowledge Gap

Understanding what needs to be done is only half the battle, the other half is getting people to actually execute. GE started to hire marketers effectively doubling the marketing organization in size from 2,500 people in 2003 to 5,000 today. CMO’s were appointed for each GE business and also at the corporate level, tapping both internal staff as well as hiring from the outside.

They also conducted a Marketing Maturity Evaluation, to better understand what was missing from their marketing toolbox. This evaluation became an annual affair where CMO’s would convene their marketing teams and go through the survey for measuring specific skills, performance results, and understanding possible gaps.

The maturity evaluation surveys had a list of 35 skills and 140 definitions. Each capability had a description of what success looks like. The teams would score their units and review the assessments with business leaders, then they would roll up the score to eight capability areas and see if the scores were aligned across the organization. As marketing teams worked on these self-audits, they created a common language across all marketing staff regardless of business unit. With results in hand, CMOs and CEOs started to see areas that needed improvemeent and could work towards getting the right training or resources needed.

Transforming Your Marketing Organization

Think you have a tough time? Well, if GE can transform its marketing organization and reinvent itself in only a few years, think how much more you could do and how much faster!

Start by looking at what marketing capabilities you need in your team. Then, do a gap analysis (or maturity analysis like GE) and candidly assess where you and your team stand. Put a plan in place to either hire or train people to reach the level you require and also identify what roles marketing should play in your company.

Do you see marketing as Instigator, Innovator, Integrator, or Implementer? Maybe different situations require a different profile, but in that case be ready to get your team members up to speed on what each role requires.

If you have to get different results and don’t know how to start, I hope this story gave you some food for thought.

 

Further Reading

Additional resources related to General Electric’s marketing transformation:


%d bloggers like this: