Marketing lessons from the best viral videos
Creating a video that goes viral is the holy grail of anyone doing any kind of marketing online.
Having something with your name, or the name of your brand, product, or company, that is shared freely around millions of viewers around the world — well, there’s not much more you could ask for.
We had a taste of this when one of our posts was showcased on the front page of Flipboard. It was momentary fame, but it felt good.
Why do some videos ‘go viral’ and some don’t?
But going viral is not as easy as it looks – and the Internet can be an impenetrable place.
There’s no shortage of content: Internet users upload over 100 hours of video to YouTube ever single minute, more than 4.75 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every single day, and over 500 million new Tweets are sent into the Twitterverse every 24 hours.
And most of it goes unnoticed because it just isn’t shareable.
So why is it that some videos break through those seemingly impossible odds, while most of the rest are either an epic flop or a quiet whimper?
It’s about contagion
Marketing is about spreading the love.
According to Jonah Berger, author of New York Times bestseller and Best Marketing Book of 2014, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, it’s not just chance, luck, or good timing: there is a science behind it.
Berger explains that there are six principles we have to have in place in order to motivate users to share content are. They’re not complex, and there’s nothing that we can’t all take notice of:
- Social Currency. You have to have something that makes the sharer look good and feel good, or makes them feel like an ‘insider’.
- Triggers. Is there something memorable and timely that helps people remember the message and makes it easy to share?
- Emotion. The more we care, the more we will share. You have to inject some emotion into the message.
- Public. We know that what is seen is shared — we just have to look at the power of Facebook for that! Make something visible.
- Practical Value. If the idea is of practical value, we are more likely to pass it along. How many times have you told a friend about the latest healthy eating, or child-rearing, advice?
- Stories. Last but not least, we all connect with the power of storytelling in marketing. It’s easier to tell a story than to remember long reams of data.
Without these, or at least most of these, being in place, a video has no chance of turning into a viral success story.
Let’s look at some case studies of the best viral videos
So which videos in the last few years have used these principles effectively and ‘gone viral’?
Most of the examples were created intentionally, as marketing campaigns for big brands and with a big budget.
But not all.
We’ve found a couple of gems from all corners of the Internet have successfully gone viral. Let’s have a look at out top five picks. And let’s highlight what lessons we can learn from them.
1. American Greetings: World’s Toughest Job
This video was created by greeting card company, American Greetings, and released in the lead up to Mothers’ Day 2014.
The video shows applicants interviewing for a ‘fake’ job that is made to sound like the hardest job in the world — which is later revealed as motherhood.
The video was viewed over 23.6 million times. Why is that?
This video is the fluffy kitten video of the marketing world – it plays on the emotions we all feel for something we dearly love – and especially our mothers. It appeals to those of us who are mothers, and those who have or have lost their mother.
A video like this that uses storytelling techniques to create suspense, and has an extremely strong, emotional, and universal message behind it, is almost guaranteed to be a hit.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in July and August 2014.
It spread across Facebook and Twitter feeds like wildfire, and even made it onto news shows, talk shows, and newspapers – while raising 115 million US dollars for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
The idea is, rather than one single video, participants pour a bucket of icy water over their heads, film it, then nominate friends to do the same after donating to charity. They put their video on social media, creating a viral effect with exponential growth of both viewers, and participants.
Although the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t begin as a marketing campaign, it was a huge success for The ALS Association for several reasons.
Firstly, it has a lot of social currency.
Unlike similar viral Facebook games such as Neknomination, a potentially harmful (and definitely stupid) drinking game, when people participated in the ALS challenge, they were engaging with the idea that they are a good person doing a good thing.
The whole format of the linking a video and nominating a friend encouraged participants to make their challenge public – if it wasn’t on social media, then it wasn’t being done right (the power of the peer group).
3. Melbourne Metro Trains: Dumb Ways To Die
In 2012, Melbourne Metro Trains, in Victoria Australia released a public service announcement advertisement called ‘Dumb Ways To Die’.
The video was set to a song, and depicted 21 cartoon characters being killed for increasingly stupid behaviour – the last three deaths from unsafe behaviour around trains.
In two weeks, the video had been viewed over 30 million times – more viewers than the entire population of Australia
‘Dumb Ways to Die’, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, was designed to reach as many people as possible, in order to enhance the practical value of keeping people safe near trains.
What worked well in this example, according to most commentators, was the music — a very catchy tune was used that could be associated with the campaign; the shock factor; and the universality of the message of safety first. It draws on the emotion of losing a loved one.
4. HelloFlo: First Moon Party
‘First Moon Party’ is an advertisement for monthly period suppliers, that follows the story of a pre-teen ‘pretending’ to get her first period because she is frustrated that she is the last of her friends to get it.
Her mum knows she is lying, and follows up with some serious revenge – by throwing her a ‘first moon party’, that includes bobbing for ovaries, pin the pad on the period, and a vagician.
Maybe not for everyone but it was certainly hit a nerve with its target market!
Coming off the back of HelloFlo’s successful launch video, ‘The Camp Gyno’, the success of this marketing campaign comes down to two main things: firstly, the topic of periods on US TV was, and still is, somewhat taboo, and the humour and satirical format of this video played on that controversy.
Secondly, the storytelling is very effectively done. From beginning to end, you are caught in the tale of a pre-teen trapped in a lie that is causing to squirm with extreme embarrassment – all the while, we the viewer, know exactly what the mum is up to.
5. Dove Real Beauty Sketches
As part of Dove’s ongoing Campaign For Real Beauty, this online video depicts a forensic artist sketching drawings of women based on their own descriptions; and then from the description of a stranger they met the same day.
The sketches are then compared to demonstrate how women’s negative perception of themselves is only in the eye of the beholder.
The ad campaign does an incredible job of using almost all of the six principles to make people share content – it gives the sharer social currency by sharing a ‘self-love’ clip.
It works as a trigger for women every day, who face their own negative perceptions. It utilizes emotion and the value of story-telling really well, by using ‘real’ women in the ad.
The video was viewed online over 63 million times and the model of ‘real life’ experiments being used to highlight a societal problem has been repeated in other successful viral campaigns, such as Always’ #LikeAGirl.
In a similar model, the idea of combining women’s interests with the sale of a beauty product, and using the social currency of women’s empowerment to make a video go viral, was taken up by Pantene in their #ShineStrong and #WhipIt online ads about women’s empowerment in the workplace, both of which went viral in Australia and the Philippines respectively.
These are just a few examples of successful videos that have gone viral over the last few years. Although most of these videos have a whole team of marketers behind them, you too can see what the lessons are from their success and you can implement them in any marketing or promotional video — indeed any content — you create.
What lessons for authors?
As an author, or anyone creating content there are some key points to remember:
- It’s about the story, not the information. You want your information to be shared, of course, and you want to teach, but wrap it in a story.
- Connect with emotion. While you might think that non-fiction is dry and dull, think again. You can use emotion by creating a connection with your reader. Whether you use stories, or you simply talk to your reader as you would someone you were sitting within in a coffee shop. Make it real, make it raw.
- Be tactical about your triggers. Learn how to talk in sound bites. Not easy, but a ‘hooky’ phrase or a simple takeaway will make your content much more shareable.
- Use challenge where it’s appropriate, and make it public. The ALS Challenge worked because the participant had to get a little uncomfortable — albeit for a good cause. And making it public is critical to making your videos, or other content, go viral.
Whatever the format of your content, remember the principles of Contagious when you create some key pieces you want to see shared: emotion, storytelling, being part of a tribe, and that all important trigger.
And then set your site up for sharing, and watch it go…
Thanks for reading and I’d love to know what videos caught your attention and whether you’ve had any of your content ‘go viral’. Let us know on social media…