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Viral video: from art to science

Opinion, 04 March 2010

As part of my digital planning presentation, I'll be sharing some new Millward Brown learning about the creative drivers of viral viewing.

That's because not all ads are hit sensations around the web. 

Some ads currently doing very well on YouTube are:


Old Spice's "Man your man could smell like"

(over 4 million total views)

 

Audi's "Green Police"
(over 2 million)

 

Coke's "Happiness Machine"
(over 1.7 million)

 

Walmart's "Clown"
(over 1.5 million)

 

Our evidence is clear:  these ads are the exception, rather than the rule.  Most ads struggle to achieve anywhere near these viral viewing volumes, and most advertisers will need primarily to rely on paid TV, cinema or online placement to spread their video messages. 

However, video advertising inventory is expensive, so it's unsurprising that advertisers continue to reach for the stars and aim for viral glory, particularly in these recessionary times.

So, what can be learned from ads which generate high viral viewing volumes?  What separates them from the majority of ads which struggle to achieve any significant viral effect?  Do they have any common traits? Are they triggering a particular kind of emotional response?

Based on a comprehensive analysis of over 100 ads where we have Link pre-test findings, I'll be seeking to answer those questions.  Using existing measures from the Link pre-test, we can explain well over half the variation we see in viral performance on YouTube.  I'll be outlining that formula in the presentation. 

The analysis also confirms our previous hypothesis that viral ads should have LEGS (that is, be Laugh out loud funny, Edgy, Gripping or Sexy). Ads that have these properties tend to perform better than the general relationship would predict.

As my colleague Nigel Hollis commented in a recent post on MB-Blog, there's no free lunch when it comes to viral video. Not only do you need a very strong creative idea, but you also need to place the idea widely. 

I'll therefore be discussing some of the non-creative media factors which can influence viral success, including how marketers can use viral seeding and video promotional techniques to optimise their chances of success.

I won't smell of Old Spice and I won't be on a horse, but I look forward to seeing you there.

About the author

Duncan joined Millward Brown after graduation in 1994 where he managed the UK’s first ever test of online advertising impact (in 1997).

Duncan’s next 4 years were spent in the US where a specialist interactive role meant he was heavily involved in online initiatives.

Back in the UK, Duncan joined MB’s Global Innovations team in September 2004. Most recently he has been instrumental in the launch of IDEABLOGTM, an online qual-quant research forum for ideation development. He is also a member of MB’s Futures Group.