What do great viral videos have in common?


It’s always fascinating to see smart, unique, and occasionally crazy concepts come to life. Most interesting are those that somehow connect with a brand and really support brand awareness.

Just a couple weeks ago, Ad Age released its Viral Video Chart for the week of April 6, 2009. Here a few of my personal favorites from the complete list:

Besides being funny and eye-catching, what have these videos done right?

They connect in a personal way with our minds and more than grabbing our attention, they create a rush to share them with friends.

However, we can share videos all day long and enjoy happy feelings, but still be left with no connection to any brand in particular. Here is where, I think, great videos differentiate themselves.

The power to make connections

What really makes some of these videos stand out in terms of their marketing objective is how they help viewers intuitively connect the message with the product or brand.

For example, E-Trade jokes that babies could master their product but, within the joke, manages to plant the idea that their product is seriously easy to use. In other words, E-trade’s video overtly displays their product strengths and subtly addresses the anxieties prospective customers might feel about getting involved in the online stock market.

By showing shepherds developing a sheep-borne light show, Samsung engages the “can-do” energies of creative and scientific professionals who will watch the video and simultaneously be amazed and think, “I can top that.” ( Doubt me? I forwarded the email to two performance artist friends and within a day received their email proposals for mobile LED displays based on four-legged, two-legged, and wheeled choreography.)

Furthermore, Samsung’s video showcases the same energy and teamwork that goes into any performance and also points out that their product is tough, versatile, and will perform in difficult conditions.

Engaging viewers is merely the beginning

It is important to have an engaging concept for your viral video. That’s what makes people watch, and more importantly, forward or, even better, stick that link on the ol’ Facebook page.

But it is vital for the success of your campaign to choose a creative concept that makes an intuitive connection with the benefits and advantages of your product, service or offer. Then you’re not only making a video people will pass along, but spreading a brand that viewers will want to remember and reengage with.

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  1. Victor Acosta says

    Interesting post, but I think it doesn’t account one of the most powerful form of participation, the “Remix.” Remixing is inheriently engrained in our culture. Content worth propagating must not only be funny or interesting, but allow for participation in the form of parody IE Cadbury Gorilla out takes, Slap Chop Rap, Billy Mays remix <– search on YouTube. If someone can take something awesome, and add their own flavor of awesome, that’s what builds a true connection and subsequent propagation. I think you begin to touch on this when you state friends challenged to “top that.”

    1. Gaby Diaz says

      You make an excellent point. Thanks, Victor.

  2. Tyler LeCompte says

    Excellent post. I agree that in order to derive brand engagement success that online video campaigns need to address our inherent need to provide “value” to our personal/professional contacts. This is done through allowing consumers to actively participate in the development of online videos, to put their own spin on the brand’s established marketing message. Offering some incentive to the video producer to not only produce, but also market the video and it’s attached brand/message will see the most effective development of brand enthusiasts who directly activate positive word of mouth marketing. Thanks again.

    Twitter: @tylerlecompte

  3. Anna K. Jacobson says

    Hey, Victor. Thanks for the comment.

    Essentially “the Remix” phenomena you’re referring to — and wrote about in the 4/1 post on your blog about the “extreme shepherding LED video” –is what Rudyard Kipling called “the Homeric wink,” the tendency for ideas to build from other ideas.

    In Kipling’s case, Homer doesn’t refer to Homer Simpson but the bard who sang the Greek epic poem The Odyssey and the wink is the gesture of acknowledgment between past and current creators that there’s an exchange of good stuff goin’ down here.

    However, my concern is that limiting the remix to parodic territory is doing the concept (and a lot of content out there and the viewers of that content) a disservice.

    One of the reasons that the extreme shepherding video is so satisfying is because it can be seen as reaching back to the Odyssey, when Odysseus escapes from the Cyclopes’ cave by clinging to the belly of a sheep. Then, as with our 3 minute viral video that somehow gets in Wallace and Grommit, the Mona Lisa, and Pong (encompassing both classical and popular culture), there’s a celebration of human ingenuity and creativity not to mention a nod as to how far we’ve come in terms of civilization. It’s funny and it is awesome but I don’t think it’s a parody.

    Parody critiques an aspect of contemporary culture and encourage change–when it is overused or becomes the only form of discourse, it loses its sting and its power to motivate change. I’m down with making something just because it is fun, or funny, but I worry when parody is seen as the most legitimate, if not the only, form of response. I also think poorly conceived parodies are why so many viral videos feel flat.

    Here’s my question: are viral videos sapping the power of parody?

    Thanks again for sharing–it was a provocative comment.


  4. Mark McKay says

    Great article. You make a great point about choosing a creative concept that is intuitively connected to the product.

  5. Market Research Mama says

    Love your article. I too agree that the more engaging and helpful to the view, the more powerful the viral video is. With all things in marketing, whether it be online or other, the more one can relate, the better and most affective it will be.

    1. Anna Jacobson says

      Thanks for your comment. You make a strong point. One interesting aspect of viral video is that quality becomes apparent very quickly: only if viewers find the videos engaging and helpful do they get passed on. It’s a little like survival of the fittest but in this case being the fittest means being the most helpful.

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