So Do You Think You Can Go Viral?

“How do I make a video go viral?” is one of the most frequently asked questions I get. The geeky answer I like to give is that if there was an easy recipe to go viral, it would self-adjust and change itself in the moment it becomes common knowledge. That normally earns me a few bad stares, before I manage to re-gain some points by sharing some tips on how to actually drive social amplification (more to come on this in my next blog posts).

The question I don’t get very often is: “What are the risks of going viral?”. Ads that go viral make marketers look good and creatives win prizes, so they are seen as a good thing. And indeed they are, provided that leveraging social amplification is part of a well thought-through strategy.

So before focusing your efforts on making your video ads go viral, here are five potential challenges you should equip yourself to face.

  1. Large part of the earned media might not be “on target”

This is a common source of skepticism for brand marketers when looking at the amount of earned media gained from video ads. Viral videos generally reach a broad and heterogeneous audience. This is great if you want to expand your customer base, and even better if your audience is very broad and you don’t care much about targeting in the first place (e.g. for retailers and many consumer goods categories). You will also get value from social amplification in the form of PR (e.g. offline news coverage, prizes, etc). However, if your target audience is very specific (e.g. niche categories), all the earn media from social amplification might not be as valuable

  1. Virality per se doesn’t drive impact on brand metrics

This is the most important point. Getting your video ad to go viral shouldn’t be prioritized over the very objective of your marketing investments: uplift in brand metrics across the funnel. Clearly, videos don’t go viral just because your shampoo gives more silky hair or because your car has better acceleration. On the other side, millions of video views won’t do much to your brand metrics if viewers can’t recognize your brand or product in it. Finding the right balance is key: driving social amplification requires giving people a reason to talk about your video. At the same time, driving your brand metrics requires increasing mental availability of your distinctive brand assets (brand imagery, logo, etc). A recent example of a video ad striking the right balance between these two aspects is “The Other Side” by Honda

  1. Audience participation drives virality… And many other things

When they refer to virality, what many marketers really have in mind is lots of earned media, and more specifically the amount of free views they will get for each paid view (in jargon this is called “earned to paid ratio”). However, social amplification comes in other forms as well, and these can’t be unbundled. For example, people will comment about your video on social media, in positive and negative ways: what is ‘cute’ for some people will be ‘cheesy’ for others, ‘purposeful’ or ‘manipulative’ depending on opinions, and you will never get only positive comments. Audience participation also means that users will upload their own ‘versions’ of your video ad. For example, First Kiss certainly earned a lot of earned media, but have you tried to search for “First Kiss spoof” on YouTube?

Don’t get me wrong: I love social amplification, it’s a very powerful tool and creates tremendous opportunities for advertisers. However, as a marketer, you need to accept that brand building will become a two-ways conversation with your audience, and equip yourself to engage in such conversation with full transparency. Many brands have made this shift successfully. An example I admire is McDonald’s Canada, addressing on a YouTube channel the questions that consumers post on a dedicated website. Another example (more dated) comes from Bodyforms, which created a specific video ad only to respond to a not so positive post on their Facebook page.

  1. Spreading an idea will make your brand accountable for it

Crafting inspiring stories has been an effective way to drive social amplification. In a world where diversification has become more challenging to achieve, it is common opinion that brands should have a purpose to engage with consumers at emotional level. From Nike (“just do it”) to Dove (“real beauty”), many brands have shared that purpose, and have been rewarded with higher level of loyalty. I do believe that brands can represent good values and be a force for good; however, they also become accountable for the same values they represent. So if you are a marketer in a food company and think that your brand might stand for ‘healthy nutrition’, you’d better make sure that the ingredients used in your manufacturing department are actually healthy. Giving a purpose to your brand is much more than a marketing gimmick, it’s a philosophy that the entire company needs to embrace.

  1. How sustainable is virality?

Finally, a problem with virality is that it generally happens in really short amounts of time, and fades quickly just days after. If executed well, a viral video will boost your brand metrics, but how will you sustain that effect over time? For example, if you hire a celebrity to increase the odds that your video will go viral, will you have deep enough pockets to continue that strategy? In many cases the answer might be yes (look at Turkish Airlines, they hired two celebrities, and then did it again, and piled up almost 250M views in total), but it does take commitment. Or if you leverage a novel idea or theme to get social amplification, you need to plan how you will you maintain that theme fresh and sustain your audience’s interest over time.

In summary, social amplification remains a very powerful lever for marketers to achieve great ROI and build deeper connection with consumers. The question remains: are you ready for it? I am, so share your opinion and share this blog post! 🙂

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