If you make a video advertisement for your business and put it onto YouTube, it may not go viral. But if it does, your business could reach the site’s audience of more than a billion people. If that’s something your business could benefit from, it might help to try to design the ad with help from research on what makes ads go viral.
Researchers from the University of Southern California, University of Houston, and Uber Technologies, Inc. tested five hypotheses about what provokes sharing of video ads across social media.
Based on their studies, they recommend that brands should arouse strong emotion, place brand mentions at the end of the video, keep ads to 60 or 90 seconds, and use authentic characters. To arouse emotions, the researchers suggest making an ad with a captivating plot and a surprising ending. They also should use babies and animals more than celebrities.
“Our findings provide marketing and media managers, advertisers, and copywriters with specific theory-based insights into how to design ads to drive virality,” said Gerard J. Tellis, who co-authored the research with Deborah J. MacInnis, Seshadri Tirunillai, and Yanwei (Wayne) Zhang. “While the old mantra touted exposure, exposure, exposure for brand names, we find that minimal brand exposure, discreet information, and strong emotion are key drivers of virality.”
Key findings of the research:
- Of the ads studied, 10% were not shared at all and more than 50% were shared fewer than 158 times.
- Information appeals have a strong negative effect on sharing except when the advertised item involves risky purchase contexts such as new or high-priced products.
- Ads that evoke positive emotions of inspiration, warmth, amusement, and excitement stimulate strong positive sharing. Despite this fact, only 7% of YouTube ads studied evoked positive emotions. An example is Budweiser’s Puppy Love ad that portrays a warm drama of a puppy that falls in love with a Clydesdale horse, is separated by the owner, and is rescued by the horse.
Ads that use drama, plot, surprise, and characters (such as celebrities, babies, and animals) evoke emotions and induce sharing. Yet only 11% of ads studied used strong drama and only 10% evoked surprise. In addition, 26% of ads featured celebrities, but only 3% used babies and animals, even though the latter are more effective at driving shares.
- Prominent brand placement impairs sharing: Lengthy, early, or intermittent placement of the brand name drives less sharing than late placement. Only 30% of the ads studied used late placement.
- Ads between 1.2 to 1.7 minutes in length are the most shared. However, among the ads we shared, only 25% were between 1.0 and 1.5 minutes. Fifty percent of the ads were shorter than a minute and about 25% were longer than 2.0 minutes.
- Emotional ads are shared more on general platforms (Facebook, Google+ (which shut down in August 2019), and Twitter) than on LinkedIn. The reverse holds for informational ads.
The researchers used two independent field studies that analyzed 11 measures of emotion and more than 60 ad characteristics. The study included 109 brands that were among the top 100 U.S. advertisers in 2012 and additional brands that were historically active on YouTube.
The study, “The Critical Role of Information, Emotion, and Brand Prominence,” is coming in the July issue of the Journal of Marketing.