Video is taking the world by storm: Cisco predicts that “[global] consumer internet video traffic will be 80 percent of all consumer Internet traffic in 2019, up from 64 percent in 2014.” Businesses that have not yet invested in video need to start now to increase brand awareness and engage consumers.

Marketers agree about digital video’s potential: 41 percent of agencies believe online video is as effective as TV. 31 percent are even more confident and feel online video ads perform better than broadcast commercials.

For marketers, using branded videos is a perfect way to capture consumers’ attention for minutes at a time, instead of fleeting 30-second spots interrupting viewers’ favorite programs. In YouTube’s first ever Top 100 Brand Report, the company found “views of branded content of the top 100 brands have nearly doubled in the last 12 months: Consumers have watched their videos more than 40 [billion] times in total, with over 18 [billion] of those views taking place in the last year.” The popularity of branded content has exploded, and boring brands that ignore video marketing may soon be considered irrelevant.

This article dives into what it takes to produce viral videos, offers examples of the most popular branded content of all-time, and provides tips marketers can follow to create share-worthy videos for their companies.


Breaking down viral videos

On April 14th, 2014, American Greetings published “World’s Toughest Job” on YouTube. Over five days, the clever promotion—in advance of Mother’s Day—generated a whopping 13.8 million views and 1.6 million social shares. The advertising agency behind the viral video, Mullen Lowe, later published a post-mortem about the experience to educate brands about how they, too, can produce media that will be viewed and shared by millions around the world.

Eight lessons from the agency include:

“No guts, no glory.”

Driven by the desire to avoid mediocrity, Mullen scrapped their first, more predictable paid media promotion plan in favor of something riskier. The new plan, the “World’s Toughest Job,” had higher potential and an earned media approach. Realizing how newsworthy the content was, they capitalized on the opportunity to generate powerful media buzz.

Takeaway: For every video you create, spend time thinking critically about how best to distribute and promote it.

“PR has the power.”

By prioritizing public relations, the creative team at Mullen was able to share its story with bloggers, journalists, and, consequently, social media influencers. All those outlets propelled the video to Internet stardom.

Takeaway: Leverage press and influencers to drive social sharing.

“Never underestimate the power of a great headline.”

For the video’s title, Mullen created enough suspense to pique people’s curiosity. This prompted more individuals to click their link, read related press, and open their emails. The agency also made the headline short enough to share easily on character-limited platforms such as Twitter.

Takeaway: Develop a short but sweet headline that entices people to learn more.

“Don’t scream into the wind.”

To avoid competing with other brands for attention during a busy holiday, Mullen launched the video a full month ahead of Mother’s Day. The success of its campaign is a testament to its clever timing.

Takeaway: Do something different when people least expect it.

“The media behaves like people.”

Mullen worked with major media outlets to promote the video. As a result, dozens of others followed suit and published similar reports. 

Takeaway: Target influential publications to earn press.

“A little controversy is a good thing.”

Some argued fathers have a more difficult job in nuclear families. However, a majority of the video’s most vocal viewers agreed with the video’s premise.

Takeaway: Discuss topics that strike an emotional chord.

“People need to feel something to share something.”

The agency realized there were a few frames within the video that would motivate audiences to share it. Those were visible moments of surprise and, later, happiness. As the participants in the videos expressed certain feelings, so did viewers. And that triggered people’s inclination to share the campaign.

Takeaway: Viewers mirror emotions. Show them something worth feeling.

“There is no formula for making something go viral.”

As much as marketers wish there was an easy, one-click solution for authentic video virality, viral marketing is not that simple. Fortunately, businesses can study what other brands have done to go viral and uncover opportunities and patterns that increase their chances of success.

Takeaway: Use best practices to improve video distribution performance.


Video development and production

Online marketing and video production expert Joshua Hardwick recommends brands have a marketing plan in place before launching their next campaign. For a video to go viral, businesses must take an integrated approach to marketing. They have to successfully marry video advertising and content with lead generation, lead nurturing, marketing, and sales efforts. Without an organized strategy across the entire company, even the most viral video will not accomplish its goals.

Real-time marketers pride themselves on capturing organic and spontaneous moments worth sharing. But few brands can commission a team to be on the lookout for fun, heart-felt, or shocking content 24 hours, 7 days a week. Instead, most video campaigns start with an idea, then a storyboard. Depending on your budget, the video can be shot using technology you already have available (smartphone camera, webcam, etc.) or with professional-grade equipment.  

  • Home videos: For budgets under $100, brands may produce videos using a simple webcam or smartphone along with strategic lighting.
  • Prosumer videos: For budgets under $1,000, you can purchase advanced tech to shoot high-quality videos with clear audio, special filters, and editing tools.
  • Professional production: For budgets above $1,000, you can hire actors and a production crew, and rent enterprise-level equipment to shoot flawless video.

Internet phenomena: the world’s most popular branded videos

There is no simple solution for identifying and tracking every branded video on the web. Following is a manually curated list of 15 of the most popular video campaigns.

  1. Activia: La La La (554.4 million views)
  2. Turkish Airlines: Kobe vs. Messi (110.1 million views)
  3. Evian: baby&me (110.4 million views)
  4. Wren: FIRST KISS (105.9 million views)
  5. Nike Football: The Last Game (87.3 million views)
  6. Volvo Trucks: The Epic Split (80.3 million views)
  7. Dove: Real Beauty Sketches (66.1 million views)
  8. 20th Century Fox (Devil’s Due movie): Devil Baby Attack (51.7 million views)
  9. Miami HEAT: Harlem Shake (48.5 million views)
  10. HelloFlo: First Moon Party (32.9 million views)
  11. American Greetings: World's Toughest Job (24.7 million views)
  12. Friskies: Dear Kitten (23.0 million views)
  13. Kmart: Ship My Pants (22.3 million)
  14. Chrome: For Your Little Man (20.9 million views)
  15. Chipotle: The Scarecrow (14.5 million views)

Unfortunately, most brands produce one-hit wonders. After the buzz dies down, they struggle to create new videos that have the same impact. That is because consistency is everything. In 2014, online industry news publication VideoInk ranked the 10 best brands in digital video.

  1. Pepsi
  2. Nike
  3. Disney
  4. Purina
  5. Honda
  6. Always
  7. Marriott
  8. Beats by Dre
  9. Heineken
  10. Activia

A few others worth adding to the list include Apple, GoPro, and RedBull.

For the audiences they target and the types of messages they aim to send, each of these companies has strategies that ensure a majority of their videos generate views, become popular, and perform well. Using a variety of tactics—email, influencer marketing, paid advertising, public relations, and social media—these businesses are often successful at promoting the videos they publish.


The science behind social sharing

A majority of videos go viral as the result of widespread social media exposure.

The New York Times produced a study called “The Psychology of Sharing.” It outlined five reasons why people share things.

  • 49 percent believe sharing adds value, encourages action, entertains, and influences opinions
  • 68 percent share as an extension of self and to demonstrate their personal interests
  • 78 percent want to share stories to maintain and improve relationships with people in their network
  • 69 percent do so to feel fulfilled and connected with the world
  • 84 percent are motivated to promote causes or issues that are important to them

To encourage people to share, the report also advises marketers of five key points:

  • “Appeal to consumers’ motivation to connect with each other—not just with your brand.”
  • “Trust is the cost of entry for getting shared.”
  • “Keep it simple ... and it will get shared … and it won't get muddled.”
  • “Appeal to their sense of humor.”
  • “Embrace a sense of urgency.”

By incorporating these tactics into every branded video you produce, you can also create content consumers will love and tell their friends about.


Final thoughts

The secret to creating a viral video is: There is no secret. Going viral is rare and never guaranteed, but proper understanding of what it takes to develop shareable videos is important. Creating video content is a valuable way to reach out to your audience and connect with potential customers.

Using the lessons learned from Mullen Lowe, plan each video as thoroughly as possible. Marketers must produce branded content that helps their company achieve its short- and long-term goals. With the support of your company, and an organized strategy for peripheral materials and lead generation, your video content will be an asset to your marketing mix.

If you are successful in creating a viral video, congratulations! Now you begin the work of actively converting the awareness you generate into leads, then meaningful revenue and sales. After all, a marketer’s job is exciting and fun, but it must be measurable.

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