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No matter how big or small your company may be, a viral video can be an incredible contributor to your success. Take the “Worlds Apart” ad that Heineken posted on YouTube recently, for example. In it, three virtual strangers meet, form connections, and then reconcile political differences over a beer. 

Even though the video tackles topics many advertisers would normally steer clear of — everything from environmental protection to transgender issues — it has received acclaim for its treatment of tough material, as well as more than 12 million views. 

The Essence of Viral

At the core of a viral video, the audience needs to connect with the content enough to pass it on and start the viral cycle. To illustrate, the most shared ad of 2015 was Android’s “Friends Furever,” which featured surprising animal friends, from dogs and monkeys to a baby rhino and a sheep, just hanging out together.

I wish I could tell you exactly what makes a video go viral, but that formula likely changes on a daily basis. In a broad sense, you can always include certain elements such as funny gags, cute animals, or trending topics to give a video the best shot at achieving viral status, but it’s usually something less tangible.

The key is to strike a chord with your audience members that takes them from merely being fans of your video to willing supporters who share it on their own time and want to be associated with it. In addition to connecting with your audience in an honest, unfiltered way, here are a few things to keep in mind in your next attempt at going viral:

1. Visual gags capture attention. 

Audiences today are rather immune to the messages advertisers try to get across. Every second of a video must hold the viewer’s attention, and interesting or outlandish stunts can be a great way to do so. 

The video our company created for Jetpack Aviation, for example, features a guy wearing an actual jetpack flying around the Statue of Liberty. This call-to-funding ad generated a significant number of views.

2. Shock-and-awe tactics work. 

Today’s slick production can leave you wondering whether you just saw an insurance ad or a trailer for the summer’s next big movie. Standing out from this crowd requires an element of shock, whether it’s a physical gag or an unsettling statement — everyone who sees it should remember feeling surprised.

SONDORS’ crowdfunding campaign presents its founder as a visionary seeking to democratize electric car ownership. That outside-of-the-box aspect resonated with viewers, who shared it more than 50,000 times, helping SONDORS raise more than $1 million last year. 

3. Funny = happy. 

Infusing humor into your viral video is a sensible place to start. Funny videos leave your audience entertained and engaged. Not only is there no better spot for potential customers to be in, but they also won’t regret the 30 seconds the video consumed if it makes them laugh.

Gimmicks that surprise and engage users lighten the mood. For example, check out the “no animal testing” angle we took in a short video for Beauty With A Twist shampoo.

4. Invest in sharing. 

If your video has “star quality,” but your brand only has 500 followers on Facebook, you may want to spend a little to boost the video’s chances of ending up in the right hands and being shared widely.

Influencers and microinfluencers can help. Understanding the value of the person sharing a video, Fyre Festival’s organizers enlisted Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid (among other supermodels) to promote the now-infamous event. More than 2 million users have viewed it. 

Major brands spend millions of dollars trying to create viral videos and most flop. To decide what makes the most sense for your brand and video, consider the buyer’s journey and how you can incorporate it to help accomplish your goals.

No matter what type of video you decide to create, include some of the above elements to increase its chances of going viral and providing you with essentially free marketing.

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Daniel Marlow, founder and chief creative officer at Lemonlight Media, has helped brands produce more than 4,000 videos in the past three years. His portfolio includes work from Hyatt, Fila, Wayfair, T.J. Maxx, and countless others. Prior to Lemonlight, Daniel won Best Documentary at the Eureka Springs Film Festival.