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Why Your Viral Video Strategy Is a Waste of Time

What have you seen historically in terms of the amount of viral video (or attempts), and which brands have actually had success in going viral?
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What have you seen historically in terms of the amount of viral video (or attempts), and which brands have actually had success in going viral?

Going viral has everything to do with the rate of market adoption of a video, or a collection of videos, that are thematically related as part of a brand campaign. If you define virality as ten times acceleration in viewership between the first week and the fourth week of a campaign, then hardly six percent of all branded video campaigns ever achieve the "going viral" status in a given year. That's not too surprising given the rising noise levels every year. Videos have to work a lot harder these days to rise above the noise than they did just a few years ago.

How does a video going viral benefit a brand advertiser? Do you see any connection between how viral a video is and its impact on the results or outcomes a brand seeks?

At their very core, brands seek consumer attention. In a crowded marketplace, it is getting progressively harder to have a brand's message rise above the noise from competitors. Having consumer attention is necessary, but not sufficient. Brands need their message to clearly register in the minds of relevant audiences to shift brand perception or even persuade consumers to do business with the brand.

While it is easy to focus on the sheer volume of video views, our research has shown that brands that grab a major share of consumers' attention online relative to competition have proven to drive high levels of awareness, persuasion, and sales lift with or without support from traditional media like broadcast TV and print. This is based on research across multiple industry categories like automotive, CPG, beverage, and consumer electronics.

Is there a secret sauce that makes videos capture consumer attention? Does the length of a video or the presence of a celebrity matter in how much people share and talk about a video?

A combination of compelling content and well-planned distribution is necessary for a video campaign to grab a major share of consumer attention and conversation.

With respect to content, consumers are not as drawn to videos involving celebrities with a token endorsement for the brand as to videos that capture celebrities in action doing what they do best, like Jay Z riffing on music titles in advance of his next album or Clint Dempsey with his unique soccer workout routine before the World Cup, or Bobbly Flay whipping up a new salad with organic ingredients. Most importantly, consumers engage more with immersive stories that create anticipation and triumph regardless of celebrity involvement than with content in the form of documentaries or talking heads. Stunts like the Baumgartner space jump also generate a lot of consumer excitement, but the attention is short lived, has one-of-kind appeal, and is not replicable.

Regarding distribution, it is much easier for a brand to become part of a conversation gaining momentum than to create a movement of its own from scratch. It took almost a decade for Dove to build a following around Real Beauty. But once it had, it was much easier for Pantene to bridge itself into the growing momentum around women's empowerment. In either case, given inordinately high noise levels, especially around big public and sports events, paid promotion behind video content has become essential to reach a brand's core target and passionate audiences that can rally behind the brand's message and help it own a major share of the conversation.

Have consumer tastes in branded content changed over the last few years? Do certain types of videos draw more consumer attention than others?

Absolutely. Not too long ago, cheap tricks with cute animals and short skirts were drawing attention from millions of viewers. Today, it is not surprising for Prudential, Ford, or Degree to engage tens of millions of people to think differently about our role in sustainable living, saving for retirement, or US soccer. In short, progressive brands are finding their unique reason for creating video content that engages consumers in meaningful dialog around issues that align well with the brand's core purpose and positioning. I believe this is quite an accomplishment and a clear evolution of the medium.

What can we expect in 2015 when it comes to branded video, any big predictions or insights?

We will hear less about brands asking agencies to make their videos go viral and more about brands wanting to engage consumers in a meaningful dialog with the brand. Branded video content is like the Swiss army knife that can accomplish many different objectives depending on the brand's short and long-term goals. Given the rise of native advertising and the sophistication that comes with programmatic access, targeting and real-time optimization tools, I anticipate a major shift in advertiser interest in content marketing to get consumer attention in 2015.

This post is part of series produced by The Huffington Post for Advertising Week 2014, in conjunction with the Advertising Week conference (New York, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2014). To see all the posts in this series, read here. To learn more about Advertising Week 2014, read here.

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