Chris Jaques
Aug 09, 2012

Chris Jaques' Blog: Advice for viral virgins

If you’re thinking of creating viral content for your brand, think again

Chris Jaques is CEO of M&C Saatchi Asia.
Chris Jaques is CEO of M&C Saatchi Asia.


http://www.campaignasia.comIf you’re thinking of creating viral content for your brand, think again.

It’s a complex business – with high risks, low chances of success, and low rewards even if you do succeed.

From my analysis of the 100 most shared Brand Videos of all time (the most successful of which I summarised inmy last post) there are some fundamental findings – and the conclusions are these:

1. There Are 3 Kinds Of Content That Are Most Commonly Shared:

The most successful viral videos tend to cluster around 3 kinds of content:

a. Humour: VW, TNT and Evian are three of the most shared brand videos in the world, and they are largely pieces of humorous entertainment first and foremost – entertainment into which the brand has been subtly embedded. But their primary purpose is to create effective humour, more than effective brand communication.

b. Humanity: The powerful and popular brand videos for P&G and Budweiser, for example, are deeply emotional messages that connect with the core of genuine human emotion. If you connect that deeply to a universal, communal spirit, it’s no surprise that humans want to share it with each other.

c. Extremity: The amazingly successful videos for DC Shoes and Red Bull are simply extreme feats of human ability that create deep surprise within the viewer. This kind of surprise creates a need to share.

There is one more category, however, that won’t surprise you at all.

That category is ‘Sex’, in all its various permutations, from ‘Agent Provocateur’ to ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’ – and to the most recent Mentos viral campaign in Singapore, for example. The top 100 is packed with it, even though it doesn’t feature in the top 10.

So those clear categories of content dominate the Top 100.

But in terms of HOW those kinds of content are created, there are some fundamental principles that every marketer must embrace if they have the slightest chance of creating successful viral videos:

2. Positive Emotions Achieve Positive Results

There is one fantastic study, which measures the most motivational ingredients behind the most shared viral videos.

It was conducted by Dr Karen Nelson-Field, Dr Erica Riebe and Dr Kellie Newstead at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, based in the University of South Australia, and their three main conclusions are breathtakingly simple:

a) Videos are most shared when they ignite emotions that create ‘High Arousal’ – in psychological terms, this means emotions that create a physiological response, like physical laughter, tears, shock or anger.

b) Videos which create Positive Arousal (laughter, happiness, inspiration etc) have much greater impact on sharing than videos that create negative arousal (shock, sadness etc).

c) Marketers and their Agencies must not simply push their creativity to the limit – they must push beyond the limit. Because High Arousal is only created by extreme stimulus – and extreme stimulus is essential if videos are to go viral.

This is therefore high-risk, for any marketer.

Are you comfortable taking that risk?

3. Brand Affinity Is More Important Than Brand Strategy

None of these most viral videos say anything specific about the brand or the product – they simply create brand affinity.

But brand affinity is about brand essence, not brand message – and each of these videos are brilliantly on-brand.

Are you happy to invest in creative content that is not on-message?

4. Impact Is Everything

In the world of viral video, if it doesn’t get shared it’s wasted. So – unlike with traditional television or digital advertising – impact takes priority over everything.

This requires clients and agencies to think in completely new ways, to throw out their dusty old copies of Ogilvy On Advertising and start learning the new skills of Lady Gaga.

Are you comfortable doing this?

5. But, Even If You Get It Right – The Numbers Are Nothing

Look at the number of total ‘shares’ that have been achieved by the world’s most viral brand videos – the number of ‘shares’ are miniscule.

The most shared Video of all time was shared only 5.5 million times.

That’s across all of Facebook, all of Twitter and all the (non-Chinese) blogosphere.

That’s nothing!

Creating viral content is like Casino Communications: it’s a gamble every time. You never know for sure what’s going to work and what’s not. Even if you follow the rules, you can never guarantee swarms of social sharing. Most attempts fail, and will continue to fail.

Yet, even the rare successes achieve little social success.

The most shared branded viral video that the world has ever known, was shared by only 5.5 million people – the equivalent of only 2.3% of the U.S. adult population.


Does viral make sense?

I’m not denying the fundamental importance of Social Media and Viral Communication for every business. It’s critical. Word of mouth is becoming the single biggest influence affecting the success of almost every B2C brand and business.

But there are some fundamental flaws in Social Media as a medium for customer communication. As I explained in one of my previous posts “Don’t Waste Your Time On Social Media”:

a) The numbers are nonsense

b) Most messages aren’t noticed by anybody

c) Most consumers aren’t interested in connecting with brands on-line

When you add some of the learning that I have described in this post, the challenge becomes even more extreme:

d) Creating content that consumers will share demands extreme communication

e) Extreme communication carries extreme risks

f) Most communication – however extreme – will fail

g) The content which succeeds, will only be shared by a ridiculously small number of people

Are you ready to go viral?

Given the reality of the high risks and low rewards, the desire to go viral only makes sense for a small proportion of brands.

Brands that are targeting youth markets.

Brands that are built on pure popularity, regardless of target audience.

Small brands that simply need a large volume of Word of Mouth to build awareness.

Or brands that enjoy a positioning which demands creative risk-taking.

For the rest, the reality is clear:

Brand Videos go viral by chance, and virality is purely a by-product of creating communications that consumers love.

And love to share.

To read the previous post on Viral Video, which includes the top 10 most viral brand videos of all time, click here.


For more perspectives on Social Media, look at some of my recent posts on Social Media and Social Content.

In the meantime, you can find out more of the latest developments from New Media and New Asia by

The article first appeared on Campaign Asia

Campaign India

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