Phil Towend
Dec 26, 2013

The seven most significant social video trends of 2013

What do moonwalking ponies, funky chickens and Wednesday-loving camels all have in common?

Three: Ad featuring Shetland pony proved popular over 2013
Three: Ad featuring Shetland pony proved popular over 2013


It may sound like the start of the strangest joke in the world, but they have all played their part in probably the most exciting chapter in the history of social video advertising. OK, I concede that it may sound like a bold statement but there is no doubt that 2013 has been a watershed year for brands using social video.

Sure, over the last 12 months we have seen some extraordinary campaigns. From Dove smashing all kinds of records with its "Real Beauty Sketches"video to Kmart suddenly becoming cool thanks to the kind of joke that would not look out of place on an 11-year-old’s social media page, it’s certainly been an incredible year for ads.

But just looking at some of the standout social video stars that captured the hearts of web users across the planet provides only half of the picture. During 2013, we have also seen trends that will shape social video marketing for years to come.

So which were the most significant trends? Read on for Unruly’s picks:

1. Sharing at the top of the agenda

There was a time when the only metric that mattered to an advertiser was seeing the YouTube view count ticking up. But those days are long gone.

Marketers are increasingly challenging the value of a view and instead are focusing on creating content and distribution strategies which drive deeper levels of engagement, such as sharing, data capture or online purchases.

At the start of the year, Jim Farley, CMO of Ford, said: "In social, we learned how important content generation is. We didn’t understand how much content we need to produce. That’s the currency of the social experience….You have to have great shareable content, which isn’t easy to produce….But you can’t do it by content alone. You have to have paid advertising."

In the kingdom of content marketing, shares are the currency of social success and a must-have KPI for any authentically social campaign. For leading brand marketers, discovering how to create and distribute highly shareable content, repeatedly and at scale is now at the top of their wish list. But don’t just take our word for it.

The desire for sharing success was reflected in the quality of branded video produced in 2013, with brands growing their investment in social content and more people than ever before sharing branded videos in 2013.

Go back to 2011 and the top 10 ads generated 16.9m shares between them. In 2012 that rose significantly to 19m.

But 2013 has seen an even bigger jump, with the top ads so far generating 28.8m shares between them - a year-on-year increase of 52.1% from 2012 - a signal that consumers’ media consumption habits are continuing to evolve rapidly.

2.  The rise of short-form video content

Some media, such as tweets or photos, are naturally quicker to create than others. Video, on the other hand, has traditionally been a slower medium, with longer lead-in times.

However, the arrival of short-form content platforms changed this in 2013 and presents brands with an excellent opportunity to create and distribute video in real-time, without the production lead-in times and expenses usually associated with longer form video content.

Though this micro-medium only burst into the mainstream with Vine’s launch in January, intense press coverage around rival Instagram Video and a slew of viral hits have helped propel the format even further into the zeitgeist. So much so that Vine and Instagram now boast around 200 million users between them, while a recent Unruly study found that nine tweets containing Vine links are now tweeted every second.

Of course, advertisers have been quick to follow this surging trend in ‘sugar cube content’, with 40% of the top 1,000 Instagram videos coming from brands.

There are several important micro-trends associated with branded content on short-form content. Brevity has made product teases cool again, with fashion houses like Burberry releasing sneak-peeks of its collections and USA Today teasing tomorrow’s headlines.

Anyone who’s been on Vine will have also noted how stop-motion animation has thrived on the format. Never far behind, brands like Lowe’s and French Connection have jumped on this trend, producing some of the most inventive and shareable branded Vines around.

It means brands are looking way beyond YouTube to distribute their campaigns. Consumers have never had more choice about where they can discover and enjoy video content, which has opened up vast new opportunities for advertisers.

3. Mobile video engagement rates explode

2013 is the year that saw mobile engagement rates explode. Looking at Unruly’s campaigns, click-through-rates (CTR) on smartphones and tablets have more than tripled over the past four quarters. In fact, the current average CTR for mobile campaigns (13.64%) is almost three times that of desktop (5.45%). Interaction rates also exploded this year - up to 22.64%, more than double (105.63%) what it was at the end of 2012.

Unsurprisingly, ad budgets have followed. According to the IAB UK, mobile video ad spend in the UK has increased by 1,260% over the last 12 months. Across the Atlantic it’s a similar picture, with digital video spend increasing by 24% and mobile ad revenues jumping 145% from the same period a year ago in the US.

Why? Well, the obvious answer is greater smartphone penetration, supported by the roll-out of various 4G networks across a number of territories. But it’s also because the format is so immersive. Viewers are highly engaged when they are consuming content on their mobile devices, unlike more traditional formats such as TV. Mobile and tablet users are also 3x as likely to view a video as laptop users (Pew Internet).

4. Video at the speed of social

Content marketing was a huge growth area in 2013 - with 78% of CMOs now believing that creating their own custom content is the future of marketing (Yahoo).

With marketers increasingly expected to create content on the fly, responding in real time to new data, surging trends, current news events and consumer feedback, we have seen brands almost become newsrooms in their own right, increasingly interested in discovering trending content they can share with their social followers.

As brands strive to respond as quickly as possible to trending content, aided by the emergence of short form video formats, in 2013 we have seen more and more advertisers up their attempts to insert themselves into the conversations in real-time.

One example of this was the number of brands doing their own versions of the"Harlem Shake".  Many called it the natural successor to "Gangnam Style", but what really made this dancing meme stand out from any other was the sheer number and speed with which the parodies were pumped out. In fact, you almost felt like you had missed out if your office, sports club or group of friends hadn’t donned the helmet and danced around like loons - and brands were no exception.

But such a fast and furious approach to marketing has not been without its pitfalls. For example, American Apparel and Urban Outfitters both created campaigns around Hurricane Sandy that were slated for being exploitative.

5. "Prankverts"

Looking at some of the most prominent social video campaigns of 2013, you would think the advertising world has been overrun by an elite cabal of sadists and school bullies.

That’s because one the most prominent trends has been the emergence of "prankvertising" - a term first coined to describe a rash of online campaigns in which brands play jokes on supposedly unsuspecting members of the public.

It’s not a new trend. In fact, Carlsberg scored a huge hit with its brilliant"Carlsberg Bikers" back in 2011.

But in 2013, whether it was staging mock murders in elevators (Dead Man Down), terrifying people in toilets (Department of Transport’s - Pub Loo Shocker), scaring the life out of car salesman (Pepsi’s Test Drive) or trying to convince people the world is about to end (LG’s Meteor Strike), it seems the gloves definitely came off.

6. Music video or ad?

Is the line between advertising and music videos becoming a lot more blurred? Judging by some of the campaigns we saw in 2013, it’s a question that could well be asked a lot more in the coming months.

Of course, product placements are nothing new. From shameless movie sequences to stars being 'caught' with shopping bags by paps, we have all seen celebs flaunt their supposed tastes in fashion, mobiles and cars for extra cash over the years.

But lately it's noticeable we are seeing more and more videos which could arguably be identified as both a music video and a full-blown ad.

Notable examples include Beyonce’s video for H&M, Lady Gaga’s partnership with Kia’s famous Hamsters, Italian singer Arianna and rapper Pitbull’s music video for ‘The FIAT Song’ and Volvo’s brilliant partnership with Swedish House Mafia.

If you think about it, it’s the next logical step for advertisers looking to engage the social web.

7. Exhilaration picks up pace

In her recent book The Science of Sharing, Dr Karen Nelson-Field, of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, bemoaned the lack of brands using exhilaration as the emotional hook for the video campaigns.

After all, explained Karen, it’s the emotion that is most likely (65%) to help cut through the clutter and help your viewers recall your message. Hilarity, the most overused emotional trigger, is the second, with 51% recall.

However, towards the back end of 2013 we started to see a lot more examples of brands, such as GoPro, Ford, Red Bull and Volvo, not only embracing this emotion, but using it as the main focus of their video campaigns.

This highlights the importance of brands making shareable content for a reason. It’s not just about racking up a huge number of views among new potential customers. It is about being remembered, favoured and bought because of it.

Going into 2014, this trend will only get stronger as the world’s gaze falls upon Brazil for the World Cup. When we trained Unruly’s algorithmic tool to predict viral success in the Brazilian market, we discovered that exhilaration was the most effective emotional trigger in the Latin American country,  more effective than humour, which is the most popular emotional sharing trigger in the US and UK.

The article first appeared on

Campaign India

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