The 7 Elements Of Virality


What Branded Videos Need, To Be Shared Over And Over… And Over Again.

Virality should rarely be the primary goal of a branded video.  And virality can never be guaranteed.  But it can mean free advertising, press, and hype leading to insane amounts of awareness and, when executed with exceptional skill, increased sales.

As a video creator that has generated over 150 million branded views, I’ve identified the seven key elements of virality brands can include to increase sharing potential.

1.  Spectacle

Spectacle is something visually impressive about a video, preferably something the audience has never seen before.  It can be as simple as stunning cinematography, but it has to be more than good production values. Most commercials on TV look professional enough, but most also lack true visual spectacle.  If it’s going to add virality, the spectacle has to be spectacular enough to share.  Old Spice’s primary visual spectacle in “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was creating an innovative one-shot that spanned multiple locations; while Sony Bravia used one million bouncy balls captured in slow-mo as they danced down the streets of San Francisco.

2.  Universality

Four of the most successful viral ads ever (Old Spice, Poo-Pourri, Dollar Shave Club, and HelloFlo) marketed hygiene products.  Hygiene is a universal issue, which makes hygiene products relevant to everyone (or almost everyone, like all men or all women).  But when your brand or product is niche in its market or appeal, video ads can make the subject matter relevant to everyone have a better chance of being shared.  “Cause marketing” is an example of brands trying to expand their audience, by expanding their relevance.  Always makes pads and liners, but their #LikeAGirl campaign was about sexism, which is a much bigger issue, and one that men AND women care about.

3.  Reality

News, pranks and stunts all fall into this category.  The basis for their success is that they are real.  If you thought that the people pranked in prank videos were actors instead of real people, it wouldn’t be nearly as funny.  Stunts, like Red Bull’s Space Jump, that are real, are way more interesting than stunts done with visual effects.  Even ones that were staged, scripted and cast can go viral if they are successfully made to appear as though they were real, like Jimmy Kimmel’s “Worst Twerk Fail Ever – Girl Catches Fire” prank or #WorldsToughestJob by CardStore.

4.  Controversy

Videos that stir the pot are more likely to stir discussion, and things that stir discussion are more likely to be shared by individuals and online news outlets alike. While something very controversial isn’t helpful, and probably won’t be shared, brands that aren’t willing to risk upsetting a few people (and a few people will always be upset), will never reap the rewards of a moderate controversy.  This is one reason small brands can still make huge waves online – because big brands are too afraid to take even little risks.  Brands that deal with uncomfortable or taboo issues or subjects are finding the power that a minor controversy can have online.

5.  Humor

Comedy’s not like controversy; moderately funny doesn’t get you a lot.  A video has to be very funny for someone to share it. But if it is truly funny (and hopefully has some other elements of virality to help it along), it can be tremendously viral and have a big impact.  “Girls Don’t Poop,” the ad I wrote and directed for Poo-Pourri tripled annual revenues.  But beware: what one finds funny, another may not find funny at all.  This is why you find broad comedy in most successful viral videos employing humor as the primary viral element.  My agency consistently produces good comedic spots, but even we have had some relative flops.

6.  Emotion

Videos that tug the heartstrings can achieve virality more than funny videos, perhaps because people tend to agree more on what’s touching than on what’s funny.  Emotional videos have been successfully done by brands selling products as mundane as breakfast cereal.  Budweiser’s “Brotherhood” commercial where the Clydesdale chases after its original owner after the parade, and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video are both examples of emotionally powerful, and thus highly shareable, ads.

7.  Bandwagon

Bandwagon means riding the coattails of another successful franchise.  The use of parody and celebrity fall into this category because the video’s success relies on the popularity of something other than the video or brand itself.  Volkswagen’s “The Force” ad, with the kid dressed as Darth Vadar, is an example.  Bandwagon videos can be easy to conceive but can be difficult to execute for legal or financial reasons.

Like elements in the periodic table, rarely are any of these elements used independently from all the others.  For instance, stunts are often both reality and spectacle; most successful videos using humor also have an element of universality; and many using emotion also employ non-actors, giving it a feeling of reality.

Additionally, the mere inclusion of any or even all of these elements doesn’t guarantee any degree of virality.  Rather, it is the creative, skillful and novel use of these elements that inspire people to share them.  So rather than just running with the first concept that includes a bunch of these elements, brands should work with skillful content creators to craft a video that craftily uses these elements of virality.

This article originally appeared in the Social Media Special Edition of Brand Quarterly,
produced in association with Sysomos – click HERE to read the full issue