How to create a viral YouTube ad, according to new marketing research

An image to illustrate a viral youtube ad for marketing
© iStock/hocus-focus

Researchers from the University of Southern California, University of Houston, and Uber Technologies, Inc. published a new paper in the Journal of Marketing about the best strategies for creating a viral YouTube ad.

The researchers found that to create a viral YouTube ad, brands should arouse strong emotions in the viewer, place brand mentions at the end of the video, keep the video to a moderate length of up to 1.5 minutes, and use authentic characters. Captivating plots, suprising endings, and the use of babies and animals instead of celebrities, were all found to be characteristics of adverts that went viral on YouTube.

Below is an example of a viral YouTube advert. The Gillette advert addresses the #MeToo movement and caused some controversy on social media.

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The value of YouTube for brand marketing

The American Marketing Association say that brands value YouTube because of the opportunity to reach over one billion unique users who watch over one billion hours of video per day, in a low-cost, flexible sharing platform.

Statistics about the appealing elements of viral YouTube ads

According to the American Marketing Association, the findings include:

    • Of the ads studied, over 50% were shared fewer than 158 times;
    • Information appeals have a strong negative effect on sharing unless the advertised item is a purchase associated with risk, such as high priced products;
    • Only 7% of YouTube ads studied evoked positive emotions;
    • Only 11% of ads studied used strong drama and only 10% evoked surprise;
    • While 26% of ads featured celebrities, only 3% used babies and animals, even though the latter are more effective at creating a viral YouTube ad; and
    • Lengthy, early, or intermittent placement of the brand name drives less sharing than late placement.

One of the study authors, Gerard J Tellis, explained: “Our findings provide marketing and media managers, advertisers, and copywriters with specific theory-based insights into how to design ads to drive virality. While the old mantra touted exposure, exposure, exposure for brand names, we find that minimal brand exposure, discreet information, and strong emotion are key drivers of virality.”

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