"How can I make a viral ad?" is a frequent question posed to me and my colleagues at Ipsos ASI. But there are a lot of other questions that need consideration when it comes to virality.
I’d love to hear more questions about broader strategies behind virality, especially from a media planning perspective. Certainly, one I think more marketers should also be asking is "can viral make my media plan sick?"
There are a lot of answers to and information about the first question. But before I go any further, I want to define viral.
By viral I (and the rest of us at Ipsos ASI) mean ads that are re-transmitted or shared by members of the general public, and not simply online video views, or views pushed by the advertiser itself.
Essentially, viral ads take on a life of their own. Therein lays the seed of the other questions I think more marketers need to ask, but more on that in a moment.
First things first, what is the biggest driver of an ad going viral? According to research we’ve done in the UK and US, enjoyment, and in particular humour, is the single biggest driver:
Q. What kind of videos do you share?
Source: Ipsos ASI. Base: All respondents (1573) from the UK and USA in October 2010
Although there are subtle differences by age and gender, it is the enjoyment that is at the core.
Undoubtedly, if you can create such content, you have the potential to cast a very wide net indeed.
You need only look to that behemoth Old Spice’s ‘The man your man could smell like’ to understand why viral often gets its own line in the media plan.
But for me at my colleagues at Ipsos ASI, virality is not simply a reach vehicle. Virality can effectively work to benefit the brand, not only through free impressions - who wouldn’t want free impressions - but higher levels of brand engagement, especially if the brand plays an important part in the storyline.
There are some strategies to employ and questions to consider if you are convinced you’ve got content with strong potential to go viral.
In the first place, you should aim for longevity. A one-off will be occluded by the next big thing. But if your overall strategy is led by a great Big Idea (one so big that it deserves capitalisation), you are much more likely to succeed at generating long-term impact on your brand, rather than becoming a flash in the pan.
This means you should not stop with just one ad. Keep the content fresh and engaging with multiple executions, especially with content specifically designed for online so viewers feel like they’re getting something extra and so that you can keep the momentum going.
From a media perspective, consider seeding an ad with a high, unduplicated reach burst.
Consider Yeo Valley’s The Churned ‘Forever’, which aired during X Factor in 2011 (and which was, by the way, a follow-on from the previous year’s rap).
The ad had the hallmarks of a classic viral - it certainly met its target audience amongst the females in my office - but the initial push out there helped it to gain the momentum.
Using TV is one of the most rapid ways to affect this, but is not the only way (eg, driving traffic to your owned assets or to Youtube.com).
This leads me around to the big question I suggested more markets need to ask - can viral make media plans sick? If not properly executed, the answer can be yes. If your ad really demonstrates potential for virality, then let the viral and online shares do the heavy lifting for you.
Certainly, you would do best to weigh the balance of the media plan to reach, rather than frequency. Save your frequency money for other brands and other ads because if an ad is seen with too a high frequency, it runs the risk of higher and faster wear out.
I am defining wear out as the point at which ongoing use of a piece of creative is no longer justified versus a more effective alternative.
Wear out is not just increased irritation or ‘getting tired of seeing’ - although both can be indicators of it - wear out is the point of diminishing return on continued investment.
This distinction is important because people may still like or enjoy your ad but the ad may not be delivering anything further in terms of reception or response or both. And, of course, as I’ve already said, enjoyment is a top driver of virality.
If you’re so fortunate as to have flexibility in your media plan, flex it. If you can trade available slots between brands with similar targets, consider it. This allows for agility in the event that a planned viral goes viral for real.
Even if you don’t have this flexibility, if you let the virality do the hard work, consumers can control the frequency of their viewing.
Online, they can choose to share content but they can also choose not to click on a link or go to YouTube. And that’s the power of viral.
But do have a back-up plan to increase reach of your ad in case it does not go viral. You may even need to spend more. One way is through digital media that offers you the flexibility to buy paid media to drive video views. Another way is to increase the TV spend.
No matter what you do, ensure that your media plan has the opportunity to maximise your content - viral or not - so that it doesn’t make your media plan sick.
Tara Beard-Knowland, director, Ipsos ASI