Make 'em laugh, make 'em weep. Triggering strong emotion is key to video virality, according to Unruly Media - but it's probably better to make 'em weep.
"Our data shows that brands need to elicit a strong viewer response against at least one psychological trigger and multiple social motivations to achieve a high share rate," says Cat Jones, director of product innovation for Unruly Media.
Unruly uses its proprietary technology to help brands and agencies predict the emotional impact of their videos, as well as improving viewing and sharing across paid, owned, and earned media.
Yesterday it released a study of the top 12 most-shared television commercials from Super Bowl XLVII, assessing the factors that impelled people to share them. Unruly looks at 18 different psychological responses (what most folks call "emotions"), from the highs of happiness and exhilaration to the depths of fear and anger. It also measures nine social motivations, including kudos (demonstrating one's authority or knowledge) and wanting one's friends to have the same experience that you had when you watched it.
Warning us that this is a bit of a simplification, Jones explains that the psychological response is the way someone feels when he sees an ad, as well as the intensity of that feeling. Social motivation is the reason they would share the content. "As a rule of thumb, videos that make people feel something really strongly and give people a reason to share will be quite sharable," she says.
The report was compiled using 2,699 survey responses, plus data from the Unruly Viral Video Chart, which tracks the most popular videos on the web; Unruly Analytics; Unruly Media Engagement and Measurement Engine (MEME), a cloud-based platform for social video distribution and tracking; and Unruly ShareRank, which analyzes over 329 billion video views and over 10,000 data points to predict the social impact of video content.
But it's not as simple as picking one from column A and one from column B, as Unruly's analysis of the 2013 Super Bowl ads shows.
For example, Go Daddy's Perfect Match spot ranked eight out of 10 in shares, even though it elicited the strong psychological responses of shock (8.2), disgust (7.8), and surprise (7.2). It fell down when it came to social motivations. While it triggered attention-seeking and shared response, even those were more than 35 percent below average for all Super Bowl spots.
Budweiser's Brotherhood spot, the most-shared spot according to Unruly, achieved a ShareRank score of 7.8 via close to 2.1 million shares. It evoked equal measures of happiness, warmth, and sadness.
What's perhaps more important is that the spot begins with sadness as the trainer says goodbye to the horse and swells into joy at their reunion. Brotherhood may have succeeded because it provide the kind of emotional arc relied upon by novelists and screenwriters.
As a data-crunching company, Unruly wouldn't put it exactly that way, according to Jones. What the algorithm shows is simply that there were these strong responses. She admits, though, "There are certain mechanics or attributes that make it easier for certain psychological responses to be elicited."
There's another important message for creatives in this data: stop trying so hard to be funny.
While funny works as well as any of the other 17 psychological responses, Jones says the key is eliciting an intense enough response. And, after years and years of Lolcats, she says, "Viewers are completely overloaded with funny content that isn't as funny as it could be. It's hard to cut through with that trigger, while other triggers are less used."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.
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