Strategies for Making Video Ads Go Viral

When marketers first threw around the phrase “viral video” like it was a noun a year ago, I laughed out loud. Who’s to decide if a video goes viral? I couldn’t understand how the phrase had found its way next to units like “banner ad” and “pre-roll” on the media planning check list, as if creating a hit video on YouTube was as easy as creating an Eyeblaster unit on Yahoo.

Today, I’m not so quick to laugh. With time, money, and the right strategy, pretty much any video can get click rates that would qualify it as viral. Over the last year, a number of seeding and syndication options have emerged that make it easier for a video or a series of videos to go viral.

Organic Seeding

Although still the largest video network, YouTube has a lot more competition than it did a year ago. That means there are a lot more audiences advertisers can seek out, evaluate, and engage. An organic seeding plan is about finding which communities fit best with your brand, then uploading the video across these multiple networks.

Remember: although uploading to video networks is free, building an organic seeding plan is a lot of work. Advertisers must be at least as smart as a YouTube star. And that means knowing who the key influencers are within each community, building an overall trust, and understanding SEO (define). Don’t be scared to tap into social video enthusiasts within your own agency to seed. They may have already done some of the heavy lifting for you.

Once your brand has an established presence within each community, you can take advantage of free organic seeding tools like TubeMogul and Vidmetrix.

Paid Seeding

Face it, even if you become an expert at organic seeding, the competition is tough. Very rarely is a branded viral video going to take off organically. Some degree of paid seeding is a must if you want to rise above the clutter.

To start, find out what paid placement plans each video network site offers. YouTube will want top dollar, but you’d be surprised how inexpensive some of the smaller sites are. Seeking out new and emerging communities is key. And by sprinkling paid placements around several smaller networks, you’re much more likely to touch key influencers who will spread your video for you.

A second option in paid seeding is to hire an expert. New companies like Kontraband’s The 7th Chamber and Viral Manage are popping up every day. They also offer tiered plans that include viral tracking and blog/forum seeding, which could be more cost effective.


If you’re planning to do more than one video and want to engage an audience over a longer period, there are also both free and paid syndication options available.

For one, if you spend money on a microsite to house your video, make sure to add the various free RSS buttons. Bloggers and vloggers (define) have been doing this for years. Let your viewers decide where and how they want to view your videos.

For another, set aside budget for social network video widgets. While Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo are spearheading the space right now, Google OpenSocial has opened the doors to several social networks, like LinkedIn and Friendster. If your video goes viral, building these widgets is the best way to reach these viewers multiple times.

Lastly, don’t put money into video banners. They don’t allow for the full experience, and you’ll only drive people to your advertising video content. We all know that banners, even video banners, are too easily ignored — especially when you have to turn the sound on! There are better ways to spend money on reaching beyond the major video and social networks. Take a look at syndicating through companies like Broadband Enterprises. It has partnerships with thousands of sites and offers measurement and tracking tools.


At what point does a seeding strategy make a viral video just another form of interruptive advertising? Video communities are savvy and notice when brands become too pushy through paid placement.

Advertisers will always have a difficult time playing in the viral space. People want pure entertainment. Even the most minimally branded videos are often rejected.

Next time, I’ll explore how supporting entertainment with brand utilities is one brand content model that’ll change the face of online advertising and entertainment.

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