Branded Viral Videos: The Secret Marketing Weapon
It’s clear that viral videos aren’t just low-quality, fan-made shots or off-the-cuff scenes from everyday life. Brands are now fully immersed in the viral video world. Ads continue to move from print and broadcast to digital and mobile, and we are seeing them everywhere.
Brands are now looking to connect with their audiences in a way that not only provides enjoyment to the viewer, but also aligns with the qualities that companies want to embody — what were once brick-and-mortar businesses are now becoming adroit visual storytellers. Many industry experts consider video to be marketing’s new frontier, be it through YouTube or short stories on Instagram, Vine and Snapchat. But creating a successful video is more of an art than a science.
Branded videos spread like wildfire for the same reason non-branded videos go viral: They’re compelling and shareable. And making something that a consumer wants to share — particularly for entertainment value — is critical for success.Videos should prompt people to engage with a brand in a genuine fashion — ultimately, people share viral videos (branded or not) because they’ve stumbled across something they think is worth spreading the word about, regardless of a brand’s ulterior motives. Therein lies the magic: The more views and shares your video receives, the more people you reach, and the more an audience becomes aware of your brand and — potentially — what you stand for.
Why are they effective?
A YouTube video lets brands be more experimental and risky than a TV, print or sidebar ad — just check out Virgin America’s daring ad from last year, which is actually a flight safety video.
Brands can use music and clever techniques to produce something more provocative, more heartbreaking, more electrifying — name an emotion, and video can evoke it. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a video’s worth thousands more.
Branded videos can also be as long as necessary, as opposed to a standard 30- or 60-second TV spot. (Still, some particularly catchy or touching TV ads go viral of their own accord once posted online.)
The sky’s the limit in terms of how a brand makes a video memorable. Many bank on humor, and others, heart. Most videos align themselves with positive messages (Feminism! Power! Quality! Organic goodness!) rather than contesting negative ones. Some do both.
In September 2013, Chipotle released a short film entitled “The Scarecrow.” Its emotionally appealing combination of sad, stop-motion critters and a dynamic message that tugged at our heartstrings feels like a kid-friendly Pixar short. The brand recruited Fiona Apple to sing a haunting rendition of “Pure Imagination,” knowingly tapping into her personal fanbase. Above all, the video re-aligns the company with a message Chipotle has long been promoting — “Food with Integrity.”
At more than three minutes, “The Scarecrow” is longer than most viral videos. But the poignant mini-film is so powerful that it’s not only shareable, but also almost — almost — makes us forget about the brand’s fake Twitter-hacking fiasco just a few months prior. If Chipotle released the video to counter its PR debacle, it worked.
People aren’t fooled — they know Chipotle is a money-making corporation — but they’ve become fans of the brand because it stands for something greater than simply chicken burritos.
Brand visibility and timing
Some of the most outstanding content that brands are publishing trends toward lightly (rather than overtly) branded videos — instead of focusing on self-promotion, brands ensure their videos have appeal; the promotion and brand affinity comes later. Consider that most ads only reveal their brand affiliation at the end, rather than pulsing the brand throughout. Sometimes viewers might not even realize they’re watching a branded video until the final frame — and if viewers make it to the end, like what they see and, upon seeing the brand’s name, are pleasantly surprised — that’s a win.
When it comes to launch style, there’s a spectrum of options. Some videos, such as Red Bull’s 2012 supersonic freefall by Felix Baumgartner, are hyped up through social media far in advance. (In this particular case, this method makes sense, as the brand was looking to break a world record and garner support and attention.) At the other end of the spectrum, some brands release a video online without disclosing who or what produced it or the brand’s intent. A recent example is clothing company WREN’s video “First Kiss,” which many viewers initially believed to be a short film. There’s also the approach of the follow-up “making-of” video, as Kuka Robotics experimented with after releasing “The Duel: Timo Boll vs. KUKA Robot.”
Perhaps the most popular examples of “brand withholding” are the prank videos from Jimmy Kimmel, such as the recent “Worst Twerk Fail Ever” and “Epic #SochiFail: Wolf in my hall.” These types of buzzworthy videos get everyone talking and promote Kimmel’s personal brand — and he (mostly) gets away with it due to the nature of his profession. (Though there has been some backlash.)
This approach can be risky for branded content — if a brand doesn’t immediately disclose that it’s behind a viral video, people may feel as if the company was disingenuous, or even feel resentful for being tricked into thinking something was real when it was actually staged. Knowing the risks, it’s up to the brand to predict how viewers will respond.
All-in-all, there are a number of strategies brands can employ when it comes to approaching branded viral videos. Yes, shelling out to make a video can be time-consuming and quite costly, but that’s not always the case — HelloFlo’s Camp Gyno video was created for just $6,000.
Short- and long-term implications
There’s always the chance that even after all those dollars and hours spent on production, a video will flop. Or maybe it’ll go “viral,” but those hits won’t translate to financial success or retail performance. But visual storytelling can help your organization stay relevant in ways that cannot be measured, and the trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
Better start storyboarding.
By Sarah Ang
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