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Digital How-to

Digital Marketing Guide: How to Make Your Branded Video Go Truly Viral

Published on . 4

A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

Is Old Spice the brand your viral video could look like?

Ever since Wieden & Kennedy's body-wash campaign for Procter & Gamble became a viral sensation with millions of views, hundreds of response videos and a bump in product sales, brands have been clamoring to find their own Isaiah Mustafa success story. But to do that in 2011, it requires a lot more than just a sexy spokesman and a catchy tagline. Here are 10 tips for making your branded video truly go viral.

1. Start with a goal for your brand. Too often, marketers or agencies come up with cool ideas or concepts that have little to no connection to their brand or product offering. Dan Greenberg, CEO of video-distribution company Sharethrough, said he asks clients to write themselves a "postcard from the future" before releasing each viral video, detailing what they hope consumers will say about their video once it's been shared, e.g. "That was really funny" or "I had no idea that product actually did that."

Built to last: Ikea's 'Easy to Assemble'
Built to last: Ikea's 'Easy to Assemble'

"You'd be surprised by how often the creative director doesn't have an immediate answer to that question," he said. "It makes them think really hard about content that's truly shareable."

2. Pick a creative concept that's going to grab attention. Jonathan Small, senior VP-editorial at Break Media, said the four types of videos that tend to strike a chord with Break's audience of young males can broadly be categorized as "funny," "sexy," "wow" and "ow." Of course, only the Funny and the Wow tend to be the most ad-friendly. Being topical helps, too. "If it's timed to a recent event and it's relevant to the audience you're trying to target , you're more likely to get views pretty quickly," Mr. Small said.

3. Encourage engagement. The most successful viral campaigns are those where fans create their own brand-inspired videos. Old Spice's "Responses" campaign has amassed 80 million views from aggregate consumer-generated parodies and clips. Revlon's Mitchum deodorant learned this over the past summer when it teamed up with Creative Artists Agency and Brett Ratner Brands for a contest to find the hardest-working person in America, a theme tied to the brand's positioning as the hardest-working deodorant. A YouTube contest caught the unsolicited attention of "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe, who submitted a nominee and helped the campaign attract more than 150 submissions and more than 3 million views. Mitchum saw sales reach a two-year high as a result. "We wanted to create a natural environment, but there were some things that were deliberate in terms of creating certain tools so consumers could create their own videos and help get the content in front of the right people," CAA Marketing Co-Head David Messinger said.

4. Go easy on the branding. Josh Warner, CEO of video-seeding firm Feed Company, said a new kind of "engagement capital" has emerged with viral marketing in which different levels of branding tend to work better than others. Lightly branded videos that function as standalone content were found to be four times more effective than heavily branded videos and 10 times more effective than clips with a call to action. "The minute you put a brand upfront in the video with a lot of brand mentions, it turns from being an entertaining piece of content to 'I'm giving you a product,'" Mr. Warner said.

5. If you do use heavy branding, use it wisely. Ford Motor Co. wanted to communicate the unique features of its 2011 Ford Fiesta, such as ambient lighting and push-button-start ignition. Rather than film the standard product-demo videos for its micro-site, Ford tapped social-media influencers on Twitter and YouTube to do the product demos for it. "People in general can be distrustful of viral videos from large companies; they see it just as marketing. If it comes from somebody socially vibrant, then it becomes something relevant to their own life," said Jonathan Beebe, Ford's digital marketing manager.

6. The more the merrier. When it comes to branded videos, one is not enough. In some instances, brands will sponsor entire web series and enlist scripted talent such as actress Illeana Douglas (Ikea's "Easy to Assemble") or reality stars like chef Paula Deen (Kraft's "Real Women of Philadelphia" contest for Philadelphia Cream Cheese) for their online content. Other brands such as Evian will create alternate viral clips featuring popular characters (in a recent case, the Evian babies) and use alternate footage and cast interviews to boost impressions for the campaign at large. "You don't get a ton of views anymore by just letting the original asset work on its own. Related assets and behind-the-scenes clips will drive crucial additional viewership," said Matt Fiorentino, a senior marketing analyst at web-analytics firm Visible Measures.

7. Celebrities don't guarantee views. While having a household name can certainly boost awareness and even search results, it's not the end-game to securing viral success. However, an Ashton Kutcher or a Seth Green might be more likely to find an audience than, say, a Jennifer Aniston. "Celebrities who have an audience that's active online and have made a commitment to online see a lot more activity than those celebrities that exist more offline than online," Feed Company's Mr. Warner said.

8. Network, network, network. Using every social-media platform available from Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon and MetaCafe is a given. But leveraging relationships with key bloggers, press and online personalities is the secret sauce to a hit campaign with lots of earned media. Ford and Team Detroit, for example, hired YouTube star Brittany Taylor to help compare the Ford Fiesta to a Lamborghini, and gained more than 800,000 views on YouTube alone by tapping into her subscribers and Twitter followers. Although Ford bought a little bit of paid search around the videos, Mr. Beebe said the organic traffic ended up outperforming some of the company's own recent paid campaigns.

9. Use paid media strategically. Although "organic" and "earned" views are still the ultimate gauges of viral success, most brands need to have some proof of audience. Some companies and ad networks are working with marketers to buy video banner ads on key sites that are likely to encourage sharing after the fact. Rates vary, but $100,000 can often buy 1 million paid views on cherry-picked key sites such as Metacafe, Daily Motion and CollegeHumor, while ad networks can often guarantee 1 million paid views in the $10,000 to $20,000 range. "If your strategy is just editorial outreach and it doesn't work out for whatever reason, it's tough to be the vendor in that position if you didn't get views," Sharethrough's Mr. Greenberg said. "But if you buy 1 million views, sometimes the content is so compelling you maximize the sharing and it turns into 4 million or 5 million views."

10. Don't underestimate Facebook. Many publishers are finding Facebook is becoming the dominant place for off-channel views, as sharing and embedding clips achieves critical mass. "Six months ago it was still a lot about sites like Digg and Huffington Post. But now a lot of our traffic is coming from Facebook directly. It's almost like its own separate internet," Break's Mr. Small said. "We're working with our team to write headlines that work better on Facebook, because the way a video might be played on our homepage is different than something people would want to share on Facebook."

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly credited Feed Company as the creative agency for Ford's "Ford Fiesta Vs. Lamborghini" viral campaign. Team Detroit was the creative agency and Feed Company seeded the video. Also, a quote from Josh Warner in "Go easy on the branding" was incorrectly attributed to Dan Greenberg.

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