Why Do U.K. Videos Always Seem to Go Viral?

Good Seeding Helps, but Ad Execs Chalk Up the Success of 'Eyebrow Dance,' 'Roller Babies' to Old-Fashioned Creativity

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- For more than five months, a minute-long clip featuring a pair of children gyrating their eyebrows to the old-school hip-hop hit "Don't Stop the Rock" has been one of the most popular videos around, racking up millions of views around the internet.

Made by Fallon, London, for Cadbury, "Eyebrow Dance" is one of several odd, soft-selling commercial creations from this side of the Atlantic Ocean now dominating Advertising Age's Viral Video Chart. Its wild popularity, along with that of T-Mobile's "Dance," Evian's "Roller Babies" and Samsung's LED Sheep, begs the question: What makes U.K. ads so infectious?

Given all the discussion around social media these days, it's tempting to chalk up all that success to expertise at seeding the videos in the right channels at the right time. But the answer is a much more traditional one: At the center of all is a strong creative idea, something even the seeding experts acknowledge.

More than just an ad buy
"These campaigns have been massive," said Scott Button, founder and CEO of Unruly Media, which seeded both the T-Mobile and Evian campaigns. "You can buy your way into 1 or 2 million views, but beyond that you need content with an emotional power to connect with the end user. The afterlife is only as good as the content will permit."

It's been generally held within the creative community that British advertisers tend to be edgier and more eager to push envelopes than their American counterparts. But, more recently, the Brits have been successful in crafting ads that engage viewers through other means. Kids and animals figure heavily, as well as collective action that looks nearly impossible to orchestrate, as in T-Mobile's "Dance," which features a cast of dozens stopping their business in a Liverpool train station to dance to a medley of songs. A common reaction to any of these ads is: Is it real? How did they do that?

Chris Willingham, a partner at Fallon, London, said, "All of them are especially engaging, with incredibly broad appeal. Everyone from kids in the playground to grandparents connects with 'Eyebrows,' but where it really excels is the level of interactivity -- there have been hundreds of remixes -- and the ability to re-mash it yourself has kept people involved with the idea."

Most European campaigns virals, even if they are targeted locally, have some impact in the U.S. because of seeding strategies. Toni Smith, managing director of the Viral Factory, which created the Samsung LED Sheep video, said, "A lot of U.K. audiences are happy to go do dot-coms and regularly go to U.S. sites like Break.com, College Humor and StumbleUpon. We do spend quite a lot seeding in the U.S., but I think popularity is down to creativity, not distribution."

'Entertaining and joyful'
Kate Stanners, executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, which created the T-Mobile spot, said, "These virals are all entertaining and joyful -- a bit of fun that makes you feel happier and gives you the sense that it's alright being human."

All four films have a wistful, soft-sell quality that obviously connects with consumers. Jack Wallington, senior program manager at the U.K. Internet Advertising Bureau, said, "The British virals all have our unique, quirky sense of humour, which is incredibly popular internationally -- look at the success of 'The Office,' 'Little Britain' and 'Absolutely Fabulous.'"

Despite the very subtle presence of the brands, these virals can have a big effect on sales: T-Mobile sales in the U.K. are up 25% even in the recession, and "Dance," according to Saatchi creative partner Paul Silburn, has had a big effect sales and on the way people feel about the brand.

Cadbury's sales were already on a 9.7% upward curve thanks to the success of "Gorilla," but accelerated to an 11.4% sales increase after "Eyebrows."

Remi Babinet, founder of Evian's agency BETC Euro RSCG in Paris, said, "The spectacle of the 'Roller Babies' was completely new and the music is also a vital component. Also it's a global time of rebirth and new beginnings. It's optimistic and joyful."

Mr. Wallington also applauds British marketers' willingness to "let the creative mind free." He said, "Whoever sold the idea of a load of sheep in LED coats to the boardroom?"

Mr. Silburn believes the popularity of a video boils down to creating universal appeal. He said, "Early virals tended to be outrageous. They relied on violence or sex to get people to pass them on. Now it's different; people appreciate a feel-good film -- it's just what we need in the grip of a recession."

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