TIME Advertising

These Are the Secrets to Making Something Go Viral

Budweiser

“Going viral” is the holy grail for marketers these days. It brings tons of free promotion from the news media and endorsements from individual consumers in the form of Facebook shares and retweets. A new study of this year’s Super Bowl ads offers some broader lessons on what types of commercials people are most likely to share online.

Unruly, a marketing technology company that tracks the virality of ads, followed the online performance of 14 ads that aired during the Super Bowl and surveyed 907 people on their reactions to the ads. The company found that some of the long-held tenets of effective marketing simply aren’t true.

Humor, for instance, is a tough sell unless a commercial can really make viewers bust a gut laughing. The most-shared Super Bowl ad, Budweiser’s “Puppy Love,” drew psychological responses of happiness, warmth and sadness, according to Unruly. The next most-shared spot was another somber Budweiser ad, titled a “A Hero’s Welcome,” about war veterans returning home. Coca-Cola’s “It’s Beautiful,” a serous ad featuring a diverse cast singing “America the Beautiful,” was third. “There’s no point being merely amusing,” Unruly writes in its report. “Choose the psychological responses your video should elicit and work them to the max.” Ads that are able to hit on more than one emotion at once are more likely to be shared.

Celebrities are another oft-used gimmick that aren’t actually effective, according to Unruly. Of the top 12 most-shared Super Bowl ads, only three featured famous faces. Spots featuring huge names like David Beckham, Ellen Degeneres and Stephen Colbert didn’t even crack the top 20 shared commercials. In fact, just 13 of the 100 most shared ads of all time boast celebrities.

Unruly also points to Wednesday as being the best day of the week to post an online ad. The company found that ads reach their viral peak on the second day they’re online, and most ads achieve 25 percent of their total shares within their first three days. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the days when people share videos the most, so a Wednesday release allows an ad to peak in viewership at the same time when people are most likely to share content.

Finally, Unruly found that using a brand prominently in ad doesn’t necessarily deter people from sharing the commercial. Eighty-nine percent of the respondents Unruly surveyed remembered that “Puppy Love,” the Super Bowl’s biggest hit, was an ad for Budweiser. However, only 7 percent realized that Bob Dylan’s two-minute ode to American exceptionalism was actually a pitch for a Chrysler car. “A highly shared ad isn’t enough to make the most of the Super Bowl,” Unruly notes. “For an ad to drive sales, viewers need to recall the brand at the point of purchase.”

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