Do You Really Want A Viral Video?

Today, you hear marketers asking for their ads to go viral. But is that always a good idea? Sure, a viral ad, or one that is shared by a lot of consumers, gets good exposure. But do the viewers always remember the advertiser? Will the video sell more of your product or service? What about ROI? Your viral video could end up being the the most successful ad you’ve ever produced… or it could be the most harmful.

After all, why do you want a viral idea? Surely you have some business goal behind it. You’d like more visitors to your website. You’d like to sell more products. You’d like to change consumer perceptions. Right? But there are plenty of viral ideas out there that are not doing anything but entertaining the people that watch them.

Simply spend some time viewing the commercials that are popular on YouTube. Some of them are brilliant, no doubt. And these are the commercials we all strive for. But you will undoubtedly also see some frightfully terrible commercials with a lot of views. Just read the reviews. The advertiser or ad agency created something that was shocking and out-of-the-box simply to be shocking and out-of-the-box. And people passed it around just to talk about how awful it was.

For instance, there is a commercial on YouTube right now for a credit union with 750,000 hits – but you will see reviews like “the worst commercial ever” or “please tell me this was not an actual commercial.” Surely this was not what the credit union intended.

After all, we should all want our advertising to be so compelling that consumers share it with each other. Where was the mistake? The mistake came when the advertiser decided that “creating a viral video” was their primary goal. It causes creative people and some less strategic advertising agencies to forget about the brand, and forget about a message strategy. Instead, they’re so focused on creating something entertaining that everyone misses the boat.

This same behavior of “entertain at all costs” can be seen in Super Bowl ads and advertising awards shows. Both of these highlight funny, emotional, or outrageous ads… but do not reward advertisers for selling a product or building a brand. Therefore, the advertiser often doesn’t reap any real rewards. Instead, the commercials end up being expensive displays of the self-serving creative team who receives the accolades.

Take the recent Super Bowl ads, for example. You heard plenty of water cooler talk about the “kissing” commercial. But how many actually remembered the name of the advertiser? Once, a campaign for a ballet company won a tremendous amount of local and national advertising awards because of its “creativity.” But the campaign was so outrageous that it offended the ballet’s core membership, and both the agency and Marketing Director were fired.

So how can you tell if an ad is good for your brand? Ideally your product or service will appear in the beginning or middle of a commercial, and not simply appear at the end. Secondly, the humor or story of the ad will revolve around your product or its benefit, making the product synonymous with the ad. And if you have any discomfort, then spend the money to test it before taking an expensive risk.

In the end, there is nothing wrong with your commercial going viral. It’s valuable exposure, great PR, and something we should all aspire to. But that shouldn’t be your primary goal. Your goal should always be a business-oriented one – like building brand awareness, or generating trial of a new product. Then, if you believe your ad meets that goal – and it goes viral – you’ve hit a home run.

Julie Burmeister is the President of The Burmeister Group, an Atlanta advertising agency known for generating outstanding marketing results for small and mid-size companies. The agency has full service capabilities including research, strategy, creative, media buying and more.

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