Marketing 4 min read

New Study Reveals the Secret Behind Viral YouTube Ads

Alexey Boldin /

Alexey Boldin /

In a recent publication in the Journal of Marketing, researchers at the University of Southern California, University of Houston, and Uber Technologies revealed how to create viral YouTube ads. It begins with a basic understanding of human emotions.

Past studies show that emotional events not only create powerful memories in our minds, but it also motivates us to take action. When applied correctly in advertising, our emotions can drive us to make expensive – sometimes unnecessary – purchases.

In the words of 2002 Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, Dr. Daniel Kahneman:

“The more emotional an event is, the less sensible people are.”

As such, people are more likely to share any content that’s both arousing and positive. This is the key to making an ad go viral.

There’s just one thing; how do you create a content that arouses emotions?

Researchers Gerard Tellis, Deborah MacInnis, Seshadri Tirunillai, and Yanwei Zhang provided the answer in their recent study.

5 Essentials To Create Viral YouTube Ads

The researchers considered five hypotheses to understand what drives the sharing of video ads across social media.

Then, they used two independent field studies, which analyze about 60 ad characteristics and 11 measures of emotions. Alongside historically active brands on YouTube, the study also included 109 brands that made the list of top 100 US advertisers in 2012.

Here are the findings.

Information Appeal Doesn’t Work

The researchers noted that 10 percent of the analyzed ads were not shared at all. Although viewers shared about 50 percent of the ads, it was less than 158 times most of the time. Here is why.

The findings reveal that information appeals have a strong negative effect on sharing. In other words, it’s a bad idea to stuff your ads full of information that does not tug on the viewers’ heartstrings.

But, there’s an exception.

Information appeal seems to work better when the advertised item involves a risky purchase. Examples include expensive or new products.

Yes to Ads That Evoke Positive Emotions

Several studies already show how much viewers love ads that evoke positive emotions of inspiration. People generally like to share amusement, warmth, and excitement.

Despite this fact, the researchers noted that only about 7 percent of the studied YouTube ads evoke these positive emotions.

Create a Drama

This is another way to create viral YouTube ads. According to the analysis, advertisements that use intense drama, which include plot, surprises, and characters evoke emotions – and as a result, sharing.

The characters are critical. As it turns out, viewers are more aroused when ad drama features, animals, celebrities, or even babies.

Unfortunately, YouTube advertisers have not harnessed the power of a good drama.

About 11 percent of the ads used intense drama, and of this number, only 10 percent evoked surprise. While 26 percent featured celebrities in their ad, babies, and animals were present in only 3 percent.

Yet, studies show that the latter is more effective at increasing social media shares.

So, you can’t get Robert Downey JR to feature in your ad, don’t sweat it. A cute little puppy should do the trick.

Prominent Brand Placement Impairs Sharing

Placing your brand name at the beginning of a YouTube ad is a bad idea. The study shows that viewers tend to avoid sharing videos with lengthy, early, or intermittent placement of brand name.

Late brand placement is golden!

The video length matters too. Viewers share ads that are longer than 2 minutes, 25 percent of the time. On the other hand, fifty percent of shared ads are usually shorter than a minute.

Know Your Target Platforms

Not only can emotional ads go viral on YouTube, but it could work on other platforms too. These include Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

But, for LinkedIn, the researchers noted that informational advertisement is more effective.

That means, if your ad is emotional, target the general social media platforms. However, if you’re going for information appeal, then LinkedIn is perfect for you.

To Wrap Up

According to researcher Gerard Tellis, the findings provide advertisement experts with specific theory-based insight into how to create viral YouTube ads, including ads for other social media platforms.

Speaking on the project, Tellis said:

“While the old mantra touted exposure, exposure, exposure for brand names, we find that minimal brand exposure, discreet information, and strong emotion are key drivers of virality.”

Read More: Top YouTube Channels For Improving Your Skills

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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