How to Make a Viral Marketing Video



Creating marketing videos is time-consuming and expensive—and, in the age of the connected consumer, absolutely necessary.

But the last thing you want to do is devote tens of hours to creating a 3-minute video, only to see it garner less than 100 views. You want it to get tens of thousands of views.

You want it to go viral.

And while, despite what some people may say, there is no magic formula that will guarantee that your video goes viral, there are things you can do to make it much more likely.

Let’s dive in.

1. Focus on one clear message.

Before you hire that video production company or hand your iPhone to the intern and ask her to start recording, you’ve got to have a clear idea of the message that you want the video to convey.

“Raise awareness of our company” is too broad. So is “promote our new product.”

You want something incredibly succinct and clear. Take the iconic Dollar Shave Club promotional video:

Their message is right there in the tagline: Their blades are really great. That’s the message this video is sending, and everything that happens within the video points right to that message (with a heavy dose of humor thrown in, of course!).

Sometimes, you’ll know right away what the message is going to be. If you’re running an experiential marketing campaign, it might be, “This is why you should come to X event on X date.”

If you’re conducting a public awareness or education campaign, the message might be “Here’s an explanation of X issue.”

But what if you don’t know what that message is? How do you figure it out?

To start, define your goal. Do you want to target a new demographic? Promote your company? Drive up pre-sales of a new product?

From there, you can start refining and narrowing down the message you want your video to communicate. Keep refining until it feels like you can’t go any further—that’s when you know you’ve got it down.

2. Don’t get controversial.

If you want your video to go viral for the right reasons, it’s best not to get controversial.

As a brand, stepping into a heated public discussion almost always involves more risk than reward. That is, unless your brand is built on risk-taking and specific, immediately recognizable values—and has a crisis-management team on retainer, like Nike with their Colin Kaepernick ad.

However, that doesn’t mean you avoid important issues altogether.

Heineken, for example, made a powerful statement on prejudice and polarization with their campaign Worlds Apart. In the short film, people from differing backgrounds or with deeply differing views work together to build a bar, and in the process discover that they have much more in common than they might think.

It’s not heavy-handed or preachy, and leaves the viewer with positive feelings—positive feelings that, hopefully, will be associated with Heineken.

3. Do get emotional.

The reason storytelling has become so vital for brands in the past 10 or so years is that consumers no longer trust traditional advertising.

They don’t want to be sold to—they want to be entertained, moved, and/or educated. They want something that adds value to their daily lives.

Stories can do that, which is why every brand from Always maxi pads to General Electric is investing heavily in storytelling, whether through podcasts, short films, or experiential marketing campaigns.

Videos, of course, are one of the best vehicles for storytelling and evoking emotion. Take this Navy Exchange video, which shows a father and son going through a year of holidays without their wife and mother, who’s deployed.

Everyone can relate to the emotion of missing a loved one. The video offers a relatable, heartstring-tugging story that puts the characters—not the brand—front and center.

And that brings us to our next piece of advice.

4. Tone down the self-promotion.

Unless you’re going all out with the humor, like Dollar Shave Club did, it’s best to tone down the self-promotion in your videos.

As mentioned earlier, consumers today don’t want to be sold to, and shots of your logo every 30 seconds is going to turn off viewers quickly.

Instead, focus on making the video as authentic to your brand as possible. If you can do that effectively, you won’t need the hard sell.

Here’s a great example of how to do that by Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky:

It’s a 45-second long shot of Nick Offerman, of Parks and Rec fame, sipping Lagavulin in a big leather armchair, while a blazing fire crackles next to him. That’s it. It’s true that a bottle of Lagavulin is sitting on the table next to Offerman—but you can’t read the label.

The focus here is entirely on the ideas or feelings the video evokes: Nostalgia. Masculinity. Warmth. Solidity.

These, of course, are all things that Lagavulin wants people to think when they think of their product.

When creating your video, it can help to start by writing down your brand values. What kinds of stories can you tell that convey those values? What ideas can you address that are tied to those values?

5. Implement a marketing plan around your video—don’t just expect the viewers to show up.

No matter how great your video is, if you don’t promote it, it’s likely to languish online indefinitely, attracting little more than a few views here and there.

Before you launch, create a marketing strategy.

  • What platforms will you share it on?
  • What copy will you use on each platform?
  • Which influencers might be interested in promoting it?
  • Are there any media outlets that you can target?
  • Where will you release it first?

Once you’ve written out your plan, you can start optimizing the video for different platforms, talking to influencers, and creating your timeline for the release and any related social media pushes.

Influencers can be especially helpful if your brand has a smaller social media following. If you don’t have thousands of fans yourself, partnering with an influencer can give you access to that influencer’s following, making it much more likely that your video will go viral.

6. Optimize your video for social sharing.

When a video goes viral, it means that thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of people are sharing it.

So if you’re not optimizing your video for social sharing, you’re making it much more difficult to viewers to share your masterpiece with their friends, which will slow down any momentum.

First, you’ll want to make sure it’s the right size and format. YouTube has a default limit of 15 minutes, though you can extend that up to 12 hours. Instagram videos can be no longer than 60 seconds. Facebook videos can run up to 45 minutes. Each platform also has a format that works best—on Instagram, for example, vertical shots tend to look better than horizontal.

Another good tip is to add captions, especially if you’re posting the video on Facebook. An incredible 85% of Facebook video is watched without sound, so captions can drastically improve your view numbers.

When you’re ready to post, create a branded thumbnail that encapsulates what the video is about. This way, viewers will know exactly what they’re in for when a friend shares it, and they’ll be much more likely to click.

That means including your logo (although not obtrusively), creating a catchy display title, and choosing a clear image from the video.

7. Keep an eye on your analytics.

It can be tempting to place all your emphasis on the number of views your video is getting—after all, that’s an easy vanity metric, and it’s what going viral is all about.

However, paying attention to the other metrics you have access to, like engagement, where your viewers are coming from, where they’re located, at what point they’re clicking away, and more can help you create more videos your fans will love in the future.

Creating a viral video isn’t an easy feat, and there are no guarantees. However, if you follow these tips, your next marketing video will have a much better chance of capturing your audience’s attention and taking the internet by storm.


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