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New study finds the key drivers of a viral YouTube ad

Rank Videos on YouTube 444According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California, University of Houston, and Uber Technologies, Inc, strong emotion, discreet information, and minimal brand exposure are key drivers of a YouTube ad’s virality.

The study in the July issue of the Journal of Marketing titled “The Critical Role of Information, Emotion, and Brand Prominence,” tested five theoretically derived hypotheses about what drives video ad sharing across multiple social media platforms.

The five hypothesis were tested using two independent field studies that analyzed 11 emotions and over 60 ad characteristics.

A total of 109 brands that were among the top 100 US advertisers in 2012 were included in the study as well as other brands that have been historically active on YouTube.

The researchers found that 10% of the ads studied were not shared at all and over half were shared fewer than 158 times.

What type of ads were found to induce sharing?

  • Ads between 1.2 to 1.7 minutes in length.
  • Ads that use drama, plot, surprise, and characters (such as celebrities, babies, and animals) to evoke emotions.
  • Ads that evoke positive emotions of inspiration, warmth, amusement, and excitement.

When it comes to brand placement. The researchers found that prominent brand placement impairs sharing, with length, early, or intermittent placement of the brand name driving less sharing than late placement.

“Our findings provide marketing and media managers, advertisers, and copywriters with specific theory-based insights into how to design ads to drive virality,” says Tellis. “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.”


Journal Citation

“What Drives Virality (Sharing) of Online Digital Content? The Critical Role of Information, Emotion, and Brand Prominence”
Gerard J. Tellis, Deborah J. MacInnis, Seshadri Tirunillai, Yanwei Zhang
Journal of Marketing
First Published April 24, 2019
https://doi.org/10.1177/0022242919841034